It was along the tree-lined boulevard Unter den Linden, in today’s central Mitte district, where the Hohenzollern dynasty assembled all the trappings of an imperial city in the 18th and 19th centuries and where, as their power ebbed, Berlin’s government district took root. WWII destroyed much of it, of course, but it’s since been rebuilt and added to by a new layer of monuments and impressive buildings, so that it’s now the go-to place for visitors to start their explorations of Berlin.
Berlin’s public transport system is extremely good, and bus #100 useful for zipping up and down Unter den Linden, but generally you’re probably best exploring on foot. It’s a 5km walk to complete this itinerary.
Start your trip in Berlin at the city’s icon, the Brandenburg Gate, then home-in on the two great landmarks on either side: the stark Holocaust Memorial and Germany’s famous parliament, the Reichstag. You’ll need to book at least a couple of hours in advance for the latter (so you might have to save it for later in the day – or at night when it’s magical), or have a reservation at its very good restaurant Käfer Dachgarten, a good option for breakfast or lunch. Afterwards walk along the fringes of the Tiergarten park to examine the flurry of modern buildings around Potsdamer Platz.
If Käfer doesn’t appeal then try the lunch options around Potsdamer Platz. The outdoor seating at restaurants in the Sony Center is emorable, but if you’re after something cheap and quick here try the basement of the Arcaden Mall. Don’t miss the ice-cream café above the entrance on the first floor: the first class Italian gelato is extravagantly presented and truly delicious. Or, hold off eating for another twenty minutes and enjoy the gourmet food court at Galeries Lafayette – see below.
From Potsdamer Platz you can walk past a remnant of the Berlin Wall on Niederkircherstrasse to Friedrichstrasse and Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of all Cold War border crossings. The Mauermusuem, or Wall Museum, here remembers many of the most imaginative and daring attempts to find other ways across the border.
A ten-minute walk north up Friedrichstrasse brings you to Galeries Lafayette – a high end mall that’s a must for those with expensive tastes – behind which lies the Gendarmenmarkt and then the heart of Imperial Berlin a block further north around Bebelplatz and Unter den Linden. Beyond it lies Museum Island, Berlin’s great cache of archaeological and artistic treasures. Its impressive neoclassical buildings are overstuffed with classical and ancient middle-eastern antiquities and a visit can easily take all day, so save this for another day. Instead, cross the bridge beyond it to explore the tight streets of the Nikolaiviertel, Berlin’s reconstructed old quarter.
To maintain the old-Berlin theme seek out the Zur Letzten Instanz, Berlin’s oldest pub, and enjoy traditional Berlin favourites like pork-knuckle or boulette, a kind of burger. Or, you could round off your day retracing your steps from on high over dinner at Sphere in the Fernsehturm, or TV tower. Alternatively, if you’d rather eat in a lively residential district, do the short walk to Hackescher Markt station and choose from the many options here and along Orianenburger Strasse to its northwest. These include the elegant Turkish choice Hasir.
You might also consider a cabaret at the Chamäleon theatre though you’ll probably need tickets in advance. For a nightcap try the off-beat Verkehrsberuhigte Ost-Zone, S-Bahnbogen 153, Monbijouplatz, 030/24 62 87 81, a hip and dimly-lit bar beneath the railway tracks that sports East German nostalgia and an unmistakably Berlin retro-vibe.