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Berlin, the Capital of Europe

Jonathan van Bilsen



February 13, 2024

Berlin, the Capital of Europe

Travelling these days seems more expensive, and service seems to have lessened, but for those who enjoy travelling, hurdles and obstacles are merely challenges to overcome.

In today’s article, we are going to explore the vibrant German city of Berlin. It is a European gem, that has conquered more hurdles and obstacles, than any other European capital.

Established in the 13th century, Berlin evolved from a medieval trading hub into the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia. The 19th century marked significant industrial and cultural growth, laying the foundation for German unification in 1871.

The turbulent 20th century saw Berlin at the epicenter of world events. World War I brought economic hardship, followed by the volatile Weimar Republic era, and the rise of the Nazis in 1938.

World War II devastated Berlin, and left the city divided between Allied and Soviet sectors. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, physically separated the city for almost three decades.

The fall of the wall in 1989 symbolized the end of the Cold War, reunifying East and West Berlin. Since then, the city has thrived as a symbol of resilience, making it a global hub for art, innovation, and history.

The dominant Brandenburg Gate, visible from many directions, is a massive structure, which symbolizes Germany's unity. Dating back to the 18th century, it has witnessed significant historical events. It seems to be a haven for selfies, and I am sure I photo bombed many pics.

My very first trip to Berlin included visits to many sections of the famous wall. While parts of the original wall still stand, they are now adorned with vibrant street art, telling tales of division and reunification. Walking along East Side Gallery is like walking through a living history book, but with much better illustrations.

Berlin is all about history, but imagine an island dedicated to museums. Museum Island, in the heart of the city, is home to five world-class museums, including the famous Pergamon Museum.

One of my favourite places to visit in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie. Once a border crossing point between East and West Berlin, it is now a museum displaying the city's division. There is a fantastic display of what life in East Berlin was like, prior to the reunification in 1990. Make sure you leave enough time to walk the famous checkpoint, view historical exhibits, and soak in the atmosphere of a bygone era. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of actors portraying soldiers from the past.

Wherever you may be, at any given moment, you are always able to see the massive TV tower that dominates the skyline and offers breathtaking views. The area at the base of the tower is Alexanderplatz and is referred to as the beating heart of Berlin. It is a haven for shoppers, a destination for diners (in trendy restaurants), or simply a place to people-watch.

I spent a great deal of time walking in the bustling city and decided to take a more leisurely stroll through Tiergarten, Berlin's sprawling central park. It is a relaxing change, and an opportunity to escape into nature, stroll along scenic paths, and unwind by the lake. It is perfect for a leisurely picnic or a bike ride.

The atrocities from the war years are still present in many of the monuments and sights, and although this is a very different Germany from 85 years ago, a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, is an opportunity to pay your respects. It is not for everyone, but if you are interested in learning about the historic past, the field of 2,711 concrete slabs, known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, serves as a stark reminder of the outrages committed during World War II.

My next stop in this amazing city was Potsdamer Platz, where history meets modern times. Once a bustling square, it was reduced to ruins during  World War II. Today, it is a testament to Berlin's resilience, featuring sleek skyscrapers, theaters, and entertainment complexes. I found it a great place to walk around, do some shopping and people watch.

No matter where you go in Europe, architecture and religion are always at the forefront. I had a great opportunity to visit the Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, as it is known in German. It is a stunning architectural masterpiece located on Museum Island. The colossal church, with its magnificent dome, is a blend of renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical styles. The cathedral is so vast and steeped in history, that I would recommend a guided tour to explore its rich interior. A tour will also offer an opportunity to see the panoramic views from the dome. They are definitely worthy of social media posting.

To see Berlin in a few days does not do the city justice. Sadly, most of us do not have more time. One locale I would definitely recommend is the neighbouring town of Potsdam. To reach it you must cross the famous Glienicke Bridge, better known as the ‘Bridge of Spies’. This bridge, spanning the Havel River, gained global prominence during the Cold War as the clandestine meeting point for spy exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As I wandered the cobbled streets of Potsdam's Old Town, I was surrounded by centuries-old buildings, such as the majestic Sanssouci Palace, with its meticulously manicured gardens.

The quirky cafes and boutique shops lining the streets of the Dutch Quarter, provided an ideal setting for me to unwind after being immersed in the Cold War history.

I would never consider visiting this area without stopping in Potsdam. The opulence of Prussian palaces on every corner is breathtaking. Many of them have been turned into B&Bs are great places to stay.

If you have an opportunity to visit Germany’s capital, I would definitely recommend it. You will not be disappointed.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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