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Best Free Sites in Berlin

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The Landwehrkanal was completed in 1850 after five years of construction. Designed by master landscape architect Lenné (also responsible for the Tiergarten and Pfaueninsel), the 12km canal was built on the orders of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who wished to link Berlin with a new industrial area in Köpenick. But the building of the canal was also part of a larger scheme—to fight the dramatic unemployment which plagued Prussia at the time. The canal is the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Winding through the city, it is lined with trees and parks, and a cycle path follows its route. There are plenty of pleasant cafés along the way (particularly at Paul-Licke-Ufer) where you can stop for refreshments.

Constructed between 1884 and 1894, the imposing Reichstag stands witness to Germany's past, present, and future. It was established as a parliamentary house for the German Empire under Otto von Bismarck and has since seen more than a century of European history unfurl. After the second World War, the Reichstag was neglected until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, at which time work began on returning the building to its original purpose. This new attention led to such additions as the iconic glass dome, which was added by British architect Sir Norman Foster. Today, visitors can climb up to the dome and enjoy panoramic views of brilliant Berlin from the terrace.

Germany's most recognizable symbol is not as large as many visitors expect, yet its history is rich and fascinating. Built in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was modeled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The Quadriga statue on top of the Gate, designed by sculptor Gottfried Schadow, represents Victoria, the Goddess of Peace, riding a four-horse chariot. This was one of Berlin's original 14 city gates, yet the only remaining evidence of the other gates are the names of underground stations such as Kottbusser Tor and Schlesisches Tor. The Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz have played center stage to numerous turbulent historical events. The south wing houses a tourist information office.

Berlin's grandest boulevard stretches east to west for just over a mile between Schlossplatz and the Brandenburg Gate. Originally conceived as a simple riding path between Berliner Schloss palace and the royal hunting ground in Tiergarten, Unter den Linden was transformed into a splendid regal boulevard by the 18th-century Prussian kings. Named after the linden trees which line its median, the road contains many of Berlin's landmark buildings like the Brandenburg Gate, Zeughaus, Kronprinzenpalast, State Opera House and Humboldt University. The Statue of Frederick the Great also sits here; one of Rauch's masterpieces, it depicts the king riding on his favorite horse, Condè, wearing his coronation robes, three-cornered hat, riding boots and holding a stick. Amazingly, the statue took nearly 70 years, 40 artists, and 100 designs to determine the final plan.

Zionskirche or the Zion Church, traces its history to 1872, when it was established. The beautiful church has seen and been a part of many historically significant events in Germany. World War II saw it almost completely destroyed; after numerous, dramatic renovations, it was made open to the public again in 2002. It also played a central role in the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. Today, the Zionskirche is not only a popular place of worship but also a reminder of Berlin's history.

Sixty years after World War II, Berlin unveiled the Holocaust Memorial, known officially as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in memory of victims of those who lost their lives during Holocaust. An international symbol of a gloomy past of World history, this memorial, located next to the Brandenburg Gate and near the buried remains of Hitler's underground bunker, was designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial's grid of 2711 gray concrete slabs covers a vast area in the heart of the city. The slabs, or stelae, stand at varied heights of up to 4.5 meters (15 feet), creating the sense of a stark concrete forest, through which visitors can wander on uneven cobblestone pathways. The design of the memorial is relatively abstract and has been interpreted in several ways. From oppression, excommunication to confinement, visitors have often observed numerous themes that possibly come strongly from the stelaes. A poignant reminder of German history's dark chapter, the memorial's information center offers detailed archives and stories of those who faced the ill-fate.

Built in the late 19th century in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm I, the once magnificent, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche was gutted by fire after a British air-raid in November 1943. The only parts left standing were the nave and half a spire. Nowadays, the spireless ruin and the modern chapel next door provide the city with more than just a famous landmark - they are also a poignant symbol of the senselessness of war. The 'Stalingrad Madonna' in the futuristic blue-glass chapel next to the ruin is worth a visit, as is the exhibition documenting the history of the church on Breitscheidplatz.

After the fall of the Wall in 1989, Potsdamer Platz turned from a deserted wasteland into Europe's biggest building site, as urban planners worked to create an ultra-modern city center in the middle of a reunited Berlin. The only remnants of old Potsdamer Platz are the historic Haus Huth and the majestic Hotel Esplanade ballroom, which has been cleverly incorporated into the Sony Center. Approximately half of the area contains offices; the rest is divided between entertainment complexes like the IMAX movie theater and a fantastic shopping mall.

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