A Photographer’s Guide to Berlin


Berlin is a fascinating city of great history and an intriguing mixture of Western and Soviet architecture. For a capital and major European city, it is remarkably compact and features a fantastic multi level and cheap transport system that makes getting around at any time of day pretty stress free. Despite being a major tourist destination it rarely feels over crowded even in the summer. Its history, culture and architecture make it a great destination for photographers and today we are going to give you some insights into shooting this amazing place.

Getting there and Around

There are two main airports in Berlin, Tegel and Schonefield, both with excellent bus, train and taxi links to the city centre. Tegel is currently the main hub and served by airlines worldwide whilst Schonefield is currently being merged into a new, larger airport called Berlin Brandenburg. Trains from all over Europe arrive at the impressive Hauptbahnhof very close to the Reichstag

Public transport in the city is served by a metro, the U-Bahn, suburban trains, the S-Bahn as well as buses and trams. The trams are predominantly in the former Soviet part of the city. It is possible to buy a day pass which gives unlimited access to all public transport for about 7 Euros a day.

Best Time to Shoot

Berlin has a wealth of locations so there is always something to shoot at anytime of day. As befits a city of Berlin’s stature, many of the major buildings and monuments are well lit at night giving ample opportunity for evening cityscapes. The metro and trains run from very early, so apart from the very middle of summer, it's possible to get to most locations before the sun rises, allowing for some nice pre-dawn photography.

What to Shoot

Perhaps the city’s greatest icon is the Brandenburg gate. This became a symbol of the Cold War, with the Berlin wall actually blocking the gate itself. Today, because of its near East/West orientation, it can be shot either in the morning or the evening. In the morning, Pariser Platz on the east side of the gate makes for some pretty shots whist in the evening you can get some excellent light trail shots with cars on the road to the west.

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The Brandenburg Gate is the city's icon

A short walk south from Brandenburg is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This poignant place consists of an entire city block of concrete slabs in a grid pattern. It is best shot at dawn as there are few people around and the rising sun can make for some emotional shots as it shines down the regimented lines of blocks

Nearby is Potsdamer Platz, another iconic Cold War Location. These days is a beacon for modern Berlin with its ultra modern skyscrapers. It's an interesting place for people who enjoy a little architectural photography. There is the world’s first set of traffic lights there for historical buffs.

Modern Architecture in Potsdamer Platz
Modern architecture on a historic square
World's first traffic lights, Berlin
The World's first traffic lights. Ironically not on any road these days

A short walk to the North West of the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag, the seat of the German government. It is an impressive combination of the old and the new, the dome on top designed by Norman Foster. It is best shot in the late afternoon as the sun dips, giving some soft light to stone. In front of it is a large, surprisingly bland lawn area which makes finding a foreground interest or leading line quite challenging.

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The Reichstag is a beautiful building but tricky to shoot well

The highlight of the eastern, Soviet part of the city is the area from Alexanderplatz to Berlin Cathedral. Alexanderplatz is an interesting mixture of bland Soviet buildings and modern western architecture. This contrast along with the trams running through the square can make it quite interesting from a photographic viewpoint. Towering over the square is the mighty Fernsehturm or TV Tower. Standing some 368 meters high, it is the second tallest structure in Europe and can make for some great photos. It is also possible to visit the 360 restaurant inside the tower at 207 meters above the ground.

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The Fernsehturm reflected in the much more modern Park Inn

Moving west from the tower you come to a pretty city garden layout. In it are fountains, the church of St Marienkirche and the Neptune monument, all very photogenic at any time of day. Continuing west you arrive at the River Spree and Berlin Cathedral. The cathedral is a photogenic building that requires a little thought when shooting. This is because right in front of it is a modern road bridge.

From the Cathedral it is possible to walk along the River Spree all the way back to the Reichstag and the Hauptbahnhof, which in itself is a worth photographic subject both inside and out.

There are still remnants of the Berlin Wall scattered around the city but they are not particularly photogenic. Worth a visit though, if only for the history.

Berlin’s history combined with its fantastic transport system make it a great location for any photographer in, or considering a trip to Europe.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Extra tip/idea:
A very nice way to get around in Berlin is to rent a bicycle (if the weather is oke of course).
Costs are like 8 a 9 euros per day, and the city is very bicycle friendly.

I was in Berlin last week. I had a day to shoot and can’t wait to go back. A couple of additional thoughts to add to this informative post:

* If you like architecture, you’ll love shooting in Berlin. Great mix of old and new buildings.
* Lots of graffiti that provides a pop of color among the stone buildings.
* Get up high in East Berlin at the Sky Bar in the Andel’s Hotel. Great views and big floor to ceiling windows.
* Bikes. Lots of them. They give a touch of movement and life to an otherwise still scene.
* Coming in from Tegel, have your taxi driver stop off along the canal. A nice touch of nature in the city.

Here’s a small selection of shots I got last week.

You have left manybeautiful places out, BUT Berlin is not all beauty, there are seamer sights, all for the viewing. Berlin ist eine Reisse Wert! Go, enjoy Been there, done that So, they have finally opened Schoenefeld?

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