Last November I spent two weeks in Berlin. For some of you Berlin may be of no interest or it may offer less compared to Paris or London. For others, Berlin as the capital of Germany may have a difficult or bad reputation.
I’ve been living in Germany for more than twenty years and had the opportunity of experiencing the Fall of the Wall here. Before those years I had only been once in West Berlin. The city was very crowded and the Wall was impressive. In the West part of the city there were observation points where you could take a look over the Wall at the East part. The German Democratic Republic was really another country although everybody was German. To be able to get an idea of this period in time there are some locations in Berlin to visit. First of all, Checkpoint Charlie which was the official point to cross from West to east Berlin during the Cold War and which has some old pieces of the wall left.
Another interesting place to visit is the DDR Museum that offers a vivid view of every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic. It is interactive and some products of the old DDR can be bought there, too. A nice film to watch, Goodbye, Lenin.
Leaving the Cold War era, Berlin has experienced a fast modernization and is a proud example of modern architecture. Nice buildings are in and surrounding the Potsdamer Platz. One of the most famous is the Sony Center finished in the year 2000. It has place for restaurants, cinemas, offices and some living area. Next to the Sony Center there is a very big complex with more restaurants, cinemas, a new shopping mall, a theater and some first class hotels.
If modern life with all its glamour gets to be too loud and “schrill” or jarring in about 15 walking minutes distance you can find a cultural oasis called the Kultur Forum. The famous Berliner Philharmonic is the first building that will attract your attention. If you cannot visit a concert there, take a tour and enjoy the building. Another idea would be to go on Wednesday afternoon to the small conference room where they show cultural films and other cultural events. And don’t forget that there are also “lunch concerts” to enjoy.
Next to the concert hall is the Gemäldegalerie or Picture Gallery where you can find the Old Masters of the European painting. The Gallery also offers special exhibitions like last year’s ‘ Picasso, women and animals’. Funny title, but I loved the pictures.
Crossing the Matthiasplatz in front of the gallery, is the New National Gallery in an impressive modern building with glass walls and almost no columns to sustain the roof. It is dedicated to the twentieth century masters.
If you rather prefer to enjoy fresh air and green areas, very close to Potsdamer Platz you can visit the zoo or simply take a walk through the many paths along the water behind the zoo. You can smell the animals and can take a short look at some birds and lamas without having to pay an entrance 😉 If the weather is sunny and more or less warm, you can enjoy the hidden Biergarten close to the zoo.
Berlin has many green areas and parks. The Spree river and its affluents offer idillic views that you can admire taking the U-Bahn line, German for subway, that goes to the Main Train Station. If you take one of the S-Bahn trains and leave the city for a while you will be surprised by the many lakes and woods that surround the capital. Very beautiful!
Going back in time and reviewing history, there is a very special area that you shouldn’t miss, the old Jewish Quarter with the New Synagogue and a lot of jewish shops and cafés. There is a building complex called Hackesche Höfe that has been modernized keeping the fashionable architecture of older times.
To handle this difficult topic, it is a good idea to visit the Jewish Museum from Daniel Libeskind. I found the building very impressive because it makes you feel the tragedy with only walking through the long aisles. After the visit and to get you moods up a nice hot-chocolate in the coffee is the best.
Last but not least, the nightlife in this extraordinary city. Every neighborhood has something to offer: the alternative bars in Prenzlauer Berg, the Turkish and Arab coffee shops in Neu-Kölln, elegant and classy restaurants in Berlin Mitte or nice places in other bourgeois neighborhoods like Charlottenburg or Steglitz.
Berlin is a very open minded city and you can find the best gay cafés, shops and clubs in Schöneberg ever since the 1920’s. This makes me think of Marlene Dietrich and her unforgettable “Blauer Engel” and of “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli.
The city hasn’t changed that much. There is fun for everyone: men and women, men and men, only women or all together… Why don’t you dare visiting a club where not only the doors swing? That would be another side of the wonderful city, Berlin. 😉