Top 10 Ber­lin Icons

Annabelle Mallia un­folds the story be­hind the sym­bols of Ber­lin.


The sto­ries be­hind the sym­bols that shout Ber­lin.

S pend enough time in Ber­lin and you’ll hit upon re­cur­ring icons, each one hav­ing an in­ter­est­ing tale to tell about Ber­lin’s tu­mul­tuous his­tory. En­com­pass­ing such themes as World War II, the Cold War, and Ger­man na­tion­al­ism, these icons are bound to leave a last­ing im­pres­sion.


The seat of par­lia­ment is a sym­bol of any cap­i­tal city and the Re­ich­stag (Platz der Repub­lik 1. www.bun­ in Ber­lin, the sec­ond-most-vis­ited at­trac­tion in Ger­many, is no ex­cep­tion. (In first place is the Cologne Cathe­dral.) Fa­mous for the fire of 1933, which the Nazis blamed on the com­mu­nists in or­der to in­state emer­gency pow­ers, it was re­con­structed in 1999 with a huge glass dome erected on the roof look­ing down into the main hall. Open to the pub­lic, the dome rep­re­sents trans­parency of power and also has great 360-de­gree views over the city. Ad­mis­sion is free, but photo ID and ad­vance regis­tra­tion on­line or at the nearby vis­i­tors’ ser­vice cen­ter are manda­tory (www.bun­


Only a few hun­dred me­ters away and back­drop to many Ber­lin news re­ports is the Bran­den­burg Gate. This mon­u­men­tal gate to renowned boule­vard Un­ter den Lin­den was built in the late 18th cen­tury as a sign of peace and af­ter Napoleon’s de­feat in 1814 it be­came a Prus­sian tri­umphal arch. When the Ber­lin Wall came down, thou­sands of peo­ple flocked to the gate to cel­e­brate, in­clud­ing Pink Floyd, with an un­for­get­table per­for­mance of An­other Brick in the Wall.


The 368-me­ter-tall Fernse­hturm (www., or TV tower, is the tallest build­ing in Ger­many and Ber­lin’s most vis­i­ble land­mark. Built by the GDR in the 1960s, its struc­ture sym­bol­ized the regime's strength and ef­fi­ciency, and its en­thu­si­asm for tech­nol­ogy. From a dizzy­ing 207 me­ters, vis­i­tors can take a seat in the re­volv­ing res­tau­rant or head to the ob­ser­va­tion deck for views of Ber­lin, which on a clear day can stretch nearly 60 km (37 miles). For a novel sou­venir, pick up a TV-Tower-shaped bot­tle of pep­per­mint schnapps from

Ber­liner Luft (­er­luft.ber­lin).


Sausage, ketchup, and curry pow­der are the sim­ple in­gre­di­ents to Ber­lin’s most pop­u­lar street food, the Cur­ry­wurst. Head to Curry36 (Mehring­damm 36, or Konnopke’s Im­biss (Schön­hauser Allee 44A, www.konnop­ke­im­ to taste what is re­port­edly the best in town. If you still haven’t got­ten enough of this leg­endary snack, at the Cur­ry­wurst Mu­seum (Schützen­str. 70, www.cur­ry­wurst­mu­, you can en­joy vir­tual Cur­ry­wurst mak­ing and a spices­niff­ing cham­ber.


The Tra­bant car is a sym­bol of the fall of com­mu­nism, as many East Ger­mans streamed into the West in their Tra­bis af­ter the Wall was opened in 1989. The noisy, in­ef­fi­cient two-stroke en­gine may be a thing of the past, but it still makes for an au­then­tic Ber­lin trip. Rent one from Trabi Sa­fari Ber­lin (www.trabi-sa­ or join a tour con­voy with live com­men­tary stream­ing through the ra­dio. Their two-hour Wall Ride in­cludes a look at the East Side Gallery and oblig­a­tory po­lice ha­rass­ment at Check­point Char­lie.


In­tro­duced to im­prove pedes­trian safety in 1960s

East Ber­lin, the Am­pelmän­nchen have since been el­e­vated to al­most cult sta­tus and adopted in the western part of the city, too. With their big-hat­ted head and short stubby legs, they can still be seen do­ing their duty on traf­fic lights all over town. Visit one of the many AMPELMANN shops (www., where ev­ery­thing from T-shirts and bags to pasta and Mo­nop­oly games has taken on the form of these friendly and so­cia­ble fig­ures.


De­picted on the city's coat of arms, the bear is the em­blem of Ber­lin. This be­came even more so the case af­ter The Buddy Bear Ber­lin Show in June 2001. Fea­tur­ing col­or­ful, two-me­ter-tall bear stat­ues, the side­walk ex­hi­bi­tion re­ceived so much at­ten­tion, many were pri­vately bought and dis­played all over the city. They were even taken abroad, turn­ing the Buddy Bears into global am­bas­sadors of Ber­lin. Pick up your own minia­ture ver­sion at stores such as

Ber­lin Story (­, Un­ter den Lin­den 40), or go to KPM-Ber­lin (Wegelystr. 1, www.kpm-ber­ for a lux­ury porce­lain Ber­lin bear dressed like the Kaiser.


Mar­lene Di­et­rich (1901–1992) re­mains one of Ber­lin’s most fa­mous and beloved movie stars, grac­ing the screens dur­ing the cabaret days of Weimar-era Ber­lin. Her break­through role came with the film The Blue An­gel, much of which was shot at Pots­dam’s Ba­bels­berg Stu­dio (www. stu­diob­a­bels­, Europe’s largest movie stu­dio. She lies buried in a ceme­tery in Friede­nau and much of her mem­o­ra­bilia can be viewed at the Mu­seum for Film and Tele­vi­sion (Pots­damer Str. 2, www. deutsche-kine­


A Ber­liner is noth­ing more than a jam-filled dough­nut, which is why lo­cals had a chuckle when Pres­i­dent Kennedy said "Ich bin ein Ber­liner" (I am a dough­nut), in his fa­mous 1963 speech at Rathaus Schöneberg (John-FKennedy-Platz). Tra­di­tion­ally eaten for Car­ni­val, they can be pur­chased year round on pretty much ev­ery street cor­ner. The best are at Bäck­erei Siebert (Schön­fließer Str. 12) or Bäck­erei Balzer (So­phien­str. 31).


Now of­fi­cially rec­og­nized as part of the city’s unique cul­tural fabric and en­joy­ing the same tax ben­e­fits as mu­se­ums and the­aters, the techno tem­ple Berghain (p. 61) is a ma­jor draw for many vis­i­tors. The club is fa­mous for its wild par­ties, sound sys­tem, and tight doors – play it cool and ca­sual to get the bouncer's nod of ap­proval.





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