Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin!
-Jack Lang, Former Culture Minister of France, 2001, suggesting that the city is constantly changing following the Wall's fall
After celebrating my arrival in Berlin (which happened to be New Year's Eve), I spent a week in Berlin relaxing and staying cozy inside my apartment. On a cold, snowy day, I did one of those hop-on-hop-off buses that points out interesting places in the city, and this was worthwhile. A week in Berlin definitely isn't long enough to truly explore the city and nearby sights (such as Hitler's 1936 Olympiastadion), but it is plenty of time to visit top sights in this ever-changing city. Berlin is a gritty, authentic, and cultured place, and despite the Berlin Wall falling just 25 years ago in 1989, the city has managed to heal and share their painful experiences with the public.
Berlin Wall & Checkpoint Charlie
The Berlin Wall really changed the landscape of the city, and it was so good to see new apartment buildings popping up on vacant land that was once bombed-out lots and border no-go zones.
Reichstag building & nearby
The grand Reichstag building opened in 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet (aka government, not calorie restriction plan) of the German Empire until 1933, when it was set on fire. Following more abuse from WWII, the building was largely ignored until the Berlin Wall fell and the Reichstag was restored to its former glory by 1999. The modern dome, included in the 1999 building rehabilitation, offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the city to visitors. To visit the dome, one must pre-register for free and arrive at a specific time, but experiencing the dome makes the planning ahead worthwhile.
The northern half of Berlin's tiny Spree Island in the Spree River is mix of five museums. This Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting around the city
Berlin is definitely the first city I've seen that uses double decker buses for public transit, making public transit that much more fun. The brand-new central station is a massive hunk of glass and steel, and bustling with activity and sounds. Described by Speigel as a "glass armadillo," the Berlin Hauptbahnhof is the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe. And if you like historic and meticulously-preserved metro stations, Wittenbergplatz is worth a visit: This station opened in 1902 and is a designated historic site in Berlin. After suffering damage in WWII, the station entrance was restored and even the advertisements inside were made to mimic 1920s style.