Certainly, the current German capital is a patchwork of buildings; restored, repaired, and rebuilt. From the remants of Imperial Prussian grandeur to the stocky tenements of the industrial revolution, East German Plattenbau, and the glass and steel structures of the cosmopolitan contemporary city.
Of course, as any seasoned traveller knows: the real cherished city experiences are to be found in-between these markers. They consist of the conversations, the interactions, the sounds, the smells – and as a matter of orientation (and admiration), the sights.
In the following guide, I’ve chosen to shift the focus from the macro to the micro – and deal instead with the objects that define Berlin and similarly serve to anchor any experience in the city. When discovered!
Not necessarily as easy to find as the landmarks – or hard to miss – these are the statues, the graves, the memorials, the token unique items buried in museums. Signifiers directly connecting experiences in the past with the present. Punctuation points in the greater story, in the form of treasures, artefacts, and relics – a worn item perhaps or a symbollic mass.
They elicit commentary about culture, the conditions of a society – and like landmarks, these objects act as more than phyical matter, they are also the materialised essence of the city.
This collection could have continued ad inifinitum – as there are certainly plenty of objects in Berlin that carry at lot more weight than can be measured with a metric or imperial system.
Far from a definitive object-based guide to the entire city or the story of Berlin’s chequered history through its relics, this is an opportunity to connect the dots – and find stories, secrets, and intrigue embodied in physical form.
Note: Clicking ‘Find This Object On The Map’ under each entry will bring you back to the map above – by clicking the sidebar navigation you’ll get a list of all 101 objects and can explore by location.
01 | The Berlin Flag
Flying high across the city, accompanying both civil and state offices, the Berlin flag is easily identifiable by its red-white-black colour scheme, and the city mascot – the Berlin Bear. As Berlin is not only a city but also one of the sixteen federal states, you may also spot a slight variation of the civil flag, where the bear appears as a coat of arms – inside a shield capped with a crown. This is the official Berlin State flag, whereas the civil flag features just the lone bear without any decoration – arms stretched out facing the left of the flag.
Importantly, if you’re looking to take one home as a souvenir, bear in mind that it only counts as the genuine article if the grizzly is positioned slightly left on centre – not exactly in the middle!
Address: Various Locations
02 | The Flaechenschwerpunkt
Berlin is a city of many centres; but only one – the geographical centre – has its own polished granite tablet telling you exactly where you are. Ground zero – tucked away in a small park in the city district of Kreuzberg. This was first calculated in 1990, and reconfirmed in 1994 and 1997 – with the coordinates 52°30’10″N /13°24’15″E.
Other contenders for the title of ‘centre of Berlin’ have been considered as the city has changed and in 2010 the former head of the Potsdam planetarium proposed that the exact centre of Berlin is actually now in the district of Neukölln – in front of the house on the Spremberger Straße 4. Although there is no plaque there, so does it really count?
Address: Alexandrinenstraße 12, 10969 Berlin
03 | The Quadriga
Overlooking the historic district of Mitte from atop the Brandenburg Gate is the four-horse drawn chariot – the Quadriga – carrying the goddess Irene. Without a doubt Berlin’s most famous statue this image also features on most 10/20/50 cent coins minted in Germany.
Designed by famed Prussian sculptor, Johann Gottfried Schadow, the Quadriga was added to the Brandenburg Gate in 1793 – and shared the same fate as the Horses of St Mark in Venice when it was looted by French Emperor Napoleon and taken to Paris in 1806. When the Quadriga was finally returned eight years later, the goddess was awarded an Iron Cross – still visible inside the wreath atop her staff.
Address: Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin
04 | The Bust of Nefertiti
Housed in the Neues Museum is the star attraction of the Berlin state museum’s collection – the bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti – face of the American plastic surgeons association and ‘the most beautiful woman to have ever lived’.
Remarkably despite how highly regarded the piece is, as part of the state collection, the bust of Nefertiti is the only artefact on display that visitors are not allowed to photograph – unless stood in the adjoining rooms. It is common practice in museums to forbid flash photography so as not to damage artefacts, certainly here the no-photos policy helps with the sale of postcards – and limits damage to the museum’s bottom line.
