The sites covered by the Bus 100 read like a travel websites list of Berlin’s top rated attractions: Museum Island, the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church… In one fell 7 km swoop, this double-decker gobbles through historic sites like Pacman through pixels. At the cost of a public bus fare and with this guide in hand, you can sit back and enjoy this free self guided tour through Berlin’s historic centre. For tips on navigating Berlin’s public transport system check out our guide How to Bahn
Stops on the self guided tour
The stops of this self guided tour cover many sites of interest. Follow the links for a run down on what to look out for.
- Hertz Allee
- Breitscheidplatz (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church)
- Lützowplatz (Bauhaus Museum)
- Grosser Stern (Victory Column)
- Schloss Bellevue
- Haus der Kulturen der Welt
- Brandenburger Tor
- Staatsoper (Bebelplatz)
- Lustgarten (Museum Island)
- Spandauer Strasse/Marienkirche (Neptune Fountain)
- Memhardstrasse (Alexanderplatz)
These days, the Bus 100 is far from being an inside tip. During peak season packs of thrifty tourists can be seen shuffling in anticipation at the stops along the route. Competition for the best seats can get ruthless so a head start comes in handy. Luckily for those In the Know, there is a way to beat the crowds…
Most people will start their trip on the Bus 100 at either Alexanderplatz or Zoologischer Garten. Which makes sense as they are at either end of the route, right? Wrong. Just around the corner from Zoologischer Garten, not 300 metres away, there is another stop: Hertz Allee. An inconspicuous carpark filled with empty buses, this is the little-used western terminus of the Bus 100 and the ideal beginning for your self guided tour. Board here and you’ll be sitting pretty as everyone else elbows their way on board one stop later.
Bahnhof Zoo is one of Berlin’s busier stations, standing as it does in the heart of West Berlin. Buses, U-bahn, S-bahn and regional trains all convene here. The hubbub attracts all walks of life and the resulting mix of humanity, which has inspired films, books and songs, can sometimes compete in fascination with the Zoo itself.
Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten (which can be seen on the opposite side of the road to the station) is the oldest zoo in Germany, the most visited in Europe and the most bio-diverse in the world. As far as zoo’s go then, it’s worth a look. There’s also a world class aquarium attached which can be visited on a joint ticket.
In the know: A walk around the perimeter, particularly along the Landwehrkanal, provides a sneak peek into some of the animal enclosures. Or you could slip into Bikinihaus a trendy shopping mall with pop up style stores and an international food court with views into some of the enclosures. If you prefer to include alcohol in your animal observation, head to Monkey Bar.
The neo-romantic church was built in the late 19th century in honour of the first Emperor of Germany. At the time the 113m spire made it the tallest building in Berlin.
On the night of the 22nd and 23rd of November 1943, during a British air raid, the church was struck by an incendiary bomb. After the war the church as well as around 80% of the city centre were in ruin. While most of the damage has since been repaired, this deformed spire along with it’s modern accompaniment stand as a physical reminder of the violence visited on the world from 1939 to 1945.
The bustling square between the church and the monstrous Europa shopping centre, is Breitscheidplatz. If it’s approaching the festive season the area will be filled with the sights, sounds and smells of one of Berlin’s favourite Christmas markets. Tragically, this was the site of a terrorist attack in December 2016 in which 12 people were killed and 56 injured. There is a memorial set in the pavement at the foot of the stairs on the eastern side of the church.
The Bauhaus Archive, housed in the modern white building by the Landwehrkanal, contains the largest collection of Bauhaus designed objects in the world. A ground-breaking school of design, art and architecture established in the city of Weimar in 1919, Bauhaus sought to bridge the gap between form and function. With it’s heyday during the 20’s, the school was forced out of existence in 1933 as the Nazi regime deemed their modern philosophy to be degenerate and “un-German”. Thankfully, the movement was not extinguished by fascism and the fundamental philosophy of combining practical design, ease of production and good aesthetics has lived on.
The Siegessäule or Victory Column, protruding from the midst of the Tiergarten, celebrates the Prussian/German victories over Denmark, Austria and finally France which led to the formation of the German Empire. The reliefs on the base, which depict scenes of battle, are cast from captured enemy weapons. On completion in 1873 the 68 metre column became Germany’s first ever national monument. The tower was shifted from it’s original position close to the Reichstag in 1938 as part of Hitler’s planned transformation of Berlin to his “World Capital” Germania.
The 35 tonne gilded-bronze statue which balances so delicately atop depicts Roman godess Victoria. Locals, noticing a resemblance to a famous actress, affectionately named her Gold-Else. If you feel like stretching your legs, the sweeping views from the viewing platform at Goldelse’s feet are worth the 3 euro and 285 steps.
