The skies in Berlin may grow gloomy in October, but the grey is uplifted during the Festival of Lights. The event is completely free and casts the city in a magical light with almost 100 of the capital's top sights radiantly-lit by national and international artists.
Discover where to go to see the lights as Berlin turns into the largest open-air gallery in the world.
Berlin's Festival of Lights
Since 2005, the light festival has taken place in mid-October and consists of light installations, video and 3D mapping. The city's top attractions are not just lit, but in constant motion through optical illusions. The Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Fernsehturm (TV Tower), Berliner Dom (cathedral), Siegessäule (Victory Column) and much of Museuminsel (Museum Island) are all brilliantly lit.
The lights are always beautiful showing ants climbing a blade of grass, hearts cascading over turrets, or the charismatic red or green Ampelmann popping up everywhere. They can also tell a story. The ancient tower of the Nikolaikirche in the old city center was illuminated all in white for one festival to commemorate the escape of John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, in the 17th century.
Each festival has its own motto and many of the illuminations will follow that theme like "Creating Tomorrow". The 2019 theme is "Lights of Freedom" to reflect the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The event has become quite popular with over 2 million visitors regularly attending the opening events. Over the nearly two-week schedule of events, many more millions travel between the attractions, observing and photographing the bright lights. You may have to be patient to get your best shot as everyone is taking pictures during the event and it is rare to get a picture without someonein the shot. In fact, many world-class photographers travel to Berlin to catch the highlights.
While Berlin's Festival of Lights is quite popular, it is just one in a series of events around the world from New York City to to Moscow to Jerusalem. The festival even has an official song (available for .99 cent download, of course).
Highlights of Berlin's Festival of Lights
During the festival, the city will light up daily from 19:00 until after midnight. The attractions are most impressive the darker the sky, but visiting is popular as soon as the illuminations begin. The 2019 festival will run from October 11th to 20th.
Among the over 100 lit buildings, some of the most popular featured in the festival are:
- Brandenburger Tor - Six 3D productions will provide an engaging show every 25 minutes
- Berliner Dom - Following the obvious, te cathedral has a Reformation theme. This will also be the site of the concert Lumissimo
- Alexanderplatz - The Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and Park Inn Hotel will be illuminated
- Europa Center in City-West
- Potsdamer Platz
- Gendarmenmarkt with 2-D and 3-D projections
- Hotel de Rome - Near Bebelplatz, the hotel has a 3D video map
- Humboldt University
- S-Bahn Stations - Zoologischer Garten, Hauptbahnhof, Friedrichstraße, Hackescher Markt, Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof
The best way to enjoy the top landmarks is with a self-guided walking tour, but you can also see the festival on a guided tour. There are many groups that walk to the sites and give great information about the illuminations, or you can travel by segways, carriage, or by boat. There are also several tours that focus on photography and how to best capture the lights in the busy night-time atmosphere.
Closing Ceremony of Berlin's Festival of Lights
Appropriately entitled "Lights Off", the theme continue with the music of the Electric Light Orchestra. Unlike the rest of the festival, this is a more formal event and requires a ticket (admission is €28 - 33 per person).