05 | The Granite Bowl
When English Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, commissioned the production of a huge granite basin in 1826, Prussian King Frederick William III responded by stating his desire to produce a version that would surpass the British bowl.
Reminiscent of the enormous porphyry basin in the Vatican, this huge Granite Bowl now sits in front of Berlin’s prestigious Altes Museum. With a circumference of 21.7 metres, it is considered the largest bowl in the world made from a single stone. Originally intended for exhibition inside the rotunda of the museum, its size meant it only made it as far as the entrance, in 1831.
06 | The Ishtar Gate
One of the original seven wonders of the world, the walls of ancient Babylon were constructed more than 2500 years ago by King Nebuchadnezzar II. This ceremonial entrance – named after the goddess Ishtar, previously sat at the end of long processional street and was constructed using glazed bricks mainly of an intense lapis lazuli blue colour while featuring rows of bas-relief animals, representing ancient Babylonian deities.
Although this is the smaller part of the entrance gate, it offers visitors to the Pergamon Museum the rare and exciting opportunity to enter ancient Babylon – without even leaving Berlin.
07 | The Stadtschloss Cross
Although the original Stadtschloss was almost entirely destroyed in 1950, this palace-shaped replica now sits on the southern edge of Museum Island – topped with a rather controversial Christian cross bearing the name of its mail-order-catalogue czar benefactor.
An extremely controversial project, not least as in order to make way for this project the former East German parliament (the Palast der Republik) had to fall to the wrecking ball.When finished, this new reconstruction is set to serve as home of the Humboldtforum – with a museum exhibiting non-European art nestled inside this faux-Baroque Prussian residence.
08 | The Stadtschloss Portal
The only surviving original piece of the Berliner Stadtschloss, this balcony is where German Communist, Karl Liebknecht, proclaimed the short-lived German Socialist Republic in 1918 – fittingly now attached to an international business school.
Liebknecht’s speech at around 4pm – following a similar proclamation by Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann from the Reichstag building the same day announcing a German Republic – would trigger a civil war in Germany. The fight for control of that new republic leading to violent clashes and Liebknecht’s murder, by right wing paramilitaries, on January 15th 1919.
09 | The Berliner Stadtmauer
The original ‘Berlin Wall’, a customs and exise barrier that dates back to the Middle Ages, previously encircled the dual towns of Berlin-Cölln and the royal palace. The only remaining piece in the city is now to be found on Littenstrasse, near Alexanderplatz.
This particular piece survived demolition due to its location and use as a boundary wall for residential buildings that have since been cleared. It was declared a listed protected landmark in 1948. As the city grew, the original Berlin Wall was expanded and linked to medieval gates and fortress gates – the only one still standing now being the Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz.
Address: Waisenstraße 25, 10179 Berlin
10 | The Kreuzberg
The city district of Kreuzberg gets its name from a Prussian memorial – the National Monument for the Liberation Wars – constructed at the highest point in central Berlin. A cast-iron memorial designed to resemble the spire of a Gothic church, crowned with a cross – it commemorates the soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to liberate Prussia from Napoleon’s forces in what are sometimes also called the Wars of the Sixth/Seventh Coalition.
Had Napoleon stayed confined to the island of Elba in 1815 – and not been conclusively defeated at Waterloo the same year – it is possible that this famous district, and hill, may have aquired another name.
Address: Viktoriapark, 10965 Berlin
11 | The Neue Wache Pieta
Twentieth-century German sculptress Käthe Kollwitz’s most famous work can be found inside a former Prussian guardhouse turned war memorial in central Berlin. A secularised pastiche of Michaelangelo’s Pieta depicting a mourning mother holding her dead son, this statue was added in 1993 as this building was transformed into the ‘Memorial for the Victims of War and Tyranny’.
Placed directly underneath an oculus, the ‘Mother with her Dead Son’ piece is intentionally left open to the elements – meaning that when it rains the statue is soaked while the visitors remain dry – to witness the water dripping down the mother’s face like tears.
12 | Marx and Engels
Before establishing themselves as the founding fathers of Communism, both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels spent time living and studying in Berlin – in-fact it was during his studies at the Berlin University that Marx adopted the concept of the Proletariat to his work – previously a Roman term meaning a household with nothing to contribute but its children.
