Are You Ready to Spend Two Hours in Berlin?

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Guest Post:

By Thomas Dowson

Two Hours in Berlin in Winter

Berlin, it seems, has more than its fair share of monuments and memorials. Whether this is true or not I do not know. Someone once told me Washington DC could rival the German capital for the number of memorials. Given Berlin’s history, it would not be that surprising if it were indeed true, or even if visitors just get the impression that there are more than anywhere else. Whatever, it is impossible to avoid recent history on the streets of Berlin and any amount of time will be rewarding – even in winter!

"In two hours in Berlin, you can visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe"

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

There really is much to see and do in Berlin for everyone of all ages and interests. Personally, I greatly enjoy spending a few hours at a time in one of the five museums on the Museum Island. Even though I am an archaeologist, maybe it is because I am an archaeologist, I get museum fatigue.

When in Berlin I get the 3-day museum pass and break up my museums visits with other activities. As Museum Island is central it is easy to take a few hours away from display cases and explore some of those many monuments and memorials. And a walk from the Reichstag Building to Check Point Charlie is a good way to spend two hours in Berlin.

The imposing Reichstag building has an equally imposing dedication on the architrave: DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE (For the German People.) A stern warning to the royal elite to keep out! This was a parliament intended for the German people.

"The Reichstag Building the seat of the German Parliament along a walk within two hours in Berlin "

The Reichstag Building, once again the seat of the German Parliament

The building opened in 1894, following German unification in 1871. The building was damaged by fire in 1933 and was only fully restored, with the addition of the glass dome on top, and used to house the German Parliament again in 1999. The Glass dome is open to the public, for a fee, and is well worth it.

Just outside the visitors’ entrance for the glass dome is quite a simple but powerful memorial. What looks like a row of upright slate slabs is used to mark the death of 96 members of the German Parliament at the hands of the National Socialists. Sadly today you could easily miss these. The memorial once had a prominent position in front of the Reichstag, but it is now all but obscured by the ticket/security office.

"Memorial to the Murdered Members of the German Parliament"

Memorial to the Murdered Members of the German Parliament

When crossing the street towards the Brandenburg Gate look out for the line of bricks embedded in the tarmac. This marks the line of the wall, and stretches through the length of the wall where it no longer exists. Walking between the Reichstag and Check Point Charlie, you will cross it a number of times, a simple, but poignant reminder of a once divided city.

"With two hours in Berlin, you will walk along this spot marking the position of the wall."

Marking the position of the wall.

The longest standing section of the Berlin Wall stands between what is now the Ministry of Finance and an open-air exhibition space, called Topography of Terror. It was from the buildings that once stood on this ground that the SS and the Gestapo orchestrated their activities. Initially planned for destruction (it was in fact left derelict for years), it has been transformed into a monument and education centre documenting the atrocities of the organisation that once worked here.

"The longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall."

The longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall.

So if you have two hours in Berlin to spare, I can recommend a walk between the Reichtstag Building and Check Point Charlie. For me, it was somehow appropriate to be seeing these places on what was a drab and dreary morning. Looking into the now excavated cellars where prisoners were tortured and executed is disturbing, a bit macabre even.

"Check Point Charlie, this is in fact a reconstruction, not the original"

Check Point Charlie, this is in fact a reconstruction, not the original

"Cellar of the Gestapo Headquarters."

Cellar of the Gestapo Headquarters.

At some places, such as the car park over what was the final bunker, I did not feel like lingering, or even taking photographs. But as disturbing as some of these places are, walking between them helped me understand the contested geography of this city, then and now.


"Thomas DawsonThomas Dowson gave up the Ivory Tower and started to explore his passion for prehistory on the road. He founded Archaeology Travel, a comprehensive online guide to finding and sharing some of the more exciting archaeological sites and museums around the World. He also regularly blogs about his own adventures back into the past.

8 comments to Are You Ready to Spend Two Hours in Berlin?

  • Bobbiejean

    Thank you, Thomas! I will be visiting family close to Leipzig next month and am coming up with a few activities I’d specifically like to do. I have Berlin on my list, but wasn’t sure where to start. This gives me some good points, including the places listed in the comments. Hailing from Houston, Bobbiejean

  • I have some friends in Berlin. Maybe I will visit it one day.

  • Jeremy Branham

    After hiking in Yosemite this weekend, love hiking in snow. Can be a little tricky at times but loved the scenery. I’ve been to Germany but haven’t been to Berlin. Definitely a city I want to see.

  • Nice shots! Berlin is such a beautiful city, you’ve caught the most wonderful moments in that 2 hours! There are a lot of ancient and modern/high-tech architectural moments next to each other, the high-tech glass roof of the Reichstag designed by Sir Norman Foster and the jewish monument by Daniel Libeskind are the most famous of them, but you have to check out the Potsdamer square next time, it has been bombed in the 2nd world war but now it’s fulfilled with contemporary and modernist architectonic sculptures and houses.

  • Thank you Charles. Yes, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. In two hours someone will get to see quite a bit. But, you could easily spend a whole day stopping and exploring the various places listed or even going into the various museums (Topography of Terror, the Wall Museum at Check Point Charlie). Do visit, I think it is a wonderful city.

    And I agree with Cathy, it can be a very overwhelming experience.

    ZoomingJapan, I always seem to enjoy my time in Berlin. But I do know other Germans and Berliners who would agree with you. Some feel the ugliness comes from its history, and the constant construction sites. There is no right or wrong answer.

  • I’m German, but I’ve never been to Berlin.
    I know that many will disagree, but I think the city is pretty ugly and I don’t feel like going there.

    Yet I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your short stay there! :)

  • I spent some time last year exploring this same area and its historic sites. The feeling you get in some places is almost overwhelming. This is a great suggestion for 2 hours in Berlin.

  • Wonderful introduction! I hope when I visit Berlin that I have more than 2 hours.

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