When I was initially planning my Europe trip my main focus was history and while Berlin is obviously an excellent choice for this history lesson there are so many other reasons to visit Berlin. Keep tuned to this blog as I focus the next set of blog entries on our travels around Germany and the amazing cultural and historical places we visited!
A trip to Berlin is not complete without walking shoes and the ability to laugh at oneself. Clinton and I got lost one of the nights we were walking around town and tried in vain for many hours to find our hotel. We had been almost walking in circles when we discovered the hotel. All of our time in Berlin was part of the bus tour we took our first two weeks in Europe, but we were able to jump ship when they announced they were heading back to the hotel and visit a few places we wanted to spend more time than they originally allotted. One place was a discovered Gestapo Headquarters laid beneath the ground. When we first arrived we only had a few minutes, but between the waysides and informational structures there was no way we had enough time to really delve into the topic. We did find our way back to this place before attempting to find our hotel!
Our bus tour actually started that day bringing us to the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. The Brandenburg Gate is a magnificent structure that was constructed originally between 1788 and 1791 by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans. It is pretty obvious at even a first glance that the inspiration was Greek revival, but what you may not know is that the inspiration was specifically the entrance to Acropolis in Athens. While this is a beautiful structure it is located in a busy and congested part of town so just be aware how popular this will be! We went via a bus tour so I am also not really sure how to access the place beyond a bus tour but there were plenty of hotels and restaurants around so I can’t imagine this would be too difficult. A big reason behind the popularity is the modern history of the Brandenburg Gate. Part of the exclusion zone during the Cold War, many locals and all visitors were unable to visit this history landmark. Such a stunning divide was crushed when the Wall fell in 1989 and thousands of people gathered to celebrate the first joined New Years Eve.
Another iconic place to visit while in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie, the third checkpoint opened by the Allies in Berlin which later became the most famous crossing between East and West Germany. Named after the phonetic alphabet (C = Charlie, the third letter), it witnessed numerous attempts to escape from East Berlin. Make sure to pay attention as you walk around – there is an open air exhibition that tells the story of failures and successes in the attempt to escape from East Berlin during the Cold War. We did not spend an extensive amount of time in this location because it was very busy and rainy! Plus, it literally is an intersection in busy Berlin…today. Amazing the difference when you take a minute and realize the difference time and technology imparts.
During our walks we had the fortune of seeing so many historical buildings I had read about in my history studies. Berlin has an abundant amount of memorials, museum displays, and outdoor open air exhibits; not to mention historical places! I’ve really only had the same feeling when visiting places as old as Jamestown or St. Augustine, though they are much older than many of the places we actually visited while in Germany. Spend more than just one night in Berlin if you can, it will be worth it and you will be able to visit places not mentioned on this trip. We walked by buildings where Hitler gave misguided, passionate speeches, and right by where Kings of the past made important decisions. I can’t really explain it, but definitely go for a long walk when possible!
Speaking of walks, on one of them we were able to cross off another memorial from my list – the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial opened in 2005, and was designed by Peter Eisenman. Covering 19,000 sq meters and 2711 concrete slabs at different heights the memorial can create a moment of uncertainty to start. The uneven concrete floor, the wave like form, and the size of the memorial is a conventional concept of a memorial. It was interesting when we visited and walked through the first time. Surrounded by so many people, when you walk through part of it you really almost become lost, like in a maze, and don’t even realize how quiet and alone you are…even surrounded by people. Very interesting!
While in Berlin we were able to eat delicious food, pretend we knew more German than we really did, enjoyed many different tours and walks around the town, and realized how much the Soviet Union really influenced the architecture of the city. Don’t skip this town if you are visiting Germany – it is worth the trip!