Thursday, June 26, 2014

Traveling: Berlin - Impressions From A Recent Visit

(Drivebycuriosity) - Recently my wife and I had a trip to Berlin where we stayed 5 nights. I have visited Berlin before around 6 times in 4 decades: my latest visit was 1999 and lasted just some hours. And my American wife has never seen Germany´s capital  before. So we were both excited and curious, especially because we had read in the recent years a lot of rave reports about how cool Berlin is right now.

Indeed, we enjoyed our visit very much. German`s capital is still in a dramatical transformation process. In WWII the metropolis got totally bombed and destroyed. After that through 1990 the city was split in 2 halves: Western Berlin, an unofficial part of market orientated Western Germany (BRD) and Eastern Berlin, the capital of the communist Eastern Germany (DDR), part of the Soviet Bloc led by Moscow.

Berlin lacks the skyline you can see in the US and Asia. The city sprawls over a vast area and is more comparable to Los Angeles than to New York City. And the place is very green thanks to a lot of parks, lakes, riversides and a large forrest right in the center  (Tiergarten).

But anyway, Berlin is surprisingly walkable thanks to a mass transport system which is very modern, fast and efficient. We enjoyed riding the frequently clocked U-Bahn (Subway), S-Bahn (urban railway) and Straßenbahn (streetcar) that brought us swiftly to our destinations. There is just one downer: There is no train connection to the Airport (Tegel) which is tiny & provincial and doesn`t fit to a global metropolis.

Otherwise: Berlin shows that Germany - its government, banks and industry  - want a capital that is comparable to London, Paris and other global centers. Since 1990 tons of money have been invested into Berlin`s architecture & infrastructure and there are still a lot of construction sites. Especially on the former political no man's land close to the bygone Berlin Wall (part of the Iron Curtain which has divided Europe) they have erected a new and modern city from a scratch. A visit of Berlin is a glance onto the infrastructure & architecture of the  21st century.

                                                          Space Age Architecture

We especially enjoyed climbing the futuristic glass cupola above the former Reichstag Building. The elegant construction by the star architect Lord Norman Foster goes 155 feet above the building which is now the seat of Deutscher Bundestag/Parlament (we needed to make an online reservation some days in advance). Worth seeing is also Berlin´s hyper modern central station (Hauptbahnhof) - an icon of modern infrastructure architecture.

But my favorite of Berlin`s architectural gems is the Sony Center which is part of the cool Potsdamer Platz area. This district covers the huge frontier part of the city which has been deserted during the Cold War.  The main attraction there is the large canopy above the Sony complex.  The roof construction which covers the sizable atrium is a kind of space age architecture and a real eye cookie, which you can see in this photo series.

But there are still old parts, mostly reconstructed after WWIi, which are worth seeing. We especially liked seeing the "Gendarmen Markt" which we passed late in the evening. This is a square with some reconstructed buildings, original erected in 1773.

If you are interested in art - what kind ever - Berlin is a must. The city has a huge number of fascinating collections. Our tight time budget allowed us to visit just 6 of them (I have reported in the recent days about each of them): The famous Pergamon Museum (driveby) and the "Neues Museum" (driveby), both show awesome ancient creations. The "Gemäldegalerie (driveby) focuses on European paintings from the 16th to 19th century. "Neue Nationalgallerie" (driveby) and "Museum Hamburger Bahnhof" (driveby) display stunning collections of contemporary art. The museum "Scharf-Gerstenberg-Collection" presents surrealistic masterpieces ( driveby) and you also can see there an exhibition of the works of the fine artist Paul Klee (driveby).

                                                              Castle In The Forrest

In spite of our tight schedule we took the time and indulged in a summerly open air concert ("Peer Gynt" by  Henrik Ibsen & Edvard Grieg) at a former hunting castle in one of Berlin`s forests ("Jagdschloss Grunewald"). The event was very atmospheric and beautiful. Unfortunately there is no public transport to the remote castle. We walked around 40 minutes to get there from the S-Bahn station through the forrest (the Grunewald) and had luck to get a taxi home which spared us the walk on an unlighted street through the dark forrest.

One of the things we wallowed in Berlin was the traditional German breakfast: Brötchen, which are ball shaped breads plus lots of sliced sausages (like Salami), ham and cheese.

My wife and I believe that we have to come back sometimes.

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