Whenever I visit a new city one of my favourite things to do is find the nearest tall building, get to the top of it and see the city from above. I like doing this partly because you get a totally different perspective of a city, partly because you can see so much more and it puts everything into place better than any map. And also partly because I then have the perfect excuse to reward myself for climbing all those steps with a nice big ice cream afterwards!
So here are some of the best places in Berlin to see the city from a different angle.
The Berlin Cathedral is one of the main buildings on the Museum Island in the city centre. The cathedral is the largest in Berlin and is still in use today. Although the present building only dates back to 1905, as the house church of the Hohenzollern family, the crypt is the resting place for Hohenzollerns going all the way back to 1455. But we don’t want to be going underground (although it is definitely worth a visit too); we want to get up and above it all. The stairs wind their way up around the dome, with windows into a few side rooms and workshops you don’t normally get to see in such a building. With a total height of 116 metres, including the entire dome and cross, this isn’t the most strenuous of climbs and definitely lower than other building you can get up. However, when you step out on to the outer balcony around the base of the dome, you won’ notice the slight lack of height as you are right in the middle of the city and surrounded by the beautiful architecture of the Museum Island.
Entry is 7€/4€ reduced fare and an audio guide is 3€. As this is still a very active church, viewing during church services is not allowed – please check their website for details of service times.
The French Cathedral is the church at the north side of the Gendarmenmarkt. Building began in 1701 to serve the large French Huguenot community in Berlin, with the eye-catching tower being a later addition in 1785. As such, these are still two separate entities – the Huguenot chapel has its entrance on the west side of the building facing Charlottenstraße, whilst the tower has its entrance directly on to the Gendarmenmarkt square.
The climb of 284 steps takes you up past Berlin’s largest carillon and brings you out to the 40m high viewing platform with views to the Humboldt University, State Opera House, Museum Island, and of course the tower’s mirror image – German Cathedral opposite.
(A view of the Berliner Dom and Fernsehturm from the Französischer Dom)
Entry is 2€/1€ reduced. Closed on Mondays. Tuesday – Saturday 12:00 – 17:00. Sunday 11:00 – 17:00
One of the most famous symbols of Berlin, this 368 metre tall tower was built between 1965 and 1969 as a celebration of the power of the GDR (East Germany) and to mark its 20th anniversary. The tower is the tallest building in Germany and has also remained a popular tourist attraction after the reunification of Germany. A lift takes you up to the panorama floor, 203 metres above the ground. One storey higher (207 metres high) is the bar and revolving restaurant (reservation recommended). Although this is certainly pricier than other options, and the waiting times can be quite long at popular times, the height is way above anything else and the views are therefore also much further and more spectacular.
Entry is 12€/7.50€ reduced, certain times can be booked in advance online. It is open every day 9:00 – midnight from March to October and 10:00 – midnight from November to February.
The Siegesäule or Victory Column in the middle of the Straße des 17. Juni is another of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. It was originally built in the 19th century to commemorate Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France – three of the gold rings around the column are made of cannon barrels, taken from the enemy in each of the three battles. The fourth ring, decorated with golden garlands, was added in 1938-39 when Hitler decided to move the column from its original place just in front of the Reichstag to the Großer Stern (Big Star) a large junction on his East-West axis (now Straße des 17. Juni) as part of his plans to remodel Berlin into the ‘world capital’ Germania.
The ground floor of the column contains an exhibition about its history and also about other national monuments both in Germany and in other countries with lots of model replicas. The 285 tightly winding steps take you all the way up to right under the feet of Berlin’s beloved Goldelse (also known as the victory goddess Victoria). Having been given a good spring clean in 2011 she is now a dazzling gold figure in the skyline of Berlin. The views from the top are simply breathtaking – on one side you can look straight down to the Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden and on the other side the road leads all the way out the Charlottenburg and the Teufelsberg radio station, not to mention the countless other sights you can see all around and the green of the Tiergarten directly below.
(The view east with Alexanderplatz, Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz)
(The Victory Column from below)
Entry is 3€/2.50€ reduced. Between April and October it is open 9.30am – 6.30pm Mon-Fri and 9.30am – 7pm on weekends. Between November and March it is open 10am – 6pm every day.
Panorama Punkt has two things to entice you – views of the modern architecture of Potsdamer Platz and the fastest lift in Europe! In just 20 seconds the lift zooms you up to the 24th floor. Alongside the astounding views there is also an open air exhibition about the history of Potsdamer Platz – an area of Berlin that has seen incredible changes over the last 100 years. There is also a café with floor-to-ceiling windows so you can enjoy the views whilst enjoying some food. They claim to have “the best sundowner in the city” – what do you think?!
Entry is 5€/4.50€ reduced. The viewing platform is open daily from 10am to 8pm and the café is open daily from 11am to 7pm.
The Reichstag building with its modern glass dome offers not only views out over the city, but also a unique peek into the German parliament. The Reichstag was built in 1894, but for the majority of the time since then it has not been used. In use up until 1933, it then suffered serious fire damage and so fell into disuse, with new parliamentary buildings being used instead. Following the Second World War, the Reichstag found itself sitting just on the western side of the border between East and West Berlin and so had no function to perform as the West German government had moved to Bonn and the East German government met at the Palast der Republik in their section of the city. Germany was reunified in 1990 and in 1991 politicians voted on whether to move back to Berlin or stay in Bonn; it was only won by a small majority but significant enough and so the decision was made to return to Berlin. This meant that massive renovation and restoration work had to be carried out before it was possible to move the government back into the building, one of the most important parts of this project was redesigning the glass dome that had been destroyed in the war. Sir Norman Foster was awarded the honour of creating a new cupola and now you can enjoy the fruits of his efforts.
After passing through security (you are entering a government building after all) you are escorted inside to the lifts which take you up to the roof. An audio guide leads you up the spiral walkway around the dome, pointing out what you can see both outside and inside as well as comments about the architecture and history of the building. Being able to not only enjoy the Berlin skyline, but also enter such an important building, spy on politicians in action and marvel at the beautiful architecture is a chance not to be missed!
(Looking down into the inside of the building)
(Inside at the top of the dome – I tried to visit in time for a beautiful sunset, but Berlin decided to have a storm instead, will have to try again!)
Entry is free, but you must book one or two days in advance and will need your passport or other valid ID when you visit. There are also lots of different tours on offer that may also be of interest, please visit the Bundestag website where you can find full information about booking your visit. The dome is open daily from 8am to 11pm with some exceptions (see website for details).
Well that should keep you going with enough stairs and lifts for a while – hopefully you’re feeling inspired to climb to the top of the nearest building now! Let us know if you have any other top recommendations or would find out more about any of these sites.
Written by Sarah Fisher. All photos belong to Sarah Fisher.