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 mold 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.
The Fernsehturm TV Tower 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. The Fernsehturm website has a gorgeous video of the city near the bottom of the page.
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.
Right in the center of everything, Alexanderplatz has Renaissance fountains, waterscapes, monuments, and restaurants.
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.
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.
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.
Just down the street is the East Side Gallery, and I have written a separate entry here.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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