Essential Berlin

Tour Creator

Jeffrey has traveled to nearly 70 countries across all the habitable continents as a columnist and writer for publications including The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He…Read More Bio »

Berlin

GPS-directed

Remote Tour Included

1.5hr/3hrs(Extended itinerary)

1.5km/3km(Extended itinerary)

On our tour, you’ll learn that Berlin’s past is the reason this city is such an anachronism – a visually young city that has inhabited Europe since at least the mid-1200s. You’ll learn about Berlin’s ancient beginnings as a riverside port town in 13th century, it’s role in the reshaping of religion into what we know it as today, the city’s horrific stain as capital of Nazi Germany, it’s sad history as a city so divided that is split families apart … and the reunification of East and West that has transformed Berlin into the modern, arty city you’ll see today.

Avoid the Crowds

Allows you to explore without having to be shoulder-to-shoulder in a large tour group

Created by an exceptional journalist

Written by a former The Wall Street Journal columnist, who has traveled to nearly 70 countries across all the habitable continents

GPS Directions

Easy-to-follow GPS directions to get you from one point to the next on your tour

Highlights include:

Potsdamer Platz, Remains of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Holocaust Memorial

Remote Tour Included

As with all our tours, a remote tour is included that can be enjoyed from home

Itineraries

Essential Berlin – Extended

Essential Berlin – Part 1

Essential Berlin: Part 2

  1. Potsdamer Platz The history of the modern German state in one plaza. The center of Berlin at the founding of the German Empire in the 1870s and one of the biggest cargo trans-shipping points in all of Europe at the time. All but totally destroyed in World War 2, like much of Berlin, only to emerge as the widest point in the Death Strip separating East and West Berlin … and now a symbol of a reunified Berlin and a reunified Germany … which serves a microcosm of why Berlin doesn’t look as old as its age.
  2. GDR Watchtower A relic from – and a reminder of – the state of the prison-like existence that was life inside the ironically named German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. These watchtowers stood all along the border with West Berlin, offering an unobstructed 360-degree view so that guards, when necessary, would shoot-to-kill any East German attempting to cross to the West.
  3. Topography of Terror (SS/Gestapo Bldg.) -  In World War 2, the German Secret Police and the Gestapo rose up to impose rigid, deadly controls over the population of Berlin, Germany as a whole and the breadth of the Nazi empire. Those operations were run from a building that one sat on this site, but which was destroyed in the war, with pretty much all of Berlin. You can still see the remains of the building’s basement and walk along reading about the terror and death that emanated from this spot.
  4. Remains of Berlin Wall - We’re standing just outside the gates to the Topography of Terror. Just behind the fence, along Niederkirchnerstrasse is a remnant of the original Berlin Wall. Here we will spend a few minutes talking about why the wall was erected (what was the event that prompted it) and over what time it was built. And it was that the city was divided into two in the first place.
  5. Checkpoint Charlie - Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of Berlin than Checkpoint Charlie, a U.S. Army checkpoint and the last bastion of Western freedom before crossing into communist East Berlin. While Checkpoint Charlie is the best known, there were actually four checkpoints like this one spread throughout Berlin. We talk about them, how Checkpoint Charlie got its name, and the interesting moments that happened here.
  6. Bundesministerium der Finanzen (formerly Hermann Goering’s Nazi Air Defense Ministry) - What we’re looking at here is Herman Goering’s Nazi Air Defense Ministry – the home to the infamous Luftwaffe. As you can see, the building consumes an entire, long city block. Supposedly, Goering had the building built to the size so that planes could land on the roof. It is one of the few buildings that sort of survived the Battle of Berlin, when Allied bombs leveled 80% of the city. After the war, the damaged parts of this building were repaired, the place today serves as the German Finance Ministry.
  7. New Reich’s Chancellery - There’s not much to see here. But the apartment block you’re looking at … from here all the way down to the end of the block to your right – all of that was once the New Reich Chancellery – basically, Hitler’s offices.
  8. Hitler’s Bunker - Germany has, rightfully, underplayed this location. As you can see, we’re basically standing in a parking lot. But it was here that Hitler spent his final hours with Eva Braun before the both committed suicide as Soviet troops advanced on the city. We will explain the suicide, what was found inside the bunkers, urban myths about the bunkers, etc.
