Berlin is one of Europe’s most important centres of culture and entertainment. By as early as the 1920s, Berlin had developed into a true metropolis.
In 1945, underneath a blanket of bombs, Berlin is razed to the ground; in the words of the Berliners themselves, a “royal field of ruins” is all that remained of their city. Nearly none of the pre-war population of Jews remain. The Berlin Wall is erected in 1961, dividing many families. The Wall falls in 1989. Along the entire length of where it once stood, there is now pavement and roadways.
In 1991, Berlin becomes the capital city of the reunified Federal Republic of Germany and has a population of about 3.5 million today.
Berlin is located on the Spree river, which multiplies and spreads outwards into innumerable canals. The centre of the city is in Mitte, the historical quarter, which constitutes the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) – a UNESCO world heritage site – the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Unter den Linden, a grand boulevard on which the most important historical buildings of Berlin can be found. Nearby, there is also the Gendarmenmarkt, a square which holds one of the most important works by the versatile artist Schinkel – the Schauspielhaus concert hall.
The Kulturforum is a collection of concert halls, galleries, and libraries which was developed in West Berlin, starting in 1965, in order to counterbalance Museum Island in East Berlin. It was here that the treasured Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) was built, designed by Mies van der Rohe, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, designed by Hans Scharoun.
In the 1990s, Berlin underwent more construction their any other city in Europe. 17 million euros were invested in Potsdamer Platz alone. It was especially significant that many elements from unique, older buildings were reincorporated into newer ones, such as is seen with the Esplanade hotel. The remaining rooms of the hotel were moved 75 metres and incorporated into the Sony Centre, which is shaped like a covered city square.
The DG Bank building in Pariser Platz, designed by Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, is austerely Prussian from the outside, yet surprisingly Gehry-esque and playful within. Nearby is also the Holocaust-Denckmal, a monument to the victims of the Holocaust designed by architect Peter Eisenman. It is constructed from 2, 711 concrete stelae over an area of almost 19, 000 square metres.
An especially important attraction is the reconstructed Reichstag, developed by architect Sir Norman Foster. The addition of a glass cupola ensures that the building is well lit, its mood lightened, and symbolically, a transparency between those within and the citizens outside is established. Spiraling around the outer cupola are ramps which reach the pinnacle, affording a grandiose view of Berlin. In the centre of the cupola is a cone which functions to mirror the sunlight and disperse it throughout the heart of the building.
If you, like me, visit four museums and two of the largest cathedrals in one day, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Especially in light of the fact that I saw such valuable exhibits: The Bust of Nefertiti, the Ishtar Gate, the Pergamon Altar, and some Impressionist works as well.
If you are able, I recommend that you leave a day for an excursion to Potsdam. There, you can find the palatial complex of Sanssouci (sans, souci = without, beware, or perhaps “without care”), which was built under Frederick the Great. The palace was constructed on a park which covers 287 hectares. The palace’s size and elaborate decorations are impressive.
My first choice in restaurants, where I had a wonderful “Berlin-style breakfast,” was an excellent one: the Blaues Band restaurant. This place, where I noticed I was the only tourist, is found near the Hackesche Höfe, a complex of courtyards from the 19th century, some of which are decorated in the secessionist style. The surrounding neighbourhood is full of amiable, relaxed people who sit beside the many cafes and on nice benches which are found outside of every store.
In Berlin there is a general impression that a spirit of subtle and un-intrusive design reigns. It is perfectly commonplace to see, for example, a store for extremely expensive glasses with no name or sign, scrawled all over with graffiti... In the display is a single bicycle, and no glasses! Behind a counter “constructed” out of old, wooden speakers, a salesperson emerges, showing you frames out of an old suitcase.
The interiors of popular cafes, such as Dada Falafel or Muschi Obermaier, are simply put together out of furniture from various mismatched living rooms.
It is an excellent experience having brunch on the water in Kreuzberg. One can enjoy oneself for hours on the long bank of floats, each of which serve a variety of quality food. Opposite these floats is the Club der Visionäre, where there is a “chill out” near the water by day, and performances from some of Europe’s best DJs by night.
And as a cautionary reminder: never stop on the red bicycle paths. The cyclists of Berlin are entirely merciless, they do not accommodate to any of us tourists whose attention is distracted by the various sights. It is said that it is not uncommon for them to hit you, shrugging their shoulders with nothing more than a passing word of apology. Nevertheless, I would recommend a tour of the city by bike to skilled cyclists, especially since I covered 10-15 kilometres daily on foot. The entire city is excellently suited for bicyclists: from paths, places to lock up your bike, to easy access to the metro system.
If, after experiencing everything else, you still have the energy to go shopping, I heartily recommend that you first visit www.ein000.de and find what is to your liking. My choice was narrowed down to two stores: Crumpler Store and Rochstr. 17, which offer various purses and bags with an Australian design. For all shoe-aholics, an excellent selection of shoes from a variety of brands can be found for reasonable prices at Schuh Tick in Savigny Platz.
If you decide to visit Berlin, all necessary information can be found on the city’s excellent official website: www.berlin.de
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