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Museum Island is located on the northern half of a historically-significant island in the Spree River that runs through Berlin. The island takes its name from the five Berlin State Museums that reside in the area - the Altes Museum, the Bode Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Neues Museum, and the Pergamon Museum. Museum Island was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010. The island's first museum was erected in 1797, and the whole area was designated specifically for art and science by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841. An assemblage of spectacular historical monuments, the Museum Island is a stunning heritage hub.
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.
Throughout the centuries, many churches have stood on the location of the current Berliner Dom. The first one was erected in 1465 for the reigning royal family, the Hohenzollern, and was little more than a chapel at that time. In 1747, it was replaced by a Baroque cathedral designed by Johann Boumann, before being transformed once again in 1822 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Today's Dom was built between 1894 and 1905 during King Wilhelm II's reign. Almost completely destroyed in World War II, the Berliner Dom remained a ruin until restoration work finally began in 1973. Some of the cathedral's highlights include the mosaics covering the cupola, the crypt, the altar and the altar windows. The Dom also enshrines over 80 members of the Hohenzollern family. Those visiting must take a look at the Sauer organ within the cathedral, one of the largest in Germany, and take in the views from the roof promenade.
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.
Familiar to many from Wim Wenders' 1987 film "Wings of Desire," the view from the top of the 69 meter-high (226.37 feet) Victory Column is well worth the 285-step climb! Built in 1873 to commemorate Prussian military victories against Denmark, Austria and France, the Victory Column originally stood in front of the Reichstag, but was moved to its current location in the middle of the Tiergarten by the Nazi regime in 1938. The golden statue of the Goddess Victory can be seen from all over the city and is one of Berlin's most eye-catching landmarks. Since 1995, the Victory Column has been the epicenter of Berlin's annual Love Parade, when hundreds of thousands of ravers gather in the Tiergarten to party in the name of love.
Largest palace in the city, this romantic Baroque palace was built in 1695 by King Friedrich Wilhelm I as a summer residence for his beloved wife, Queen Sophie Charlotte. One of the most impressive examples of Baroque and Rococo architecture, the palace and its grounds are a spectacular treasure chest of royal monuments. Hidden away in the lush expanse of the Royal Gardens are several smaller buildings of the complex. The ornate rococo Belvedere tea house, contains an impressive collection of porcelain, while the Schinkel Pavilion which houses drawings, paintings, sculptures, furniture and porcelain by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The neoclassical Mausoleum housing the tombs of Queen Louise, King Friedrich Wilhelm III, Emperor Wilhelm I and Empress Augusta are also a part of the palatial grounds. A sight to behold as the palace is illuminated at night, the Charlottenburg defines opulence and royalty in Berlin.
The hunting lodge of Electoral Prince Joachim II was designed and built by royal architect Caspar Theiss in 1540. Hidden away in the dense Grunewald forest, the prince adored hunting and had other lodges built in Köpenick and Potsdam during the same period. In the early 18th century, Friedrich I added baroque elements to the building, but the impressive main hall with its intricately painted ceiling has remained unchanged over the centuries. The Jagdschloß now houses a museum boasting an impressive collection of works by German and Dutch painters of the 14th-19th century (including Rubens, Lievens and Cranach) as well as countless hunting trophies.
Gendarmenmarkt is considered by many to be Berlin's most exquisite square. Flanked by the twin churches of Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom, the square is crowned by Schinkel's neoclassical masterpiece, the Konzerthaus. The name of the square comes from the 'Soldier King' Frederick William I, who housed his cavalry (gens d'arms) here in the early 18th Century. The Französischer Dom (French cathedral) offered refuge to the French Huguenot community who fled to Prussia to escape persecution in 18th-century France. The ground floor now houses a museum, while the dome offers fantastic panoramic views over the city. Sheltering some of the most spectacular architectural wonders of the city, the square comes alive with gleaming golden lights and the bustle of enthusiastic locals and tourists with the renowned Christmas market.
Anyone visiting Berlin today would find it hard to imagine that this vibrant and cosmopolitan city was once divided and through its heart ran a wall made of concrete and barbed wire, patrolled by armed guards. Erected on 13 August 1961 to halt the outflow of disaffected East German workers, the Berlin Wall divided Germany. No one will forget the night of 9th November 1989 when it came crashing down. In the months following its fall, it was bulldozed to the ground and the land where it stood auctioned off to the highest bidder. Not much of the original Wall is left today, with only one or two sections saved as a permanent reminder of the past. The longest and most impressive stretch can be seen at the East Side Gallery, while another section, which is full of chisel holes and graffiti, runs along Niederkirchner Straße just south of Potsdamer Platz. Hordes of tourists still flock to Checkpoint Charlie but there is not much left to see except a gripping exhibition at Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. The Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße is well worth a visit while a more somber moment could be spent contemplating the line of white crosses on Ebertstraße behind the Reichstag.
Friedrich II liked his architecture to mirror his political programme—Bebelplatz was designed to be a meeting place for science, art and political power. An academy, an opera house and a royal palace were planned, yet only the Opera House was finished in the king's lifetime. Later additions (the Royal Library and the Humboldt University buildings) are a testament to Freidrich's original project - all of them imposing classical buildings which unite to form one of Berlin's most impressive squares. Science and art are still represented; political power only to an extent - in the middle of the square an underground memorial (visible through a glass screen) bears testimony to the site where the Nazis burnt the books of political and philosophical opponents in May 1933.