For over 100 years Berlin has, whether it liked it or not, been at the centre of European history. Situated in the middle of a great plain stretching from the Pyrenees to the Urals, this German capital with its Slavic name was always the place where East meets West. Today’s Berlin is more multicultural than ever, welcoming people from all over the world, something we at OEB are justly proud of.
As we prepare ourselves to receive more than 2,000 delegates from over 50 countries, we at the news service have put together a guide to Berlin with an international flavour. This year attendees will get a chance to celebrate Berlin’s global influences at The Occupied Party; meanwhile, if you’ve got a few hours to spare or are staying on for the weekend after the Conference, there’s a huge number of things to see in town. From the famous to the obscure, here are some of the sites that bear witness to Berlin’s cosmopolitan history.
- A French church
Gendarmenmarkt is one of Berlin’s prettiest squares, with the steps of the concert hall on one side and the twin cupolas at either end marking the French and German churches. The domed towers were built on the instigation of Frederick the Great in 1785 but the French church, to the north of the square, is older, dating back to the time when the Huguenots, fleeing persecution in their native France, settled in Berlin.
Gendarmenmarkt: U2 Hausvogteiplatz
- A worldwide celebrity
Berlin has something of a reputation for being one big construction site. If you visit the Museum Island at the moment you may notice the latest building project taking shape: the Humboldt-Forum, built within three reconstructed façades of the Baroque palace that once occupied this site. This is but the latest Berlin institution dedicated to Prussian scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who was so widely travelled and universally loved at one time that he possibly has more things named after him than anybody else (including an ocean current, some of the moon, several ships, a penguin, a squid, at least four mountain ranges and a sizeable chunk of Nevada). You can also visit his family home here, Schloss Tegel, with its lakeside grounds.
Humboldt-Forum is on the Schlossplatz, a few minutes’ walk from U2 Hausvogteiplatz
Schloss Tegel: U6 Alt-Tegel
- A world first
There’s some things, however, you won’t find anywhere in the world other than Berlin and exhibition houses dedicated to interactive technology is one of them. Opened in 2014, The Game Science Center Berlin is the first museum of its type in existence, 300m2 of space dedicated to interactive exhibits that let you “touch the future”. We will be organising a visit ourselves on the Friday after the Conference; all those interested please meet at the registration desk at 17:30.
Game Science Center: U6 Kochstraße; entrance fee €14
- International, The
We said international, and what’s more international than… international communism? Karl-Marx-Allee is the monumental socialist avenue of Berlin’s Mitte, a feast of wedding-cake-style architecture (if you like that sort of thing) with a few space-age glassy modernist constructions thrown in. Here you’ll find Café Moskau, instantly recognisable by the Sputnik on the roof. It is one of seven “nationality restaurants” once run by the East German state to give people a taste of other cultures, many of them situated along the Allee, including Cafés Budapest, Warschau and Bukarest.
Café Moskau: U5 Schillingstraße
- Sunny Bohemian villages
The German for “That’s all Greek to me” is “For all I know that’s Bohemian villages!” (Für mich sind das alles Böhmische Dörfer). Berlin has its own such village: Böhmisch-Rixdorf, a charming little neighbourhood sandwiched between the busy thoroughfares of Sonnenallee and Hermannstraße in Neukölln. Dating back to 1737, when protestant refugees from what is now the Czech Republic settled in the area, the low village houses clustered around a small church make a surprising contrast to the backs of the five-storey blocks on either side. The village atmosphere continues inside many of the businesses; here you’ll find old Berlin-style bars, junk shops and a restaurant that sells 1m-wide pizzas (but only to groups of 6). North of here is the Sonnenallee, one of the main middle-eastern areas of Berlin. Suitably named, the Sonnenallee is (by the way) perfectly aligned towards sunrise on the winter solstice, like a neolithic tomb, meaning that it’s a particularly beautiful place on a sunny winter morning.
Böhmisch-Rixdorf (Richardplatz): U7 Karl-Marx-Straße
- Forgotten museums
Berlin’s central museums are too well known to mention here. Out in Dahlem, however, you’ll find a set of less visited (often astonishingly empty) museums. The Ethnological Museum, with half a million objects, has one of the largest collections of artefacts from outside Europe in the world, and was founded by well-travelled polymath and father of ethnography Adolf Bastian. It is due to move to the new Humboldt-Forum soon along with its neighbour, the Museum of Asian Art. In the same area you’ll also find the Museum of European Cultures and the Botanical Gardens.
Dahlem Museen: U3 Dahlem Dorf
- Mediaeval world
Well OK, so you might want to do something German, and this one’s as German as they come. Nikolaiviertel is a bizarre East German toytown, a recreation, half in timber and stone, half in concrete, of a small part of the destroyed centre of Berlin around the Nikolaikirche. Descriptions of it vary from “weird” or “disturbing” to “kitschy”, but you’ll find some interesting (actually quite weird, disturbing and kitschy) 16th-century sculptures in the church. If you fancy some traditional Berlin cuisine, this is the place to go. Bear in mind that traditional Berlin cuisine is pickled knuckle. There’s a reason why the Döner Kebab was “invented” here…
Nikolaiviertel: U2 Klosterstraße