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.
1 FULL HOUSE
The seat of parliament is a symbol of any capital city and the Reichstag (Platz der Republik 1. www.bundestag.de) 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.bundestag.de).
2 ARC DE BERLIN
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.
3 SOVIET SPUTNIK
The 368-meter-tall Fernsehturm (www. tv-turm.de), 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 (www.berlinerluft.berlin).
4 MORE SAUSAGE PLEASE
Sausage, ketchup, and curry powder are the simple ingredients to Berlin’s most popular street food, the Currywurst. Head to Curry36 (Mehringdamm 36, www.curry36.de) or Konnopke’s Imbiss (Schönhauser Allee 44A, www.konnopkeimbiss.de) 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.currywurstmuseum.com), you can enjoy virtual Currywurst making and a spicesniffing chamber.
5 START YOUR ENGINES
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-safari.de) 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.
6 LOOK RIGHT, LOOK LEFT
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. ampelmann.de), where everything from T-shirts and bags to pasta and Monopoly games has taken on the form of these friendly and sociable figures.
7 BEARS, BEARS, EVERYWHERE
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 (www.berlinstory.de, Unter den Linden 40), or go to KPM-Berlin (Wegelystr. 1, www.kpm-berlin.com) for a luxury porcelain Berlin bear dressed like the Kaiser.
8 LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
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. studiobabelsberg.com), 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-kinemathek.de).
9 DOUGHNUT KING
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).
1010 NIGHT OWLS
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.