Reunified Germany’s government nexus was built in the 1990s along the Spree River and consists of several buildings that symbolically link the former East and West Berlin. In the northeastern corner of the vast Tiergarten park, the district smoothly segues into the heart of historic Berlin along the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden.
Make your way to the (1) Hauptbahnhof (main train station), a sparkling glass behemoth that opened in 2006. It presents a great vantage point of the (2) Bundeskanzleramt (chancellery) on the right and the (3) Paul-Löbe-Haus, the parliamentary office building, on the left. Cross a little bridge, walk around the right side of the latter and find yourself facing the quarter’s historic anchor, the brooding (4) Reichstag (www.bundestag.de), since 1999 home of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. It’s worth the inevitable wait for the free elevator ride to the top for panoramic city views and close-ups of the futuristic glass dome, added by British star architect Lord Norman Foster, as part of the building’s recent overhaul.
Turn left as you exit the Reichstag, left again on Scheidemannstrasse, then right on Ebertstrasse toward the stately (5) Brandenburg Gate, the only remaining gate from Berlin’s 18th-century town wall. It’s topped by the Quadriga, a sculpture of a winged goddess of Victory steering a horse-drawn chariot.
Just south of here on Ebertstrasse is the (6) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Cora-Berliner Strasse 1; www.holocaust-mahnmal.de), a football-field-size labyrinth of gray concrete stelae that is as accessible as it is disorienting. A free subterranean exhibit hauntingly documents the suffering of Jews during the Nazi period.
Double back to the Brandenburg Gate standing guard over glamorous (7) Pariser Platz, until 1989 an empty square trapped behind the Berlin Wall. Now it is again flanked by banks, the Academy of Arts, and embassies, including the new U.S. Embassy on your right. Sneak inside the adjacent Frank Gehry–designed (8) DZ Bank at Pariser Platz 3 for a peek at the surreally shaped conference room in the atrium. The belle of Pariser Platz, though, is the plush (9) Hotel Adlon (Unter den Linden 77; www.hotel-adlon.de), a faithful reconstruction of the 1907 original and again the preferred shelter of stars, royals, and heads of state.
Pariser Platz gives way to (10) Unter den Linden, Berlin’s grand historic boulevard. Walk past the massive Russian Embassy, then turn right on Friedrichstrasse and head south a couple of blocks to the (11) Friedrichstadtpassagen, three breathtakingly designed shopping complexes linked by a tunnel and teeming with international designer stores. Relive Cold War history a few more blocks south at (12) Checkpoint Charlie, or else turn left on Mohrenstrasse and head straight to lovely (13) Gendarmenmarkt, considered Berlin’s most beautiful square and accented by two churches, the Konzerthaus (www.konzerthaus.de) concert hall and plenty of cafés and restaurants.
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