  9. Holocaust Memorial - One of the more disorienting memorials you will likely ever come across. Known as the Holocaust Memorial, it’s official title is Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to account for the fact that while Nazi Germany was the epicenter of the Holocaust, the fate that befell Nazi-era Jews stretched from the Balkins across to England, where Jews were actually rounded up in the Channel Islands – by the British. This is specifically meant to disorient.
  10. Brandenburg Gate - Like Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of modern Germany. It dates the late 1700s and was built by King Frederick William II as is the quintessential Prussian monument. But it also become a symbol of a divided city when the Berlin Wall ran right behind the gate as your looking at it.
  11. Reichstag Bldg. -Another example of the various Berlins (and the various Germanys) captured in a single building. The Reichstag was originally built to house the German Diet (parliament) during the days of the German Empire in the late 1800s. It was essentially abandoned during the Nazi years as Hitler consolidated government power over near Wilhelm Platz and the New Reich Chancellery.
  12. Bebelplatz - If you’ve seen any history documentary on the rise of Nazism, then you will have seen photos of one of the most-defining moments in the rise of fascism – that moment Nazi leaders in 1933 burned 20,000 books collected from public and private libraries … books that Nazis felt went against their warped belief system: books written by homosexual authors, books my Karl Marx and other Bolsheviks/Communists, literature by Jewish authors, etc. That moment happened right here, in the courtyard of Humboldt University.
  13. Berlin Cathedral - The largest church in Berlin and built as part of a “mine’s bigger than yours contest” between Europe’s Catholics and the Protestants. The Catholics had St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican … so the Prussian Protestants under Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, had the Berlin Cathedral built as the answer to St. Peter’s (though St. Peter’s is still bigger). We will touch on the church’s history – its damage from Allied bombing,
  14. St. Mary’s Church (3 points: Church – Martin Luther statue – GDR TV Tower) - One of the two oldest surviving churches in Berlin. St Mary’s dates to sometime in the 1200s, though records aren’t certain. We will talk a bit about the church and the role it played in one of the original violent acts against Jews in Germany when several Jews were hung for stealing host wafers in act of religious desecration.
  15. Ancient Berlin Wall - We started our tour at the end – a view of what Berlin has become. So it seems appropriate to end at the beginning – here, a remnant of the first Berlin wall, dating to the 1200s when Berlin was little more than a fishing village on the Spree River. We will end our tour talking about how it all began for Berlin, and how it is that the tour we’ve just taken has essentially walked us through the history of what is essentially the Forrest Gump of cities – a city that was there for, or played a prominent role in, some of the most defining moments in world history over the past 80 years
  1. Potsdamer Platz The history of the modern German state in one plaza. The center of Berlin at the founding of the German Empire in the 1870s and one of the biggest cargo trans-shipping points in all of Europe at the time. All but totally destroyed in World War 2, like much of Berlin, only to emerge as the widest point in the Death Strip separating East and West Berlin … and now a symbol of a reunified Berlin and a reunified Germany … which serves a microcosm of why Berlin doesn’t look as old as its age.
  2. GDR Watchtower A relic from – and a reminder of – the state of the prison-like existence that was life inside the ironically named German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. These watchtowers stood all along the border with West Berlin, offering an unobstructed 360-degree view so that guards, when necessary, would shoot-to-kill any East German attempting to cross to the West.
  3. Topography of Terror (SS/Gestapo Bldg.) -  In World War 2, the German Secret Police and the Gestapo rose up to impose rigid, deadly controls over the population of Berlin, Germany as a whole and the breadth of the Nazi empire. Those operations were run from a building that one sat on this site, but which was destroyed in the war, with pretty much all of Berlin. You can still see the remains of the building’s basement and walk along reading about the terror and death that emanated from this spot.
  4. Remains of Berlin Wall - We’re standing just outside the gates to the Topography of Terror. Just behind the fence, along Niederkirchnerstrasse is a remnant of the original Berlin Wall. Here we will spend a few minutes talking about why the wall was erected (what was the event that prompted it) and over what time it was built. And it was that the city was divided into two in the first place.
