As a kid growing up in the late 70s (a very little kid) and 80s, Berlin was a city divided. Technically it was West and East Berlin but as a Canadian during the cold war, we viewed it as free (the West) and oppressed ( the East) . This view was no doubt influenced by media but also the omnipresent image of the Berlin Wall and the terrible stories about what would happen if you tried to cross it. My Auntie Barb, the truly most glamorous worldly aunt I had was on a European tour in 1977. In my small Manitoba town, my brother and I would wait for her postcards from exotic postcards from places like Greece., while my grandmother fretted about her whereabouts and when she was coming home., And when she did finally come home, my grandmother fretted about why she ate so much foreign food now. It might have been feta cheese. Auntie Barb visited a lot of European cities that year, but her stories about Berlin stuck out, especially as I got older. My dad distinctly recalls her telling us about having to surrender her Canadian passport at Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin. This is why my aunt was so awesome. Most North Americans wouldn’t even bother. But it hooked me and I started to wonder if I would ever visit Berlin.
Fast Forward to the 1990s. The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and by 1990, Germany was reunified. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most famous historical events of my youth and I still remember watching it happen and being ridiculously happy even if I didn’t really know what it would mean. In the 90s I was also a university student who rediscovered the movie Cabaret which is set in Berlin during the Weimer Republic. I was hooked, just what was this city? A hot bed of intolerance? (yes during the Nazi regime) a hotbed of acceptance? (yes currently politically and before World War II) Producer of some of the greatest minds/artist and / theologians? (all yes) Still I never thought I’d get there.
So in 2014, where did I find myself? Berlin of course!! Berlin is a city like no other. Munich, one of my favourite cities embodies Bavarian Culture that many of us believe is German. Germany is very different from region to region but Berlin stands alone. A truly fascinating city that should be on everyone’s must do list.
There is so much to do, how do you start? I would strongly recommend a Walking Tour. Yes it will cover the recent history we are so familiar with, Nazism, the death place of Hitler, World War II, Communism, The Wall, The fall of the Wall etc.. But also the Weimer republic, the cabarets, the acceptance of the LBGTQ Community, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Fredrick the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm, Albert Einstein and more,
I wanted to see Berlin for all of its history and it certainly doesn’t disappoint however despite my wanting to discover the older history, 3 things stood out that are still more recent.
- On Unter den Linden, Bebelplatz, near Humboldt University memorializes the book burning started by the Nazis. An empty bookshelf meant to hold 20,000 books (that were burned ) is visible through glass in the ground. Many of these books were written by Jewish writers. It is supported by the quote’ First they burn books, then they will burn the people.’ by the writer Heinrich Heine over 100 years before World War II. It was one of the most chilling, heartbreaking sites that I have ever seen in the midst of one of the most beautiful streets in the World. http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/book-burning-memorial-at-bebelplatz
- Museum Island. Berlin is a cultural nexus. There is so much to see from Lutheran Cathedrals to amazing museums with Prussian artifacts to Egyptian treasures. The museums themselves are stunning. With bullet holes in the columns still visible reminders of the Battle of Berlin. A must do.
- Potdsamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate. Potsdamer Platz is not that interesting of a street. It is full of glass, chrome, opulence and money. It has a beautifully maintained green boulevard and some remnants of the Berlin Wall.
It is fascinating because just under 30 years ago, Potsdamer Platz was the infamous no mans land The side of East Berlin that was empty and full of stone. Also infamous for trying to cross it may cost your life. 30 years late, it tells a story of a different Germany with only the green boulevards left to tell the story it may not have always been a commercial epicentre. Brandenburg Gate, the ornate, beautiful gate synonymous with Berlin was behind the gate in East Berlin, with no care or access. Now Brandenburg Gate is restored to its former glory and the symbol of a reunited Berlin. Visiting in 2014 during World Cup, Brandenburg gate was THE place to watch the game full of energy and pride. To top it off, Germany won. https://www.berlin.de/en/attractions-and-sights/3560266-3104052-brandenburg-gate.en.html
Berlin however is more than its recent history, so take the time to find out. Boulevard Fredrichstrasse Restaurant has been in business sine the 1920s. It tells the story of a changing Berlin while still keeping that 1920s vibe alive and well. The food is out of this world as is the wine. http://www.boulevard.berlin/
Also The TV tower is a reminder of Berlin and its history. Commissioned by Communists and built by Christians, when the light hits it, a cross is visible. Despite its hidden messages the TV tower is a wonderful sight to behold on its own.
Also worth a visit is Hackescher Markt A wonderful market with unique and interesting restaurants, beer gardens,local crafts and boutiques. It is in an older part of East Berlin on the U Bahn as a stop. @benton8tors favourite part of Berlin. ps://www.berlin.de/en/shopping/1761522-2947095-hackescher-markt-sh
Berlin in 2017 is a very different Berlin than that of my childhood. Berlin, its every thing you hope it would be, a city that has been the centre of almost any type of history to keep standing, learning, remembering, and thriving. Oh and avoid Checkpoint Charlie, once the fearful scary checkpoint into East Berlin, now a bizarre macabre Disney version of what it was but don’t avoid East Berlin by far the most interesting, culturally fascinating and resilient part of the city.