These two bearded revolutionaries – so integral to the former ruling ideology of East Germany – can still be found resting in a small city park near Alexanderplatz. According to the popular joke: they are sat on their suitcases getting ready to leave for the West as they realise Communism has failed.
Address: Karl-Liebknecht-Strase, 10178 Berlin
13 | The Auschwitz Trees
These 320 birch trees, nursed in the soil surrounding the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, were introduced in Berlin back in 2012 – a provocative way of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust right in the heart of the city that previously served as the capital of Nazi Germany.
The work of Polish conceptual artist, Lukasz Surowiec, they can be found in the former Jewish section of the Mitte district – in the courtyard of the KW Institute – and also outside the Grünewald train station (one of the three major deportation stations used during the Nazi period to ‘resettle’ Jewish Berliners to be murdered further east in places like Auschwitz).
14 | The Ephraim Palais
This beautiful residence was constructed by Prussian Mint Master, Veitel Heine Ephraim – famous for debasing the Prussian currency to finance King Fredrick II’s wars. Due to its elegant rococo style, it became known as ‘the most beautiful corner of Berlin’. This heavily restored former residence, with its preserved original facade, houses a museum that often serves to showcase art and cultural exhibitions.
Amidst the surrounding area of the Nikolaiviertel that was severly damaged during the Second World War, only to be rebuilt by the East German government as a prefabricated Plattenbau form of medieval-Berlin Disneyland.
15 | The Weltzeituhr
The Weltzeituhr (World Clock) at Alexanderplatz has been a popular meeting spot since its installation in 1969, when this square was part of the capital of East Germany. As it rotates throughout the day, it is possible to make out the time in 148 major cities around the world – the clock is constantly in motion, although moving too slow to be noticed by the human eye.
Its unique design and history led to it being listed as a landmark of “historically outstanding importance” in 2015 – four years later the copyright was rescinded by the Berlin State, so now it is possible to buy souvenir versions of this technical marvel and meet elsewhere.
Address: Alexanderplatz 1, 10178 Berlin
16 | Frederick the Great
As the first King of Prussia, Frederick II, developed a reputation as a feared military leader – but in private dreamt of becoming a respected philosopher. This equestrian statue of Old Fritz, sits on Unter den Linden in the Forum Fridericianum, the artistic and intellectual centre of enlightenment-era Prussia. Its presence on this street – where first introduced in 1851 – says a lot about the changing politics of memory in East Germany.
Having been encased in concrete to survive the Second World War, the statue was shuttled to various locations, until the Socialist state could reconcile the nuances of Prussian history and felt comfortable bringing Frederick back.
Address: Unter den Linden 9, 10117 Berlin
17 | The Olympic Bell
One of the few publicly visible instances of Nazi iconography in Berlin, this Olympic Bell was commissioned and cast for the 1936 Summer Olympics – also known as the ‘Nazi Games’. Damaged by anti-aircraft fire during the Second World War it now rests outside Berlin’s Olympic Stadium – with a variation on the German eagle that graced the helmets of Nazi era soldiers, and the Nazi swastika disfigured although still discernible.
The bell tower itself was extensively damaged at the end of the war but has since been reconstructed and offers a magnificent panoramic view across the stadium and of Berlin – but also as far west as neighbouring Potsdam.
18 | Erich Mielke's Desk
Once the personal office of the East German ‘Master of Fear’ – Erich Mielke – head of the infamous STASI secret police, this preserved space is now part of the Berlin Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg. While considered secret for their activities, the existence of the East German state security service was in-fact well known to citizens and foreigners alike.
What lay beyond the public eye was the conspiratorial world behind the closed doors of the prisons and former administrative headquarters such as this site. Open to the public 7 days a week, the present day museum now allows an unrestricted view of the inner workings of one of history’s most secretive organisations.
19 | Rosa Luxemburg Memorial
When the co-founder of the German Communist party, Rosa Luxemburg, met her end in January 1919, it was at the hands of a right wing paramilitary Freikorps group. ‘Red Rosa’ had risen to become a prominent figure in the struggle for power following the end of the First World War and abdication of the German Kaiser. This memorial marks the spot where her corpse was thrown into the Landwehr Canal following her execution.