  5. Checkpoint Charlie - Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of Berlin than Checkpoint Charlie, a U.S. Army checkpoint and the last bastion of Western freedom before crossing into communist East Berlin. While Checkpoint Charlie is the best known, there were actually four checkpoints like this one spread throughout Berlin. We talk about them, how Checkpoint Charlie got its name, and the interesting moments that happened here.
  6. Bundesministerium der Finanzen (formerly Hermann Goering’s Nazi Air Defense Ministry) - What we’re looking at here is Herman Goering’s Nazi Air Defense Ministry – the home to the infamous Luftwaffe. As you can see, the building consumes an entire, long city block. Supposedly, Goering had the building built to the size so that planes could land on the roof. It is one of the few buildings that sort of survived the Battle of Berlin, when Allied bombs leveled 80% of the city. After the war, the damaged parts of this building were repaired, the place today serves as the German Finance Ministry.
  7. New Reich’s Chancellery - There’s not much to see here. But the apartment block you’re looking at … from here all the way down to the end of the block to your right – all of that was once the New Reich Chancellery – basically, Hitler’s offices.
  8. Hitler’s Bunker - Germany has, rightfully, underplayed this location. As you can see, we’re basically standing in a parking lot. But it was here that Hitler spent his final hours with Eva Braun before the both committed suicide as Soviet troops advanced on the city. We will explain the suicide, what was found inside the bunkers, urban myths about the bunkers, etc.
  1. Holocaust Memorial - One of the more disorienting memorials you will likely ever come across. Known as the Holocaust Memorial, it’s official title is Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to account for the fact that while Nazi Germany was the epicenter of the Holocaust, the fate that befell Nazi-era Jews stretched from the Balkins across to England, where Jews were actually rounded up in the Channel Islands – by the British. This is specifically meant to disorient.
  2. Brandenburg Gate - Like Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of modern Germany. It dates the late 1700s and was built by King Frederick William II as is the quintessential Prussian monument. But it also become a symbol of a divided city when the Berlin Wall ran right behind the gate as your looking at it.
  3. Reichstag Bldg. -Another example of the various Berlins (and the various Germanys) captured in a single building. The Reichstag was originally built to house the German Diet (parliament) during the days of the German Empire in the late 1800s. It was essentially abandoned during the Nazi years as Hitler consolidated government power over near Wilhelm Platz and the New Reich Chancellery.
  4. Unter den Linden - The wide boulevard you see today started life as roughly a mile-long horse path sometime in the late-1500s.
  5. Bebelplatz - If you’ve seen any history documentary on the rise of Nazism, then you will have seen photos of one of the most-defining moments in the rise of fascism – that moment Nazi leaders in 1933 burned 20,000 books collected from public and private libraries … books that Nazis felt went against their warped belief system: books written by homosexual authors, books my Karl Marx and other Bolsheviks/Communists, literature by Jewish authors, etc. That moment happened right here, in the courtyard of Humboldt University.
  6. Berlin Cathedral - The largest church in Berlin and built as part of a “mine’s bigger than yours contest” between Europe’s Catholics and the Protestants. The Catholics had St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican … so the Prussian Protestants under Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, had the Berlin Cathedral built as the answer to St. Peter’s (though St. Peter’s is still bigger). We will touch on the church’s history – its damage from Allied bombing,
  7. St. Mary’s Church - One of the two oldest surviving churches in Berlin. St Mary’s dates to sometime in the 1200s, though records aren’t certain. We will talk a bit about the church and the role it played in one of the original violent acts against Jews in Germany when several Jews were hung for stealing host wafers in act of religious desecration.
  8. Ancient Berlin Wall - We started our tour at the end – a view of what Berlin has become. So it seems appropriate to end at the beginning – here, a remnant of the first Berlin wall, dating to the 1200s when Berlin was little more than a fishing village on the Spree River. We will end our tour talking about how it all began for Berlin, and how it is that the tour we’ve just taken has essentially walked us through the history of what is essentially the Forrest Gump of cities – a city that was there for, or played a prominent role in, some of the most defining moments in world history over the past 80 years

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