Mitte (which translates to "middle") is the central neighborhood of Berlin. It holds most of the city's top attractions, and many tourists never leave this kiez (neighborhood) as there is enough here to fill several days in the city.
The oldest area of Berlin lies in Mitte. The Nikoliviertel is the Berlin of yore with cobblestone streets, charming houses, and a church from 1200. This was a stop on the main trading route with the settlements of Alt-Berlin and Cölln on either side of the Spree. Only the base of the Nikolaikirche is original, as this area was heavily damaged during WWII, but it has been faithfully restored and occasionally holds events with actors dressed the part of the early 20th century. Mitte became the first district of the city under the Greater Berlin Act in 1920.
The only thing disrupting the illusion of the olden days is the GDR-era Fernsehturm (TV Tower) looming overhead. Just steps away from this medieval section is the GDR dream of Alexanderplatz, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. Many buildings reflect the idealism of the regime in the 1960s and 70s from the TV Tower with its secret cross to the Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft (Fountain of the Peoples' Friendship) to the Weltzeituhr (World Clock).
Between 1961 and 1990, Mitte was part of East Berlin, closed to the West and surrounded by the Berlin Wall. The iconic border crossing of Checkpoint Charlie still exists here for tourists to visit.
In 2001, the districts were redrawn and Tiergarten and Wedding joined the district of Mitte. Although now technically Mitte, they have their own unique characteristics. For a hand's on look at some of the area's history and development, the Mitte Museum provides an excellent overview.
What to Do There
Packed full of must-see sights from Brandenburger Tor to the Reichstag, Mitte is a necessary stop for anyone traveling through or to Berlin. However, Berlin's transportation system is excellent and staying in a town other than Mitte can better acquaint you with the multiple facets of the city and the people who live there.
- Brandenburg Gate: Brandenburger Tor is deeply ensconced in the history of the city from Napoleon to Kennedy to David Hasselhof and the fall of the wall.
- TV Tower: The Fernsehturm is the most visible element remaining of the GDR. In fact, because of Berlin's low building height and flat terrain, you can see the TV tower for miles around in every direction. Gaze at it on a sunny day and enjoy the "Pope's Revenge" of a cross across its disco ball-like surface.
- Museum Island: You may not notice that you are on an island or in the midst of some of the very best museums in all of Berlin on Museuminsel, but you are. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is dominated by the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) if approaching from Unter den Linden, but if continue along the Spree you will find the Altes Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Bode Museum, Neues Museum, and internationally acclaimed Pergamon Museum.
- Alexanderplatz: This commercial central square is the site of periodic festivals and a meeting point at one of the busiest U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and tram stops in the city.
- Reichstag: Germany’s main Parliament building is an example of the transformation the country has undergone since WWII. A standard dome has been replaced in glass to illustrate the political idea of glasnost (openness). Visitors can walk around the snowglobe top for a free (with registration) audio tour pointing out famous Berlin sites.
- Hackescher Markt: A series of interlocking courtyards feature everything from intricate brickwork to modern shops and restaurants to indie theatres to an elaborate graffiti wall.
- Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe: Simply called "The Holocaust Memorial" by many visitors, it is hard to miss this field of undulating, erect stones between Brandenburger Tor and Potsdamer Platz. However, this is far from the only Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
- Rosenthaler Platz: This hipster mecca is filled with an ever-changing array of restaurants bars and cafes. If you are looking for somewhere to stay, try the Circus Hotel with its very own David Hasselhof museum.
- Nikolaiviertel: For all its modernity, Mitte is still the location of the oldest section of Berlin. Charmingly rebuilt after WWII, this small quarter houses free museums, a medieval church, and a historic brewery alongside the Spree.
- Scheunenviertel: North of the River Spree is an area full of trendy shops and restaurants. Named the "Barn Quarter" for the farming industry that was located here after 1672, it was also the center of Jewish life before WWII. The Neue Synagoge from 1859 was miraculously saved during Kristallnacht. Clärchens Ballhaus is also located here, a dance hall that has been rocking for over 100 years. Get a dance lesson before you hit the floor, or just watch people glide over kaffee und kuchen.
Attractions in Wedding
Wedding (pronounced VED-ding) has a very different reputation than much of Mitte. Located just north of central Mitte, the area is still a haven of relatively cheap rents in grand historical buildings. But the now tired saying, "Wedding kommt" ("Wedding is coming/developing"), has been uttered for years now and is more of a warning than a promise.
Gentrification is changing this gritty, bustling area as young Germans and Western immigrants move in. It is one of the most diverse neighborhoods with African grocers, hipster breweries, Turkish restaurants, and Korean nail shops. It is estimated that 30 percent of the population here is non-German.
- Berlin Wall Memorial: Just over the border from central Mitte is the city's best memorial to the Berlin Wall. A walk along the former line of the wall lays out the history in heartbreaking detail with large-scale displays until you come to the center itself. Filled with newsreels from the time as well as a reconstructed wall with viewing platform for visitors, it is impossible not to feel the alienation that was created by this significant time in Berlin's past.
- Panke: This canal lazily winds its way through the neighborhood, bordered by playgrounds, restaurants, parks, libraries and more.
- Uferstudios: In warehouses formerly owned by BVG, a string of performance studios features avant-garde festivals and shows. Just across the street at the Uferhallen where the buses once lived, Café Pförtner pays homage to the site's past with charming restaurant seating within an old school bus.
- Silent Green: This art space offers a regular program of live music, screenings and lectures, all within the first crematorium in Berlin.
- Flakturm Humboldthain: Lurking atop a hill and covered up by leafy branches for part of the year, it can easy to miss one of the area's most impressive landmarks. This scenic park complete with community pool and rolling greens is topped with two former Flak towers (anti-aircraft gun towers). Now covered with debris from the war, two viewing platforms still poke out above. And beneath this faux hill remains of a massive air raid shelter which can be explored with the somewhat uneven Berlin Underworld Tours.
- Craft Breweries: Two of the best breweries in the city are located in walking distance to each other. Vagabund Brauerei and Eschenbräu brew on site and have strong local followings.
Attractions in Tiergarten
The primary attraction in Tiergarten is the park of the same name. Once a royal hunting ground, it is now open to the public and its over 600 acres are enjoyed by all. Here are some highlights:
- Strasse des 17. Juni: The central roadway through the Tiergarten. It starts at the Brandenburg Gate and goes all the way to Ernst-Reuter Platz, punctuated by the Siegessäule (Victory Column)
- FKK sunbathers
- A Sunday Flea Market
- Cafe am Neuen See, one of the best biergartens in the city
- Gaslaternen-Freilichtmuseum (Gas Lamp Museum)
- Tiergartenquelle's hearty German food
How to Get to Mitte
Many visitors arrive in Berlin by its central train station, Hauptbahnhof, located within Mitte. Other main transport stations in Mitte are Friedrichstrasse and Alexanderplatz. From any of these points there are excellent options to reach every corner of the city by S- and U-Bahn lines, as well as by tram or by bus. BVG is the public transport authority and has helpful info in English plus trip planners.
Tiergarten and Wedding are also well served by public transport as Tiergarten has its own S-Bahn stop and S+U Gesundbrunnen is on the ringbahn and a major entry point to the rest of Wedding and beyond.