Although her body has never been positively identified, she has a grave prominently located in the heart of the Socialist Cemetery in Berlin Friedrichsfelde – considered a martyr of the Communist struggle.
Address: Lichtensteinbrücke, 10787 Berlin
20 | The Dicke Marie
Berlin’s oldest tree, the Dicke Marie (Fat Marie), is speculated to even predate the establishment of Berlin – and likely first started taking root all the way back in the 1100s. Situated in the district of Tegel, this English Oak was in-fact named by the famous Humboldt brothers – after their cook. It can be found a short distance from Schloss Tegel (where the brothers lived).
It has been speculated that the tree may only be around 400 years old, due to its circumference of 6 metres – as oak trees older than 800 years usually reach at least 8 metres. The core of the tree has sadly rotten away, so calculating the exact age using the trees annual rings is no longer possible.
Address: An der Malche 1, 13507 Berlin
21 | The Mengenlehreuhr
If you’re looking for the weirdest clock in Berlin – this is it. At first glance, what may appear to look more like a futuristic traffic light, is actually the first public clock in the world that registers time by means of illuminated, coloured fields. Not only does the Mengenlehreuhr feature in the Guiness Book of World Records for this achievement, but also a famous, and so far unsolved, CIA cryptology puzzle. Read from top to bottom the rows of lights represent five hours, one hour, five minutes, and one minute.
Previously located on West Berlin’s celebrated Ku’damm shopping street, the clock was moved to its current location – outside the Europa Center, opposite the Zoo – in 1995.
Address: Budapester Strasse 5, 10787 Berlin
22 | Ronald Reagan's Chainsaw
While celebrated for calling on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this Wall“, US President and Cold War warrior Ronald Reagan was himself no stranger to destruction of property. Reagan spent much of his presidency at home in his rural Rancho del Cielo – dubbed the Western White House – where the sound of his trusty chainsaw would echo through the valley, as the President took to chopping down trees for firewood and to build fencing – when not engaging in other manly pursuits.
The chainsaw is now one of the more unusual items to be found in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum – along with Gandhi’s sandals and Nikita Krushchev’s hat.
23 | Checkpoint Charlie
Beyond the Brandenburg Gate, no other object in Berlin better represents the Cold War division of the city – and antagonism between the competing Eastern and Western powers – than this Checkpoint Charlie border crossing box. Unlike the replica version that now stands in its place at the junction on Friedrichstrasse where the US military crossing once was – depicting the earlier wooden-hut form – this is the box that stood on the frontier when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
It is now on show outside the Allied Museum, near the US embassy, in the West Berlin district of Dahlem – although if you want to see the original wooden version, that is here too inside the museum!
24 | The Karl Liebknecht Statue
On August 1st 1916, Sparticus League leader, Karl Liebknecht, organised a demostration against the First World War at Potsdamer Platz – and as a result was sentenced to over four years in prison. Released early, he played an important role in the November Revolution of 1918, as co-founder of the German Communist Party and the man who announced the ‘German Socialist Republic’ from the Berliner Stadtschloss. Following his murder in January 1919, Liebknecht would be celebrated as a martyr of the movement.
On what could have been Liebknecht’s 80th birthday, the East German government erected this pedestal as the base for a future statue in his honour – that never arrived.
Address: Potsdamer Platz, 10785 Berlin
25 | Adolf Hitler's Desk
There are very few objects directly connected to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler that have survived the Second World War to be exhibited in Berlin. Looting and treasure hunting rife in the aftermath of the Battle of Berlin deprived the city of many of these artefacts. Undoubtably, also, the issue of weighing glorification against educational value also needs to be taken into account – in a country where the display of “symbols of unconstitutional organisations” is prohibited.
This mammoth desk, however, that previously stood in Hitler’s personal study can be found on display in the German Historical Museum.
26 | Dem Deutschen Volke
The inscription on the front of the German parliament – Dem Deutschen Volke (to the German people) – has a peculiar history. Added in 1916, during the height of the First World War, the lettering was forged out of bronze canons captured from Napoleon’s forces in the 1800s.
Although originally intended to grace the building when it opened in 1894 – as the architrave was designed for the inscription – it would take more than 20 years of debate about the typography, the meaning of the phrase, and potential alteratives, before it was eventually applied – with the font specially designed by famed typographer Peter Behrens.
