From preserved segments of the Berlin Wall to a collection of creepy marionettes, there’s no shortage of museums and galleries to check out in this marvellous city – some very serious and some a bit sillier.
There really is something for all sensibilities and, disconcerting dolls aside, the best museums in Berlin do a good job of capturing the essence of the German capital and its rich, complicated, often harrowing history. From Hitler’s rule and the Cold War through to contemporary political struggles, our pick of the 10 very best should help you untangle the making of today’s diverse, sprawling city.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Berlin
Best museums in Berlin
What is it? Since 1985, the Schwules Museum has presented a survey of contemporary and historical records of the lives and times of queer and trans people in Germany. Spread across four exhibition spaces, the museum has an invaluable and internationally renowned collection.
Why go? The museum’s developed an on-the-pulse reputation in the past few years: recent events have included special series on gay comic book heroes and queer-feminist futurism.
What is it? Dive deep into the history of Jewish people at the world-famous Jewish Museum. It’s a vibrant celebration of Jewish history and culture housed in a dazzling building designed by Daniel Libeskind.
Why go? You could easily spend a few hours here: the exhibitions are extensively researched and thoughtfully presented. Fully untangling stories of the migration, diversity and persecution of Jews in Germany may take some time but is well worth the effort.
What is it? What was once the Berlin Wall is now a 1.3km gallery remembering the city divided. Located just off Warschauer Strasse on the border of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the East Side Gallery is flush with tourists looking to experience the size and stature of the wall that once split the city in two.
Why go? The most iconic murals remain on the walls, so grab a beer and take a walk through Berlin’s turbulent recent history – it’s a popular spot for a summertime beer on the riverbanks, so you won’t be alone.
What is it? In the sleepy streets of up-and-coming neighbourhood Moabit, the Design Panoptikon remembers visions of the future taken from the past. The collection is half designer furniture and half grotesque drafts that were tossed back on the drawing board.
Why go? Browse a carnival of mid-industrial wonders like cyborg-mannequin prototypes and space-age lanterns. The owner Vlad is happy to give tours of the many wonders in his emporium on the hour.
What is it? There are few more recognisable parts of the city’s skyline than Berlin’s Reichstag. The historic parliamentary building has changed hands countless times since its construction in 1871 and is now the city’s calling card.
Why go? As one of the most visited attractions in all of Germany, be sure to book a tour ahead of time for an opportunity to see the city from the 360-degree glass dome at the top of the building.
What is it? If you don’t have time to explore the surrounding region of Brandenburg, hop on a tram to Modell Park Berlin for an overview of all the local attractions on a pint-sized scale.
Why go? From the Siegessäule to the Reichstag, the model park is home to dozens of miniature buildings along with insightful texts on why we should know about them. It’s a short train ride outside of the city centre, but bring a picnic and enjoy the outer-city ease.
What is it? Berlin’s foremost contemporary art museum, Hamburger Bahnhof is the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. A rich collection of works from Beuys, Twombly, and Warhol is complemented by travelling exhibitions and temporary showcases of cutting-edge talent and household names.
Why go? As well as the world-class collection of artworks, the space itself is not to be missed: the museum takes its name from the former Berlin–Hamburg rail station, and the echoes of grandeur can still be heard in the airy halls under high ceilings.
What is it? Equal parts creepy and cute, the Puppentheater Museum in Neukölln is home to more than 300 puppets and marionettes.
Why go? Their cheerful and cherubic faces are a thing of nightmares for some, but others might be interested in the dolls’ personal histories and cultural heritage. For those who dare, readings are scheduled regularly for both children and adults.
What is it? Though not known for its exotic wildlife, Germany is home to one of the most extensive collections of zoological and paleontological specimens in the world.
Why go? From preserved sharks to fossilised plants and the skeleton of Bobby the Gorilla from the Berlin Zoo, the Museum für Naturkunde is a hotspot for scientists and tourists from around the globe. Be sure not to miss the Giraffatitan skeleton –it’s the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world.
What is it? It’s hard to argue with the impressive collection of ancient artefacts housed at Berlin’s Neues Museum. The building itself is a work of art: extensive damage incurred during the Second World War left the structure crumbling, but an in-depth architectural revival led to the museum reopening in 2009 to much acclaim.
Why go? The Neues Museum hosts a number of immediately recognisable pieces. The standout? Don’t miss the original bust of Nefertiti.
After a one-of-a-kind souvenir?
Shoppers will find designer clothes, locally-sourced home goods and secondhand spoils all across the city. From the Bite Club’s monthly food market, which brings the city’s best restaurants into a single space, to the bohemian Boxhagener Platz Market, selling second-hand furniture and old records...