Put Tourist Buses aside, DIY Exciting and Memorable Berlin Tour

The public M29 bus travels four miles from an artsy eastern neighborhood to the well-to-do heart of former West Berlin. Hop off at the landmarks below for a dose of the city’s history, architecture, and sweets.

At the Türkenmarkt, open Tuesdays and Fridays, Turkish matrons rub shoulders with German househusbands and transvestites browsing for olives and sheep cheese—as well as cheap socks, a bra, a bike chain, or just about anything. Fuel up on ayran (a refreshing yogurt drink) or the organic breads at Landfrauen bakeshop next to an African coffee stall before catching the M29 bus at Pflügerstrasse. (You can buy a one-day Tageskarte public-transport pass from the driver for €6.10/$7.75.)

After driving along Wienerstrasse—the café, club, and restaurant mile—the bus arrives at Görlitzer Bahnhof, gateway to the multiculti, anything-goes Oranienstrasse neighborhood. Expect sweet shops, Iranian restaurants, boutiques selling clothes from boundary-pushing local designers, and a women-only hammam (bath). Be sure to try a generous slice of the divine Black Forest cherry cake at Kuchen-Kaiser café before reboarding the bus at Oranienplatz.

Disembark about five minutes later at Lindenstrasse and turn left onto Alte Jakobstrasse for one of Berlin’s youngest art spaces, Berlinische Galerie. The ultramodern building hosts rotating mixed-media exhibitions and a permanent collection that includes works by Dadaist and Fluxus artists and the Jungen Wilden group.

Around the corner from the Berlinische Galerie is the 7-year-old Jüdisches Museum Berlin, a testament to 2,000 years of German-Jewish history. Starchitect Daniel Libeskind designed the main building’s bold addition, a zinc-clad jagged structure in the shape of a distorted Star of David.

Walk back to the Lindenstrasse stop and ride the M29 until the Kochstrasse stop by Checkpoint Charlie, the heartland of cold-war kitsch and Ostalgie (East German nostalgia). €1/$1.27 buys a photo op with a costumed American or Soviet border guard, your choice. Watch out for crazed drivers racing the former East Germany’s standard automobile, the humble Trabi.

Stroll along Zimmerstrasse and make a right onto Wilhelmstrasse, where you’ll run into Topographie des Terrors, the onetime Gestapo headquarters and now an open-air exhibit that documents 12 years of Nazi rule. Belowground are the remains of Nazi torture chambers.

Ahead, at the far end of the Topographie exhibit, is the meticulously restored 1881 Italian Renaissance-style landmark Martin-Gropius-Bau, named after one of its architects, the great-uncle of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. The hall now showcases international artists like Cindy Sherman, Alexander Rodchenko, and Man Ray.

Rejoin the M29 opposite the façade of the 19th-century railway terminus, Anhalter Bahnhof, for a four-minute ride to the Potsdamer Brücke stop by the Neue Nationalgalerie. At the entrance, Henry Moore’s sculpture The Archer leads the way to an exquisite space dedicated to 20th-century art.

A leisurely 10-minute walk along the Landwehrkanal—past the flowing curves of one of Berlin’s first steel-framed high-rises, the Shell House—brings you to Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, the German Resistance Memorial Center. Resistance fighter Claus von Stauffenberg and three of his coconspirators were executed here in 1944. The site made headlines in summer 2007 when German authorities initially refused to allow Tom Cruise access to film parts of his portrayal of Stauffenberg in Valkyrie.

The Bauhaus-Archiv, opposite the M29’s Köbisstrasse stop, pays tribute to the Bauhaus movement (1919–1933), which continues to influence modern industrial design. From Köbisstrasse, it’s five minutes by bus to Wittenbergplatz and its subway station, one of Berlin’s oldest. Across from the station, a large plaque commemorates Germany’s concentration camps.

Europe’s largest department store, Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), was a beacon of the prosperous capitalist West when Berlin was still divided. Part of its fame stems from a sixth-floor gourmet-food market and a seventh-floor café where shoppers dine under a glass dome roof.

Exiting KaDeWe, look left to glimpse the damaged tower of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche. The church still shows scars of the bombs that fell on Berlin in WWII. Down the street, a sculpture’s intertwined broken lines stand as a symbol of Berlin’s former division. West Berlin’s former Fifth Avenue, the Kurfürstendamm—now somewhat demoted as the city’s center has moved towards the east—extends beyond the memorial church.

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