27 | Moses Mendelssohn's Grave
Undeniably one of the most important figures in the Jewish Englightenment movement (Haskalah), 18th century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn rose to prominence in Berlin with a work addressing the immortality of the soul – earning him the nickname ‘the German Socrates’. It was however his advocacy of integration, assimilation, and secularisation, that had a more lasting impact of Berlin’s Jewish inhabitants and secured Mendelssohn’s reputation as a towering figure of the Englightenment-era.
He was buried in the Grosse Hamburger cemetery in 1786, where a replica tombstone can now be found, standing tall and solitary amongst the ivy.
28 | Knut The Polar Bear
The other Berlin bear, Knut was previously the star attraction at the West Berlin zoo, until his tragic death in 2011. Rejected by his mother at birth, he was raised by his zookeepers – only to experience the distress of losing his long-term carer to a heart attack in 2008. Knut lived for another three years and was considered solely responsible for a massive increase in revenue as the media hyped ‘Knutfever’ and zoo entrance numbers soared. After registering ‘Knut’ as a trademark, the Zoo saw its shares double in value on the stock market.
The famous polar bear can now be found on display at the Natural History Museum, surrounded by other celebrity animals.
29| The Great Elector Statue
Now located in the courtyard of the Charlottenburg Palace, this bronze equestrian statue depicts Frederick William I – the Great Elector – considered the Grandfather of the Prussian state. Celebrated as one of the most important works of Baroque sculpture in the world – its beauty is cast in the shadow of the Great Elector’s role in enabling Prussia to become a major slave trading power.
In 1682, the Great Elector officially entered the Transatlantic Slave trade by founding the Brandenburg Africa Company, subsequently establishing the Brandenburg Gold Coast in nowadays Ghana to arrange the shipment of slaves and exotic animals.
30 | The Rudolf Virchow Statue
Considered the first person to develop a systematic method of autopsy to identify cause of death, Rudolf Virchow is often referred to as the father of modern pathology. Although an opponent of Charles Darwin and critical of modern Germ theory, Virchow contributed greatly to the city of Berlin – in particular by advising on the construction of the city’s sewage system.
Virchow considered politics “nothing else but medicine on a large scale” and was elected to the German parliament in 1880. He was also famously challenged to a duel by Otto von Bismarck, following a dispute over financial policies – to which he insisted he would only participate if they fought with sausages.
Address: Reinhardtstraße 40, 10117 Berlin
31 | The Berlin Wall Kiss
There is little of the Berlin Wall left visible in the city; of the around 160km that once stood – there is perhaps 15km remaining. The most famous section, known as the East Side Gallery, is now the largest and longest open air gallery in the world – covered in graffiti street art.
The most famous work, the Brezhnev-Hoenecker Kiss is based on a real event, captured as East German leader Hoenekcer and Soviet leader Brezhnev embraced back in 1979. A common fraternal pleasantry among leaders of Socialist states, the Brüderküss (Brotherly Kiss) was often considered a measure of the level of relations between the countries involved.
32 | The Cafe Moscow Sputnik
Once the pride of East Germany, the Karl-Marx-Allee boulevard stretches from Alexanderplatz east towards the city limits in the direction of the Socialist sister states. Previously there were restaurants named after the capital cities of those states along this grand avenue, where it was also possible to dine on the national cuisine.
Cafe Moscow is the only venue remaining, capped with this replica of the Soviet Sputnik – the first satellite launched into space back in 1957. With the launch of this small sacred object, the Soviet Union clearly demonstrated its position leading the Space Race at the time, 12 years before the United States put men on the moon.
33 | The Tallest Aquarium
Housed in the lobby of the Radisson Blu is the largest acrylic cylindrical aquarium in the world – 82 feet in height, this monster is home to around 1,500 fish, floating around in about 1 million litres of water. It is now the main attraction of the Berlin Sea Life Centre, where for a hefty sum you can pay to ride the internal elevator up through the aquarium for an unusual view of this unusual attraction.
If you get there are the right time you can also either see the diver inside cleaning the tank or the feeding of the fish – unfortunately being a guest at the hotel no longer grants you the possiblity to ride in the elevator to your room.