Berlin, Immer Berlin

Berlin is the city that makes my heart skip a beat. The very buildings, monuments, and street names define and narrate my lifelong obsession with Germany and its history like an interactive storybook. First with the Weimar Republic era when the artists, filmmakers, musicians, architects, scientists, and great writers who emerged during this time birthed a new genre of collective artistry never before seen. While copied, the mould had been broken then sealed back off again preventing any other generation from coming close to the boom of originality and meaning in such a short frame of time. Consider German Expressionism and Surrealism. Just start there.

Second, World War I and II, capped by the devastating political tug of war, encompassed the shift from Nazism to Communism under Soviet control. Berlin was torn into pieces and put back together over and over again. All of this has influenced me immensely in my work with vaudeville, cabaret, and music performance. Many of the songs I write/compose pertain to events during the Weimar era, Holocaust, and wars. Going to Berlin meant so much to me, I lack the words to properly explain it.

Third, and ultimately, modern day Berlin culture is fascinating in its own right; a melting pot of languages and ethnicities, revitalised art and architecture, and developing businesses. After just one week, I had so many photos that it was difficult to narrow it down without creating a massive entry. Turns out it happened anyways.

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FERNSEHTURM
The Fernsehturm is the tallest structure in Germany, reaching nearly 1200 feet, and has an elevator that leads to a complete 360 view of the city. Looking out over the city was mesmerizing, however it has a touch of eeriness about it. There were very few places I found that I could not look up and see this tower. It was helpful when navigating, though often leaves one with a feeling of being watched. Enter the tower in Alexanderplatz, and be sure to visit Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit in the lower level.

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The tower is always watching.

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Berlin from above, inside the Fernsehturm.

 

ALEXANDERPLATZ

Right in the center of everything, tying it all together, Alexanderplatz has Renaissance fountains, waterscapes, monuments, and restaurants.

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Berliner Dom to the left and Marienkirche to the right.

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Marienkirche

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Inside Marienkirche

Neptunbrunnen

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Roman God Neptune in the center of this fountain in Alexanderplatz

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Two of four women surround Neptune in this fountain and represent the four rivers flowing through what was Prussia. The woman in the foreground holding grapes is the Rhein.

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Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) was partially destroyed by bombs during the war but rebuilt in the 1950s. It is near Alexanderplatz.

 

Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Tor

Pariser Platz is the most iconic place in Berlin where tour guides, neon vans, bike carts, buses and horse carriages all stand by for hire. Some days you will find a rally for vegetarianism, others you will find a rapper set up on a mobile stage going full on about taxes at 10 am. You will find the staples like Starbucks and sandwich cafes next to the famous Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson hung his child over the balcony. You will find ancient sculptures and foreign embassies surrounded by street performers and souvenir shops. Currently there is a candle vigil set up for LGBT victims that, to my knowledge, was set up for the events that took place in Orlando to show Berlin solidarity.

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Symbolic of the city’s division, an ancient former town gate now stands in victory.

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This altar seemed to expand daily after the shooting in Orlando. Berlin is a city known for acceptance and is a safe haven for LGBT individuals.

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Due to some recent security issues, the Polizei had temporarily shut off access to many areas behind the Brandenburg Gate. My understanding is that Pariser Platz is thought to be the most likely place here to be targeted in an attack to destroy German / European heritage.

Nikolaivertel

Built around the reconstructed Nikolaikirche (church), this quarter is the oldest parish in Berlin. It was rebuilt to some degree in the late 80s and has numerous tavern restaurants and taverns, biergartens, boutique shops from local artisians, and historical plaques.

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Nikolaikirche

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Friedrichshain

If you’re looking for a grittier, tough neighbourhood, this may be your place. The next-door neighbourhood in my current city has a slogan to “Love your hood but lock your shit up” and as an urbanite myself, I felt at home here. I have only been to Friedrichshain during daylight hours but appreciate the edgy attitude, somehow more down to earth than in central Berlin, and even the rougher locals did not bother me. Like myself, many people here have tattoos, piercings, dark clothes, brightly coloured and shaved hair, and many of them can be found working on an art installation or graffiti piece or a mural at any given time. It was an honour to watch, and a perfect way to experience the walk toward East Side Gallery.

One of my favourite places in all of Berlin is the Oberbaumbrücke (bridge) that stretches luxuriously across the Spree River connecting Freidrichshain to Kreuzberg.

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The train stops as it crosses the bridge before releasing passengers. I’m rather sweet on this photo because it captures the artful subway doors, the intricate details of the Oberbaumbrücke, the River Spree, and the contrast between former Soviet Berlin against newly gentrified additions.

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These towers definitely remind me of Russia. You may recognise this bridge from the film Run Lola Run.

