Over the past year and a half, I went from having never even been to Germany, to practically living in Berlin. It began in October of 2007 when a friend from Amsterdam, Francisco, and I decided to take a road trip to Berlin during a break from school. My German girlfriend at the time, Lena, also went. In February she moved there, thus meaning I was travelling there once a month or so until September, and over the summer I was staying there for several weeks. And I spent another two weeks there right after Christmas and through New Years 2008/09 for an orchestra project I was in. It’s actually been a rather educational process, and I’ve learned quite a lot about the city and it’s history, particularly with the war. And also how much fun the place is. This blog entry is from a combination of trips to the city.
The trip in October, being my first time there, was spent seeing a lot of the various sights… Checkpoint Charlie was the border between the Russian and American sectors of the divided Berlin. The signs still stand, and there’s also a musuem, which is filled with tons and tons of information, however is rather disorganized, partly due, I think, to the small size of the building. It’s interesting to read about the ways in which people were so determined to leave the East, and how they risked everything to hide within the body of a car to get out.
The Reichstag is the parliament building, with a huge glass dome on top. The line is often quite long to be able to go up inside, but we went right at closing and didn’t have to. From above you can look down into the hall where the delegates assemble, and to the outside the view looks out to the Hauptbahnhof and Sony Center at Postdamer Platz.
The Holocaust Memorial looks like a series of rectangles, more or less on the same plane when viewing from outside, but once you step inside, the ground dips and rises, so you see that the columns are all of very different heights. In the middle, they are nearly 5m tall.
Around the corner is one of the main symbols of Berlin, where many important political speeches are given, and the New Years Eve party happens, the Brandenburger Tor.
On Museuminsel is the Berliner Dom, with a very stylized interior of red marble and gold, and an impressive organ.
Throughout Berlin you can find chunks of remnants of the Berlin Wall, still in the place where the wall stood. The largest section is by the Östbahnhof, but sections also stand in Potsdamer Platz and elsewhere.
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche was bombed during the war, destroying half of the church. Today, what’s left stands as a museum, and a new church was built beside it. The new church, a futurist-minimal style, is a stark contrast to the old.
Oberbaumbrücke is a bridge spanning the River Spree from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg, glowing in red and green in the night.
The TV Tower in Alexanderplatz has become a bit of an essential navigation tool for me. You can see it all around the city, so I always use it to orientate myself, particularly because I’ve been staying in nearby Prenzlauerberg, so I can always head towards the tower to get home.
From the inside of the Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz
In the Gendarmenmarkt in Mitte stands the Deutcher Dom, Konzerthaus, and Französischer Dom. Over Christmas-time there was a market in the area, selling glühwein, sausages, and various gifts.
The Stasi Prison out in Hohenschönhausen was an interesting experience. We went there over the summer, after I had been to Berlin several times now, learned a lot about the history and the war, seen Das Leben der Anderen, and also saw a photo exhibit at the FOAM museum in Amsterdam where they had taken pictures of rooms of similar facilities, all from the same angle, all preserved the way it was last used in the late 80′s. Visiting reminded me a lot of this exhibit.
And some various other nice looking buildings and views that I’ve passed…
One of the things I like most about Berlin is its funkiness. The mix of old and new, the way the separation has affected the dynamic of the city, the counter-cultural trends… It has a rawness to it that I think my Detroit-side appeals to, and I miss by living in Amsterdam. Lena lives in Prenzlauerberg, in the former East. It’s a pretty hip place, though now is becoming oversaturated and trendy, as all once-hip places do. But I still like it. It has the funky vibe I dig. Kreuzberg is also a cool area. More of the immigrant community, which might be part of why it makes it more interesting.
There’s also a lot of nice parks scattered around the city…
It’s no secret that Germans like their beer. But what they also like is a nice atmosphere in which to drink it. There’s so many nice beer gardens and bars that it would be impossible to start going on about all of them. But it seems that everywhere you turn, you find yourself in one. When you’re not even looking. Many of them are in these old buildings that have been converted to a pub, many others have some sort of outside seating area, some are along the rivers with people sitting on floating docks… really nice in the summer. Every one has it’s own character. One evening we were walking along and heard a lot of 50′s and 60′s music being played from somewhere in the park and went to investigate. We found n area tented off, with a DJ playing the old tunes, and a party in the woods. We never did find out for sure what it was all about, but it was fun to hang around a bit. Another time we wandered into an intriguing area, and found people climbing an old water tower with an outside bar below. Near Museuminsel is also a nice area next to the river where you can relax with some beers and watch the tourist boats go by.
Berlin has become one of my favorite cities. There’s so many things going on, a vibrant and active cultural life, open-air lawn-chair cinemas, markets, lots of great concerts of all styles… particularly “out” and experimental stuff, which I always love… Of course the Germans always say that Berlin isn’t really Germany, but, hell, that’s always the case with big cities like that. Same with Amsterdam, New York City… but perhaps that’s what makes it so interesting…
Tags: Europe, Germany, Travel