World War Two was an event which irrevocably shaped the world we live in today. Coordinated from Berlin, the nerve centre of the infamous ‘Third Reich’ of Adolf Hitler, it spread around the globe and the effects and aftermath are still to be seen today, 75 years on.
The battle for Berlin at the end of the war was an epic, desperate struggle, the scars of which can still be seen on the buildings if you know where to look. If you are in any way interested in WWII history, Berlin is a city you cannot miss. The beauty of having a private guide in Berlin is being able to visit some of the less publicised sites and really get under the skin of the stories behind them. Here are the top 10 picks for interesting sites pertaining to the war which you can visit on a private tour of Berlin:
The iconic entrance to the city of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was the site of Hitler’s victory parade after being appointed chancellor in 1933. A night time, torch-lit procession announcing a new era in German history. By the end of the war, it was severely damaged and most of the surrounding plaza destroyed. An experienced private guide will talk you through all the history here, as well as use many ‘before and after’ photos to bring the past to life.
After the Brandenburg Gate, this is the most famous structure in Berlin. A fire at the Reichstag was crucial in Hitler’s consolidation of power, allowing him to utilise emergency powers to suspend civil rights and liberties, effectively turning a democracy into a dictatorship within a matter of weeks. It was also the site of one of the most desperate battles at the end of the war, with over 2000 Soviet soldiers dying in a 24 hour period to raise a red flag on the top of the building by May 1st (Stalin’s deadline). Today it is once again the seat of the German government. If enough notice is given, your private guide can arrange entry to the Norman Foster glass cupola on the rooftop terrace.
Hitler Bunker Site in WWII
The underground bunker where Hitler spent the last days of Berlin with his entourage including Eva Braun is today the most famous carpark in all of Europe. On a visit to this site, you will find out all about how he spent his final days in the bunker (including his secret wedding to Eva Braun) and explore all the theories about his death – what we do and don’t know, what we can and can’t prove. And some of the post-war eras best kept secrets!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The federal memorial to the Holocaust in Berlin, this is an incredibly important site to visit on a private tour of Germany. It demonstrates not only the depth of the atrocities which happened during Nazi Germany, but most importantly, how modern Germany is integrating what happened into its psyche. A private guided tour in Berlin will give you much more information on this site than you would ever get from the public signage, including the many scandals which dogged the building of the memorial. The Peter Eisenmann ‘stellae’ are a haunting example of the culture of remembrance in Germany.
Topography of Terror
This is the most extensive exhibit regarding National Socialism in all of Germany. It traces the leadup to Hitler getting into power, the consolidation thereof, the power structure of the regime, the progressions of the persecutions, actions and war crimes in occupied territories, right the way through to the end of the war and the trials held afterwards. A private tour of the facility is able to be arranged on request. Allow a good chunk of time to visit this exhibition, it’s very thorough and deserves more than a quick browse.
Luftministerium (Air Ministry and Görings office)
One of the last remaining pieces of Nazi architecture to be found in central Berlin, this was much more than just an administration office, it was the nerve centre of the entire German airforce command during the War. The airforce was headed by Herman Göring who was Hitler’s designated successor and the highest-ranking officer to be tried at Nuremburg. Today it is the German Finance Ministry and still one of the largest functioning office buildings in Europe.
Bendler Block (Stauffenberg office)
Named after the architect who built it, this building was general HQ for the military high command in Berlin. It was also the centre of one of the most infamous assassination attempts on Hitler’s life by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in July 1944. The failed coup at this building led to one of the largest purges of Nazi Germany with literally thousands of people being arrested and many hundreds being executed. Today the building is the Memorial to German Resistance, documenting the people who fought against Hitler from within Germany. Well worth a visit and a private tour of the museum is highly recommended.
Bebelplatz (Booking Burning memorial)
A beautiful plaza in the centre of the city was once the site where students and Nazi activists alike burnt up to 30,000 books as a ritual ‘cleansing’ of German culture on May 10th, 1933. The memorial which stands there today is not only aesthetically beautiful but a stark reminder of the small steps which pave the way to big events. Much better visited with a guide on a private tour of Berlin as they can tell you all the back story to the event and the symbolism quite literally embedded beneath your feet.
Tempelhof Airport Berlin
A massive open space in Berlin’s southeast, this was built to be the most modern airport of its age. Ironically during the war, it wasn’t used as an airport but rather as a forced labour camp. There were more than 3000 forced labour camps within Berlin alone and thousand more across Germany. Today it is a prime example of the people reclaiming the inner-city landscape as a referendum stopped plans for its redevelopment, creating a fabulous open parkland in the city’s south. A great place to ride your bike down an old runway and do a very Berlin thing – have a BBQ on a summers evening!
Site of the planned ‘Volkshalle’ (Peoples Hall) and/or Schwerbelastungskörper (Heavy Loading Body)
Ever imagined what Berlin would have been like if Hitler had won the war? Berlin would have been rebuilt as ‘Germania’ and re-designed to be a ‘Welthauptstadt’ or World Capital City. The heavy loading body was quite literally built to test if Berlins swampy ground could carry the enormous structures planned (spoiler alert – it can’t!). Hitler’s plans for Berlin show the scale of his megalomania and demonstrate clearly his ideas stretched far beyond simply the domination of Europe. Visit where he had planned to build the massive Peoples Hall and hear stories and see maps from your private guide about the world he had envisioned (and thanks to the stars it never came to pass).
There are of course many other wonderful things to do and see in the city of Berlin. But if WWII has always been a fascination for you, or has directly affected your family and loved ones, then these are the places, to begin with. And with a private guide at your side, Berlin will reveal itself to you in far greater depth than you will achieve on your own, especially if you have a limited time frame!
Pen Hassmann, Berlin Private Tours