In the Know: If you feel like escaping the congestion for a moment the Cafe am Neuen See, is just a pleasant stroll away. One of Berlin’s prettier beer gardens set by a peaceful lake complete with drooping willows and gliding swans. Add beer and pizza to the mix, and it is impossible not to leave this hidden gem recharged in body and soul.
Built in 1786, on the banks of the Spree and at that time surrounded by the royal hunting grounds, Bellevue Palace was once the summer residence of Frederick the Great’s younger brother Augustus Ferdinand. Since 1994 it has been the official residence of the President of Germany.
If you are only now realising that Germany has a president, and have never heard the name Frank-Walter Steinmeier before (he’s the current one), don’t feel too bad. The Federal President of Germany traditionally stays distant from current events, exercising a more ceremonial role than the Chancellor.
This forum for art, debate and cultural exchange was gifted to West Berlin by the USA in 1957. The sweeping curves and open-ness of the design were meant to represent ideals of hope and freedom. This beacon of democratic values was placed atop an artificial mound so it could be seen beyond the iron curtain in East Berlin. The locals, in typically wry fashion, soon gave it the nickname the pregnant oyster.
The large white and glass building in the background is the Federal Chancellery. Around 8 times larger than the White House, it is the largest government headquarters in the world. Dubbed the Waschmaschine for its sterile appearance, it’s the official residence and office of the German Chancellor although some, such as Angela Merkel, prefer to stay at home.
Completed in 1894 this was the grandiose house of parliament for the fledgling German Empire. It was under the inscription “Dem Deutschen Volke” where, on November 9th 1918, Philip Scheidemann proclaimed Germany to be a republic, ushering in the chaotic Weimar era.
On the night of February 27th 1933 the building was engulfed in flame, the fire set by a Dutch communist. Adolf Hitler, chancellor at the time, declared the arson an act of communist terrorism and had Germany put into a state of emergency. The arson attack provided Hitler a back door to dictatorship. Parliament would not convene in the building for another 66 years.
Sir Norman Foster’s reconstruction crowned by the glass dome was completed in 1999. From here visitors not only get a fantastic 360 degree view over the historic centre, but also the chance to peer directly down into the debating chambers of German parliament. Entrance is free, you just need to reserve ahead.
In the Know: Couldn’t book a tour of the Reichstag dome in time? All hope is not lost. Head to service centre across the road to pick up one of the remaining spaces. The office opens from 8am to 8pm – the line can get long at times, but it’s worth the wait. Take photo i.d.
For more than 200 years this gate has weathered the storm of German history. As the fortunes of the city have changed, so too has this gate’s significance. Originally built as a symbol of peace, the 26 metre high portal was denuded by Napoleon after his victory over Prussia at Jena-Auerstadt in 1806. Eventually the Prussians retrieved their statue from the French capital, however on her return the Goddess of peace had become a Goddess of victory, complete with Iron Cross and eagle, and the square she rode above was renamed Pariser platz.
In 1945, with Nazi Germany defeated and the city in ruins, the Soviet banner flew above the square. With construction of the Berlin wall in 1961, the symbolic entrance became stranded in the no-mans-land which surrounded the barrier, called the death-strip.
With the fall of the wall in 1989, the gate was back drop to joyous scenes as many Berliners gathered here to celebrate their cities reunification.
Unter den Linden, Berlin’s royal mile, was once a bridle path used by the Hohenzollern royal family to access their hunting grounds in the present day Tiergarten. Over the centuries the path was expanded, redesigned and reconstructed multiple times. As a result the boulevard is a mish mash of architectural styles representing different era’s.
Unter den Linden’s crowning glory is Bebelplatz, once part of the larger Friedrich’s Forum. The statue taking pride of place in the middle of the road depicts Frederick the Great, the famous Prussian king. A complicated character, it seems Old Fritz enjoyed writing poetry, waxing philosophical and playing the flute about as much as he enjoyed waging war.
Friedrichs Forum was his showpiece in the Prussian capital and consisted of (from left to right) the Royal Opera house, the domed St Hedwigs Cathedral and on the opposing side, the Royal library. The plainer building in the middle was a later addition, built as a headquarters for Dresdner Bank. It now houses the luxurious Hotel de Rome as well as a swanky rooftop bar with expensive drinks and expansive views. For affordable, less glamorous sustenance, head for the students canteen inside the Royal Library building.
Micha Ullman’s “Empty Library” in the centre of the square commemorates the Nazi book burning that occurred here on May 10, 1933. That night around 20,000 books which had been deemed to be of an “un-german” spirit were piled high in the middle of the square and, as propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels addressed the 40,000 people gathered, set alight. Plaques on the square quote 19th century poet and playwright Heinrich Heine, whose work was among that destroyed: “where books are burned, eventually humans will be burned as well.”
Many of the books destroyed on Bebelplatz that night were written by people who studied or lectured in the building directly across the road. The Humboldt University, named for brothers Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, is one of Europe’s leading places of higher education. Since it’s establishment as the University of Berlin in 1810, over 40 Nobel prize winners have worked or studied here, including Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, the Brothers Grimm and Albert Einstein.
