I’m smashing out this blog in double quick time here in Germany’s lively capital where there’s no rest for the wicked. Five nights went some way to doing justice to a city that’s hell bent on giving tourists value for their euro. However, I needed longer to absorb the breadth and depth of the ancient, Prussian, Nazi and Cold War history that’s on offer. Glad I was that I had packed Rick Steves’ Berlin Guide which proved invaluable. Here’s a run down of places I visited.
Pergamon Museum is a world class museum full of treasures from Babylon, Assyria and the Islamic world. Babylon’s Processional Way which led to the Ishtar Gate was built during Nebuchanezzar’s reign in 575 BC. Anyone entering the city would be assured of a memorable first impression. His empire stretched from Egypt, had its capital near today’s Baghdad and was a showcase of beauty and riches. The famous Hanging Gardens were also part of the empire but I doubt if anything remains of them today.
The market gate of Miletus Turkey was built in AD 100 and is huge at 15 metres high and 30 metres wide.
The museum takes its name from the stunning Pergamon Altar which was found in Turkey. It is the museum’s most famous piece but unfortunately, it is stored away and won’t be ready for public display until 2025. Here’s a pic courtesy of google.
I used to get alarmed at the wealth of treasures that found their way from original locations to destinations far away. For a long time I thought they should be returned and exhibited in their own country. However, the increase in the deliberate destruction of a number of world heritage sites, mainly due to wars has changed my thinking. If they can be stored safely, then surely that’s got to be a good thing for the next generation.
This is a stele or ceremonial column from Assyria 670BC.
An Islam fortress from Jordan AD 700.
The walls of the Aleppo Room come from a 400 year old Syrian home. Christian, Arabic, Jewish and Persian motifs are painted on the walls which suggest that even then, people desired a tolerant society.
The powerful Prussian Empire of the mid 1700s is well and truly on show in Berlin. Victory Column in Tiergarten Park was built to commemorate the Prussian defeat of Denmark in 1864 and later the defeat of France in 1870. There’s 270 stairs to climb to a fabulous view of Berlin.
The walk from Victory Column to Brandenburg Gate takes in the Reichstag. Once home to Prussian kings and emperors, the democratic Weimar Republic, then burned by the Nazis in 1933 (yes, debateable I know) and bombed heavily by the allies in 1943, this house of parliament is worth a visit. Restoration started in 1989 and ten years later, the magnificent dome was completed.
Unter den Linden is the famous boulevard showcasing Prussian wealth and strength. Named after the Linden trees planted along the sides, it tells an impressive story of the Kaisers. The start of the boulevard is at the Brandenburg Gate, a Berlin icon where armies from Napoleon to Hitler have marched.
Parisier Platz at the start of Unter den Linden houses the American Embassy as well as Hotel Adlon, made famous when Michael Jackson dangled his young son over the balcony.
The buildings along the boulevard are very grand.
At the end of the boulevard is the beautiful Berlin Cathedral.
The walk around the dome renders these views over Berlin.
Nearby the cathedral is the Altes Museum housing ancient Roman and Greek artefacts.
Unter den Linden is home to Mercedes and Volkswagen showrooms and visitors are encouraged to take in the history and future of their vehicles.
Gendarmenmarkt is touted as ‘Berlin’s finest square’. Two churches are at each end and in the middle is the Berlin Symphony’s Concert Hall. It’s a beautiful square and we took it all in whilst sipping aperol spritz in an outdoor café across the road.
Germany’s Nazi history is also on show in Berlin. The Topography of Terror is built on the feared site of the Gestapo and SS headquarters and it doesn’t take much to imagine the hideous, inhumane acts that were carried out here. The modern building provides a powerful chronological story as well as incredible photos of Hitler’s reign of terror.
The Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe has 2711 coffin shaped pillars – the number reflects the pillars that would fit on this block of land. The disturbing deaths of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazis was a genocidal act that should always be remembered.
The site of Hitler’s bunker is underwhelming. There’s little to see and that’s exactly how the German government wants it. They do not want Hitler to be glorified and with neo Nazi movements on the increase in this part of the world, it’s a wise decision.
The German History Museum traces 1500 years of tumultuous German history and it’s fantastic.
The craziness of the Cold War between USA and Soviet Russia can be clearly seen at Checkpoint Charlie which is famous as the third checkpoint where westerners crossed into East Berlin. The guard house is reconstructed with big posters of American and Soviet guards. A couple of actors take on the roles of American GIs. Nothing here is original. It’s very touristy, but worth a visit.
The infamous Berlin Wall was built by Soviet Communists in 1961 to keep East Berliners out of democratic West Berlin. It was a strange concept really, since West Berlin became an island surrounded by Soviet controlled East Germany. The wall was 155 kms long and built virtually overnight, trapping many innocent people who were then forced to live tightly controlled lives. It wasn’t dismantled until 1989.
At East Side Gallery we saw one kilometre of the 4 metre high concrete wall covered with vibrant murals painted by artists from around the world who celebrated the 20th anniversary of the wall coming down. The feature photo for this blog shows the famous socialist fraternal kiss between East German leader Erich Honecker and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.
The Spree River is not far from East Side Gallery.
A short train ride to Nordbahnhof is where you’ll find the Berlin Wall Memorial with its excellent viewing platform over Death Strip – the tract of land separating East and West Berlin. Naturally, a number of East Berliners tried to escape to the West. Their faces are displayed in the Wall of Remembrance. Here, you can also trace the famous escape Tunnel 57, named after 57 successful escapes. Surely off the spectrum of courage!
Tiergarten Park is Berlin’s central park of 500 acres. There’s scores of cycling and walking tracks, monuments and statues.
The Trabi was East Germany’s answer to West Germany’s Volkswagon.
Prenzlauer Berg, an attractive neighbourhood, is often compared to New York’s Brooklyn.
The well known Bikini Berlin, a shopping arcade in a vibrant and interesting area.
Kaiser Wilhelm Church on the well known Kurfürstendamm.
It’s easy to get around Berlin. The U banh and S banh are trains that get you to pretty much everywhere you want to go. In addition, the bus service is efficient.
It’s also easy to eat and drink well. We ate these meals in Viktoria Luise Platz, a short walk from our hotel. This was a lovely neighbourhood, complete with gardens, fountains and lovely buildings. In the evenings, families were walking, riding their bikes and playing in the gardens.
I liked Berlin. Didn’t see everything I wanted to see, but … always another visit (think I say that about every place I visit)!
Tomorrow, we are heading to Dresden by train.