Berlin, Germany | August 9 to 12, 2017
Everyone knows Berlin for its rich history from World War II, fist-pumping nightclubs, hipsters, and an emerging food culture. This was my first time in Berlin and I definitely think the aforementioned truly captures the feel of Germany's capital city.
The first stop was the iconic Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor). This is on every Berlin postcard, brochure, and travel blog. Next, I was wondering just north of Checkpoint Charlie and came across Gendarmenmarkt, an old square with some impressive architecture. From the south part of the square you get a real sense of history and begin to feel some of the dark events that must have occurred here during the first half of the 20th century. In the Gendarmenmarkt lies a marvelous French Cathedral (Französischer Dom), and the alluring concert hall (Konzerthaus).
On the southwest end of the market square lies humbling and beautiful little church. I'm not a religious person, but I love cathedrals, churches, synagogues, and mosques. While these buildings evoke a sense of melancholy for me, the architecture of such places of worship can be quite uplifting and inspiring. Shown below is the New Church (Neue Kirche)—a nice little place for God-please-get-me-out-of-this-shitty-situation type prayers.
The next stop was the critically claimed Topography of Terror where the Gestapo were headquartered, and is now a museum documenting Nazism. That got me into knowledge acquisition mode and I subsequently took the U-Bahn to Museum Island, which has half a dozen museums that are all great. I went to two, the Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum. One showed art from the Impression era, and the other was artifacts from ancient Egypt. At the heart of Museum Island lies the magnificent Berliner Dom. What a piece of art in itself!
The following day I decided to take have coffee and some classic German pastries near my hotel. I was staying by Checkpoint Charlie and since I pretty much walked past in the day before, I figured I would see what all the fuss was about. The actual monument itself is quite lackluster, with actors pretending to be soldiers, but the Germans had on display an interesting message to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In case you can't see it in the picture below, the message says:
"BY DEFENDING THE LIBERTY AND UNITY OF UKRAINE WE DEFEND THE LIBERTY AND UNITY OF THE COUNTRIES OF EUROPE. VLADIMIR PUTIN: ABANDON YOUR GEOPOLITICAL AMBITIONS AND SET THE WHOLE OF UKRAINE FREE."
Since I'm on the topic of war and dictators, I must mention Potsdamer Platz. As a bustling traffic intersection and public square in the 1920s, this part of Berlin was factored into Adolf Hitler's plan to make Berlin the world capital (Welthauptstadt). While I am grateful none of these plans came to fruition and that Potsdamer Platz was completely turned to rubble during World War II, the newly reconstructed center is modern wonder. As one site put it, "[it's] a mixture of the American plaza feel at the Sony centre and a tree-lined European downtown ... producing a lively, buzzing atmosphere".
My final stop in Berlin was the German Reichstag—the building where the German Parliament meets for official votes. While not much else goes on here, it plays an important role in history. In February 1933, the building mysteriously caught fire. Following the incident, the Nazis suspended many Germans' rights and subsequently arrested communists—the people allegedly involved in the fire—and increased police presence. After the war and reunification, the building gutted and rebuilt, aside from some graffiti left by inside by Soviet soldiers.
Also, a massive glass dome was constructed, which offers a 360-degree view of Berlin. It's one of Berlin's top attractions and it is worth the time and energy.
- If you want to see the Bundestag and the dome, you will need to reserve a spot in advance. The easiest way to do that is at the Bundestag website.
- Unless you really want to see Checkpoint Charlie, skip it. It's a couple of guys pretending to be Russian and American soldiers, and there just isn't that much to see there.