Then we crossed the Spree River and saw the impressive modern Hauptbahnhof of Berlin, the main train station. From here it was on to Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest surviving royal palace in Berlin whose construction started in the late 1600s. It is famous for its opulent interiors and has an impressive palace garden. We continued to the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping street. This long avenue is full of fashion designers and upscale boutiques. One of its most famous retailers is the KaDeWe, “Kaufhaus des Westens” (Department Store of the West), a shopping palace with 60,000 square meters (over 645,000 square feet). About 40,000 to 50,000 people visit it every day.
Not far away we reached Potsdamerplatz, one of Berlin’s most important public squares. It was really the heart of Berlin during the late 19th and early 20th century and experienced its Golden Age in the 1920s and 1930s. After total destruction during World War II, Potsdamer Platz was a wasteland, a no-man’s land beside the Berlin Wall. Following German reunification, this large square has been redeveloped and is now home to gleaming skyscrapers that house companies such as DaimlerChrysler and Sony. For many years it was Europe’s largest construction site.
Checkpoint Charlie was next on our sightseeing tour. This iconic place was the most famous border crossing between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War period and the only one where westerners could cross into East Berlin. In 1961 it was the site of a tense two day stand-off between Soviet and American tanks. The original non-descript border post is now in the Allied Museum in Berlin’s Dahlem neighbourhood. In its place stands a replica, complete with sand bags and the famous sign “You are leaving the American sector”.
Next on our schedule was the Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s most beautiful squares that has two nearly identical cathedrals, the “Französischer Dom” (French Cathedral) and the “Deutscher Dom” (German Cathedral) facing each other with the “Konzerthaus” (Concert Hall) in the middle. A statue of German poet Friedrich Schiller is located in the centre of the square. The French cathedral is the older of these imposing churches and was built in the early 1700s by a community of French Huguenots. Constructed in 1708, the German Cathedral was extensively modified, only to be completely destroyed during World War II. It was completely reconstructed and reopened in 1993 and today houses a much visited exhibition, Pathways, Confusions and Detours, on German history.
Our bus then took us the iconic East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. Along a distance of 1.3 km there are 105 paintings that were created in 1990 by artists from all over the world. The most famous image is the “brotherly kiss” between Erich Honnecker, the East German Head of State, and Leonid Brezhnev, former leader of the Soviet Union. This stretch of the Berlin Wall is the longest permanent outdoor gallery in the World.
Finally, I had arrived back on Alexanderplatz from where I was planning to embark on a longer-distance excursion to Spandau, Berlin’s westernmost district.