One of my absolute favourite cities in Europe is Berlin. Although I’ve visited a number of times, this essay encapsulates a trip I took back in 2018.
The city itself is a mish-mash of old and new, with a juxtaposition of the austere with the most modern and architecturally beautiful buildings all jumbled together, often next to each other.
It’s clearly a function of two very significant periods in history that have touched Berlin over the last century.
Firstly the second world war which is still evident in the historical reminders that you find all around the city.
The ruins of a church, or the wall plaques to explain the notable buildings or ghastly reminders of the moments in history (Kristallnacht and the burning of the central synagogue).
Not to mention the clearly marked bullet holes, albeit patched up in the surviving buildings.
The second set of reminders followed close on the heels of the war with the stand off between east and west, when Berlin became the front line of the Cold War with the erection of the Wall.
It’s obvious when you walk the streets and neighborhoods on either side of the Wall where you are. You know exactly where you are just by observing the architecture.
I found that in the old eastern sector of the city the buildings were more utilitarian and with the same uniform design.
Whereas in the west the buildings have a more eclectic range of designs and architecture that are some of the most stunning that Europe has to offer.
Next time you’re looking for a city to visit go to Berlin! Here are a few helpful tips for your visit:
Indelible Tip #1:
From a historical perspective it’s a veritable treasure trove of museums, with many of them being free.
My recommendation is be selective and choose ahead of time because there are so many great museums to explore.
In addition I would always recommend an audio guide for a small fee as they really enhance the experience. I found them useful unless you’re fluent in german.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Daniel Libeskind, but he is considered to be amongst the brightest and arguably most accomplished architects of our time.
He designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and created a “tour-de-force” that connects you with the building and all that it represents.
It’s one of those places that impacts you from the moment you begin the journey into the museum.
As you enter the museum you’re confronted with a long, cold and desolate corridor that sets the tone for your experience.
Making your way along the corridor into the unknown you find yourself in the Holocaust Tower and gripped by the cold, confined and dark space – almost suffocating. Wow!
Approximately 10,000 thick steel plates are piled on the floor in this space, but as you make your way across the space the plates clank, groan and grind under your feet – very disconcerting to be sure.
Stopping part way across the exhibit I stood transfixed by the faces around me and the sounds that emanated from them, a profound and enormous sadness washed over me as I stood there taking it all in.
I have no words to describe the feelings; all I know is that it touched my heart…
Indelible Tip #2:
Take your time as you explore, slow down and take it all in.
I find that creating indelible memories starts with the process of engaging your senses.
As you know from my previous stories I often reach out and touch what I’m looking at, or sometimes, if I’m close enough endeavor to smell what I’m looking at (yes, I know it sounds a little weird).
But I find the act of connecting your senses is the trick to remembering with clarity the moments that make up our lives.
So choose which sense or combination of senses work best for you and give it a try. Describe in your head what you’re seeing, touching, smelling, feeling or sensing – a truly powerful experience!
As I strolled through Berlin I was drawn in by two fascinating buildings (1) Reichstag (parliament building) and the (2) Brandenburg Tor (gate).
Both close in proximity to one other but also were on the front line of the Cold War as they were physically hard up against the Berlin Wall.
Seeing photographs of these buildings during the time prior to the Berlin Wall coming down, all you can see is a vast no-man’s land (200 meter) or “death zone” (free fire zone) which encompassed both buildings.
Fortunately for us today, each of them have been fully restored with the Reichstag now once again the parliament building for Germany.
Definitely take the tour up to the top of the dome – its spectacular! The Brandenburg Tor (gate) is the focal point for every visitor to this beautiful city and one of the most photographed locations in all of Germany.
Indelible Tip #3:
I stayed in the Kurfurstendamm neighborhood, which is located near the Zoological gardens just south-east of the city center.
This upmarket neighbourhood seems to have the best of everything Berlin has to offer in that it has wonderfully appointed hotels, fantastic shopping, and access to some of the best public transportation in the world.
If I wasn’t walking I rode the bus (route 100 to the Reichstag), which was a 10 min ride from my hotel or took U and S-bahn (train service) to Alexanderplatz all for the same fare.
Although it took me many years to get to Berlin I packed a lot in and feel like I really connected to t heart and soul of Berlin.
I know you’re all itching to find out how many photos I took…right???
Actually quite modest by my standards in that I only shot just over 2000 in the four days.
However, this was intentional in that I wanted to spend more time being “in the moment” and soaking it all in during my visit versus behind a camera lens…
If you get the chance to visit Berlin. Take it – it’s wunderbar!
Until next week