More than just the centre of a city, Berlin Mitte is the perfect overture to all that is idiosyncratic about German capital – a dynamic, world-opening city with a chequered history. Tragedies occurred in this borough, but so did joy and celebration. It’s also here that policies are made, art is created and literature is written. In short, Mitte is Berlin’s heart and soul.
Until the early 20th century, the history of Berlin Mitte corresponds to the history of the entire city. Everything started in the 13th century at a trading post along the River Spree, where two important historic trade routes crossed. The town rose into prominence after coming under the rule of the powerful Hohenzollern in the 15th century as the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, then the Kingdom of Prussia, and finally the German Empire.
With the abolition of the monarchy and the Greater Berlin Act in 1920, Mitte became the first district of the newly formed city, encompassing a large part of Alt-Berlin (Old Berlin). During the Cold War, it was the central part of East Berlin, but at the same time, the district was closed to three other sectors in the north, south and west by the Berlin Wall. When the wall collapsed in 1990, Berlin Mitte was once again unified, and so did the whole nation. Today, it’s still Berlin’s foremost central district. It includes the Government District, the Embassy Quarter, and nearly all key sights.
A Neo-Renaissance structure topped by a glittering glass dome – Reichstag is undoubtedly the most iconic building in Berlin. Located just a short distance from Berlin Hbf (Berlin Central Station), this site should be the first port of call for any first-time visitor. The building was first constructed in the late 19th century and was continuously used as the seat of the parliament until 1933 when a fire damaged the building. After that, it fell into demise despite some restoration effort. The Reichstag only reclaimed its former glory in 1999 when the newly restored parliament building was unveiled.
- It’s possible to visit the glass dome of the Reichstag building (free admission). However, as a governmental institution, in-advance online registration is obligatory and visitors are required bringing their identification document for security check.
A stone’s throw away from the Reichstag is Germany’s landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. Inspired by Athen’s Acropolis, the elegant triumphal arch played different political roles in German history but today it is widely known as the symbol of a unified Germany.
The gate used to be a border crossing between West- and East Germany until 1961 when the Berlin Wall cut all connections. It was only reopened in 1989 when the wall was torn down. The gate also marks the junction between two of Berlin’s most central boulevards, Straße des 17. Juni on the western side and Unter den Linden on the eastern side.
Being home to five world-renown museums, it’s not exaggerated to call the Museum Island a national treasure. With its collections and exhibitions, this museum-complex allows visitors to travel through time, back to the ages of Pharaohs, Babylon, ancient Greek, as well as the 18th- and 19th century. Each museum addresses a topic, ranging from ancient architecture, archaeological objects, sculptures and paintings.
- An ambitious renovation project is currently underway, thus the Museum Island looks like a giant construction site. Some objects, such as the famous Pergamon Altar, are also off-limits until 2023.
Also located on the Museum Island is another Berlin’s landmark, the Berlin Cathedral with its distinctive dome. Completed in 1905, the monumental building was the court church for the Prussian monarchy and it was Berlin’s answer to Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. Severely damaged during the Second World War, the church was finally restored in 1993, however, in a simplified form.
Yet although the building is known as a cathedral, it has never been a cathedral in the actual sense because no bishop has ever resided here. In fact, it has the status of a parish church. Today, the church is Berlin’s most important Protestant church, as it serves the Protestant community in and around the city.
- From the Brandenburg Gate, if you continue walking along the Unter den Linden boulevard, you will inadvertently reach the Museum Island. It’s easily recognisable thanks to the grandiose Berlin Cathedral.
- Bus 100 is a great alternative if you want to give your legs a rest. The bus runs frequently between Alexanderplatz and Berlin Zoo; along two central boulevards, Straße des 17. Juni and Unter den Linden. In fact, it’s a sightseeing bus but less pricey. The day ticket is also valid on this bus.
- It’s recommended to go inside the Berlin Cathedral and have a look at its opulent interior. There is also a staircase leading to the gallery where you can have a glorious view of the city.