Not one, not two, no, three times is Berlin listed as UNESCO World Heritage! And the three entries could not be any more different: Temples of Wisdom and classicistic grandeur on Museum Island, baroque pomp and magnificent gardens in the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin, and the plain Bauhaus functionality of social housing at the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. No traveller should miss the World Heritage sites of the German capital, so here is all you need to know about them:
Most likely you have heard of the famous Museum Island in Berlin Mitte already; it is one of the most visited sights of the city. But did you know that the impressive group of buildings represents a momentous revolution in European educational history? Up until the 19th century, art and high culture were a matter of the aristocracy only. Following the educational ideals of the European Enlightenment, museums and cultural institutions were supposed to open their gates for the public at large. Prussia went the full monty and in the 1820s began constructing temples of wisdom under the aegis of humanist Wilhelm von Humboldt right in the center of Berlin. The oldest, as the name suggests, is the Altes Museum (“Old Museum”, opened in 1830) with its huge collection of antiques. Next in line were the Neues Museum (“New Museum”, 1859, now hosting the Egyptian Museum), the Alte Nationalgalerie (“Old National Gallery”, 1876), the Bode-Museum (1904, huge collection of sculptures and Byzantine art) and finally in 1930 the Pergamon Museum (Islamic and Near Eastern art). Since the Museum Island with its classicistic architecture – the design follows the ideas of influential architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel – is uniquely significant for educational history, it has been listed UNESCO World Heritage since 1999. At the moment the buildings are partly being renovated following the Masterplan Museum Island, which aims to turn the group of museums piece by piece into a connected museum complex.
The best way to check out Museum Island’s architecture is to simply stroll around the temple-like buildings around Lustgarten Park and Berlin Cathedral, though all museums are worth an extended visit alone. You can find all you need to know about the museums online.
Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin
In the middle of a huge baroque garden in the city center of Potsdam stands unheedingly dreamy the world-famous palace Sanssouci (french: “No Worries”). But the summer residence of Prussian King Frederick the Great, constructed in the 1740s, is only one of numerous palaces and gardens between Berlin and its little sister Potsdam. The entirety of these sites has been the capitals first UNESCO World Heritage since 1990. Besides the ever popular parks and palaces of Potsdam – often named “Prussian Versailles” – the lesser-known palaces in south-western Berlin are definitely worth a visit; like the classicistic villas Glienicke and Charlottenhof. Beautiful in particular is the Disney-like romantic Kavaliershaus on Pfaueninsel (“Peacock Island”) . The pomp of the rich Prussian kingdom is still visible and alive here – a real insider’s tip!
Berlin Modernism Housing Estates
A few plain apartment blocks in the suburbs of Berlin, and that is supposed to be a World Heritage site? Sometimes there is more to it than meets the eye. Because what looks a little bit like the trite plattenbau buildings of the 1960s and 70s is actually almost a century old. And in their straight-lined functionality these particular housing projects are a prime example for the once futuristic Bauhaus architecture. In 2008 UNESCO listed six modernist complexes, erected between 1913 and 1931, as World Heritage. In detail: Gartenstadt Falkenberg in Treptow, Schillerpark-Siedlung in Wedding, Hufeisensiedlung in Neukölln, Wohnstadt Carl Legien in Prenzlauer Berg, Weiße Stadt in Reinickendorf, and in Charlottenburg the Großsiedlung Siemensstadt. After Berlin’s population numbers literally exploded towards the end of the 19th century, and large parts of the working class had to live under intolerable conditions in cramped flats and dirty backyards, visionary architects began to design entirely new housing concepts with well-lit, affordable apartments in large Garden City buildings surrounded by green spaces. Those modern complexes were very influential for the architecture and urban development of the 20th century and therefore still seem surprisingly up to date. If you care for modernist architecture you can here find some unexpected sights far off the beaten track.
And now have a great time exploring the World Heritage sites of Berlin!
Blogger at Industriepalast
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.