The Neo-classical structure next to the University is the Neue Wache. Built in 1816 as a guard house for the Crown Prince Palace opposite, the building has been used as a memorial since 1931. Today the memorial is dedicated to “Victims of War and Dictatorship”. Placed directly beneath the oculus, and so exposed to all weather, is an enlarged replica of Käthe Kollwitz’s moving work “Mother with Dying Son”.
This island in the river Spree is where Berlin began as as a merchant and fishing settlement back in the 12th century. These days the Lustgarten in the centre is not just a scenic place to sunbathe and selfie but also a launching pad to some of Berlin’s sight-seeing heavy hitters.
To the north you will see the battle scarred entrance to the Altes Museum, designed by renowned architect of the 19th century Friedrich Schinkel. Behind this museum can be found four others, the Neues Museum, the Alte National Galerie, the Bode Museum and, the star of the show, the Pergamon Museum. It is this collection which give the island it’s name – not to mention it’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site.
The brooding dark building with the ornate dome is the Berlin Cathedral (which, lacking a bishop, is not actually a cathedral at all). This was a pet project of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who wanted to create the protestant equivalent of St Peters Basilica. The result was this garish pile sat by the Spree like a Gothic wedding cake. After World War Two, the communist leaders of East Germany allowed reconstruction of the damaged church on the condition that the undamaged Memorial Church – a wing dedicated to the Hohenzollern dynasty and therefore too imperialist – was destroyed. The Hohenzollern crypt, however, did survive and with it’s 94 deceased royals is considered one of the most important dynastic burial sites in Europe.
The Berliner Stadtschloss or city palace stands on the site of the cities first fortifications, a castle built by Duke Frederick II “Irontooth” to assert his families authority on the unruly locals. He was successful it seems, as his descendants continued to rule – first as dukes, then electors, kings and finally emperors – for almost 500 years.
What remained of the imperial palace after World War Two was torn down by the East German Government to make way for their own Palace of the Republic. The modern glass and steel structure not only housed the East German parliament but was also a popular meeting spot for locals with concerts, a restaurant and a bowling alley. To the distress of many, this was then torn down after reunification, officials claiming it was riddled with the carcinogen asbestos. Finally after years of deliberation the decision was reached to rebuild the Hohenzollern palace which, if ever completed, will house the Humboldt Forum.
The eclectic mix of architecture in this area is a tribute to the cities turbulent past. The Neptune Fountain, completed in 1891 by Reinhold Begas, depicts the God of the Sea rising from the depths on a giant clam shell. The four women surrounding the fountain represent the great Prussian rivers of the time: the Rhine, Vistula, Oder and Elbe. Geo-political shifts over the last century mean that Prussia no longer exists and one and a half of those rivers are now in Poland.
The precise age of the Marienkirche is unknown, but the oldest parts of the patchwork construction probably date back to the early 13th century. The church was once surrounded by a busy area of dense housing, after World War Two the ruined buildings were cleared, leaving the building in it’s current position exposed to the glare of the Fernsehtürm.
The Fernsehtürm or Television tower was built at the heart of East Berlin in 1969 to prove the superiority of communist engineering. At 368 metres tall it remains Germany’s tallest building. In the fervour of creating an ideal socialist state the East German government had restricted the number of crosses allowed to be dsiplayed on churches. To the regime’s horror, the sun’s reflection on the tower’s giant silver globe forms the shape of a cross. In their sharp witted way, locals dubbed the tower “St Walter’s” after East German leader Walter Ulbricht. Not to be outdone, the defiant government proclaimed the shape was not a cross at all, but a plus sign highlighting the benefits of communism.
Alexanderplatz has long been a hive of activity. From market place to industrial area and workers district, by the early 20th century theatres, department stores and a railway transformed the square into the bustling centre of a booming Empire. After World War One, followed by revolution and economic collapse the square came to epitomise the manic energy of Berlin during the “Golden Twenties”.
Severe damage during World War Two, followed by heavy-handed East German city planners removed any architectural charm the square once had. Today Alex is commercialised, ugly and exposed to all weather, yet it continues to hold a strange allure.
As one of the cities main hubs, every Berliner will at some stage visit whether on a shopping trip, to meet friends or simply catch a train. The vast square acts as a kind of microcosm of Berlin’s society. Buskers, beggars and Bratwurst sellers all vie for the attention of passers by.
The usual fast food and fast fashion culprits can be found here, but for those wanting to eat a little more local, look for the guys with the umbrellas and the sizzling grill slung around their shoulders, if you’re all Wurst-ed out you could grab a slice of greasy pizza under the train tracks at Pergamon Döner and Pizza., or head to Mama Vân – Sài Gòn Deli back across Memhardtstrasse for delicious authentic vietnamese.