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2019 is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that signaled the end of the once divided city and, more importantly, Communism in Europe and the Cold War itself. It’s also the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus architecture, which started in Berlin. There are special citywide celebrations all year honoring both milestones, but whether your interest is history, architecture or just plain fun, here are six things you must see and do in Berlin.

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Take a Trabi tour

Berlin, Trabant

The Trabant, affectionately known as the “Trabi,” was the only vehicle manufactured in the former East Germany. It was a basic, clunky and junky model, and also the only thing available to ordinary citizens back then (if they were so lucky). Fortunately, hundreds have survived and have been restored into one of the most popular ways for vintage-loving travelers to tour the city.

There are self-drive options, but they require concentrating on the Trabi’s quirky, exclusive lever shift system, which means less focus on the sights. Opt instead for a driver-led tour. Trabi Safari offers them daily, year-round. Ours was with a guide born in the former East Germany, whose parents reserved a Trabi for her the day she was born, in the hopes she would get it by the time she was old enough to drive. (That’s how long the waiting list was—and the market price of a used one was twice what the government charged.)

DDR Museum

The only other place you’ll find Trabis in Berlin is at the DDR Museum devoted to the East German experience, including a re-creation of a kitchen, complete with Cold War-era appliances, and a cramped interrogation cell barely large enough for a bed and chair. More fun is trying on 1950s fashions, virtually, of course.

Checkpoint Charlie

checkpoint charlie, berlin, germany

There are still stacks of sandbags at the famous guard station that separated East and West Berlin, often topped with flowers from visitors who have turned it into something of a memorial. There’s also a small Berlin Wall Museum here, focusing on issues of human rights, including issues that have arisen since the Cold War.

The Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

The most somber section of what remains of the infamous wall is at the Gedenkstätte, or Berlin Wall Memorial, on Bernauer Strasse.  The block-wide “Death Strip” between the former divided city is now softened by grass and flowers, but even so, the old tower used by East German guards to shoot down would-be escapees can still send a chill down your spine.

The East Side Gallery is far less intimidating, even festive. It’s a mile-long section of the Berlin Wall that’s been painted with more than 100 images by artists from around the world, making it the world’s longest open-air gallery.  All the colorful graffiti features themes of freedom.

Judisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum of Berlin)

This is the history of Germany’s Jews from the Middle Ages to the decadent “Life is a Cabaret” days of the 1930s—before the Nazis prompted Jewish filmmakers and actors, composers and musicians to flee to Hollywood and Broadway—through today and the resurgence of a Jewish community in Berlin.

Those exhibits are in the part of the museum housed in an 1800s mansion. The other half is an architecturally significant modern addition by Daniel Liebeskind, with exhibits about the Holocaust. This wing has few level floors or 90-degree walls and windows too high to see out, so you get a feel for the disorientation and isolation of somebody who was—or is—persecuted in war or terrorism.

bauhaus building berlin

100 Years of Bauhaus

2019 also marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Bauhaus movement, and Berlin is just one of many German cities marking the event with special walking tours to identify significant original buildings. Berlin celebrates Bauhaus Week with the Long Night of Museums on August 31, when museums are open all night, until September 8, 2019. A pop-up glass festival center Ernst-Reuter-Platz previews the Bauhaus Archive extension currently under construction.

Where to Stay

The NH Collection Berlin Mitte am Checkpoint Charlie is steps from Checkpoint Charlie. It’s part of the affordable, Europe-based NH Hotel chain. Or, opt for the modern luxury of the Sofitel Berlin, steps from the city’s main shopping street, the Kurfurstendam.

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Tagged: Europe, Germany

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is www.ecoxplorer.com
Evelyn Kanter

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