E 9Just down the street is the East Side Gallery, and I have written a separate entry here.

Potsdamer Platz

Built in the 1830s, Potsdamer Platz quickly became one of the most crowded and congested areas in all of Europe. It is where the first traffic light was built in Berlin and remains just as bustling. As you exit the Bahnhof (station) you will immediately see remnants of the Berlin Mauer (wall) rooted in deep grooves that new pavement could not hide.

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Exit and cross the busy intersection to find a huge plaza that holds the Spy Museum, the Salvador Dali Museum, and a great restaurant called Foodie.

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Paying tribute to Germany’s beloved actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich, whose character Lola in Der Blaue Engel has deeply inspired my stage persona and personal art.

Kurfürstendamm

Ku’Damm is one of the most famous boulevards in Berlin and crosses the city from West to East. I had a few places in particular that I wanted to see and spent hours walking from site to site.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church)

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Flowing water around an art installation at the Europa Center, adjacent to Bikini Berlin shopping complex

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A prominent artist who spoke out against war and the aftermath,  George Grosz Platz pays tribute to one of my favourite artists and his phenomenal amount of work.

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Excellent museum marked by a sculpture of a plane wing crashed into the sidewalk

                                                    Red Berlin, Black Berlin
There are, of course, many darker parts of Berlin that remain to serve as a reminder of what happened in the past and to never let it happen again. Signs commanding “Noch Nie!” and “Nie Wieder” (never again) reaffirm disapproval near every site. My thoughts kept turning to morbid curiosity of what it must be like living in a city that attracts millions of tourists based on horrific events that its residents do not want to be associated with. I tried to find some means of comparison; imagine if the entire world came to the Appalachian mountains and forests of Southern USA for Slavery and Racism Tours, or the majestic canyons and gorges in Armenia for Massacre Bike Tours, or the elephant ranges and extensive waterways of Cambodia for Genocide Boat Rides. How does a society move on and turn its back to a painful past, in a house of mirrors?

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Checkpoint Charlie

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Tränenpalast, the Palace of Tears.

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Glass etching inside the Tränenpalast

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Exhibit inside the Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) that holds some Ostalgia, propaganda, film and photography of the station’s history and tragic events of the time.

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“Whoever comes too late is punished by life” – My interpretation is that if you do not get through (borders) on time you will be left behind to suffer.

 

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“The enemy sees your light! Darken it!

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This exhibit on Stella Kübler Goldschlag was particularly interesting to me because she was the subject of a former project I developed.

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Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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Memorial to the Murdered Roma and Sinti

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Peering through a crack in the wall facing the Berlin Wall Memorial

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Preserved strip of land known as Stalin’s Yard that was full of metal spikes, landmines, rabid attack dogs, and surrounded by guard towers. Anyone who made it through those obstacles would be shot.

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Climbing the stairs to the lookout platform of the Documentation Center was tedious, and we were only there for sightseeing. I can only imagine what it was like to stand in line for hours, or even days, in fear and desperation.

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From the Documentaion Center platform

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Projection over water, memorial to protesters who died in this square.

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Staunch Soviet architecture forced its way into East Berlin after many beautiful buildings were bombed

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Bernauerstraße residents woke up one morning to find the wall had been constructed overnight, going straight down the middle of their street, dividing them from friends and family, their jobs, churches, doctors, vehicles, public transport and resources, and the rest of the world.

 

City of Water and Bridges

Berlin has over 1,000 bridges, even more than Venice! River cruises are the best way to see the city when your feet are blistered from walking, and help to gain a more uplifting perspective when needed.

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The Weidendammer Brücke with its massive crowned Eagle on the gates.

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Cruising past Museum Island

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More sights cruising beyond Museum Island

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Germans like to relax beside the water

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After a great meal in the Hackesche Markt, I set out to find this beauty, the Neue Synagogue.

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Neue Synagogue was partially destroyed after WWII, but was built in 1866 with the capacity to  house over 3,000 people.

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An essential site to visit, the Reichstag is massive and still stands marked by bullet sprays and bomb damage. It was the seat of parliament in the Weimar Era and is now the seat of federal German parliament, the Bundestag.

You really can not beat German food. There will always be pretzels, sausages, schnitzels, sandwiches, and beer on every corner but there are also lovely, heavy dishes.

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Beef meatball with gravy and potato puree

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Rinderroulade und rotkohl mit kartoffeln – roasted beef roll with pickles, mustard, onions, and bacon inside. Over red cabbage, potatoes, wine beef gravy.

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1. Berliner potato stew 2. Panini salami with pesto and local cheese, latte, and honey cheesecake. 3. Corned beef reuben with pomme frites. 4. Pizza Hawaii.

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Just like in Knoxville, these locally painted bears are all over the city.

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Yes, I love Berlin too.

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