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500 years of Berlin history: five key sights in Berlin

Experience history in Berlin

Gendarmenmarkt with Konzerthaus and Französischem Dom in Berlin
Gendarmenmarkt visitBerlin, Foto: Artfully Media, Sven Christian Schramm

A whole life in Berlin would probably not be enough to discover all the historic places in Berlin. There are stories to discover everywhere you look, so where to start? Here are five places to explore at the beginning of an exciting journey of discovery into Berlin's past.

17th century: classical Berlin at the Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt in the historic centre of Berlin is considered the most beautiful square of its kind. At the end of the 17th century, the square was first devised as a marketplace. Elector Friedrich III then allowed French immigrants and the Lutheran Church to each build a church flanking the square. The results, the Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom (the German and French "cathedrals") are known far beyond Friedrichstadt for the elegance, completed by state theatre now used as the Konzerthaus . Each summer, the Konzerthaus organises a fantastic series of open-air concerts of classical music on Gendarmenmarkt, right in the heart of the capital.

18th century: Spandauer Vorstadt

In the 17th century, the first streets between today's Friedrichstraße and Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, Torstraße and the River Spree were laid. In the 18th century, the foundations for what is now a refined neighbourhood were laid in Spandauer Vorstadt. Prestigious Oranienburger Straße was built, followed by the Plague House in 1710 (the origins of today's world-famous Charité Hospital) and Monbijou Palace.

19th century: the Jewish cemetery at Weißensee

The largest Jewish cemetery in Europewas opened in 1880 in what was then outside the city limits. The cemetery remains as a testimony to a lost history: opulent mausoleums, inconspicuous tombs in the second row, and blacksmith's art that tell love, war, and family history. Publisher Samuel Fischer is buried here, as is writer Stefan Heym, anti-fascist resistance fighter Herbert Baum, and the parents of Kurt Tucholsky, who wrote a poem about the cemetery. In 2016, writer and actress Angelika Schrobsdorff was laid to rest here. A stroll through the Jewish Cemetery is a time to reflect on Berlin's turbulent history and all that has been lost. Men must are required to wear a kippah upon entering and the cemetery is closed for Sabbath and on Jewish holy days.

20th century: Tempelhof Airport as a symbolic monument

Tempelhof Airport has been closed to air traffic since 2008 and has since become a massive monument to Berlin history. This is where the first scheduled commercial air flight took off in 1923 and the terminal building was erected in 1934 in the monumental style favoured by the Nazi regime. The airport became famous again in 1948 when it served as the landing field for the Allied planes that flew supplies to West Berlin during the Soviet blockade. These "raisin bombers", as they came to be known in German, supplied West Berliners with essential goods and sweets for the children. Today, Tempelhofer Feld remains as a wide open space for leisure activities of all kinds. On a tour you can explore the 300,000 m² (75 acres) of what is Europe's largest monument, including its many hidden places.

21st century: the City Palace as Berlin's newest centre for culture

Anyone who looks towards the River Spree in front of Berlin Cathedral will see a large construction site that has seen a lot of Berlin history. This is where the Berlin City Palace is scheduled to open in 2019. Built first in the 15th century, the palace became the residence of the Kings of Prussia and eventual Kaisers from the 18th. It was torn down and replaced by the Palace of the Republic during the Communist era. The reconstruction of the baroque building has been underway since 2013, but only the outer façade will follow its historic model. After it opens, it will house the collections from non-European cultures currently held at Dahlem, a science library, and a laboratory for Humboldt University. The Agora event centre will be another architectural highlight. Visitors can already gain a visual insight into what the future city will look like at the Humboldt-Box on site.


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