2 August 2012 | Posted inBlog News & Updates
Posted by Deborah
I took a few days away from my dissertation to travel to Berlin, which was one of the destinations I wanted to see while I was in Europe. I was last there in 1980 before the wall came down and it was a city, or two cities, of contrasts. West Berlin was brash and vibrant with little charm, while East Berlin was sterile, grey and buried in the past. It was a fascinating place to visit in 1980 and I wanted to go back because once the wall came down there has been a lot of modern architecture built in what had been no-man’s land.
I was there for 5 days with a group from HF and it was a wonderful experience. I was surprised that in mid-June the city wasn’t over-run with tourists and it was also the most reasonably priced European city I’ve been to in a long time and my costs came in under budget. My opinion of the two sides of Berlin totally changed from when I was last there. In 1980 I thought the centre of the city was in Kudam where everything was new and the eastern section seemed like an antique. The communists were intent on
rebuilding some of the bombed out buildings and there were many structures that were behind hoarding waiting for money to rebuild them. I particularly remember a building that had a substantial tree growing about 100 feet above ground. A seed must have started growing and 35 years after the war it was huge. At the time it seemed like a misuse of funds as it wasn’t practical to rebuild everything and East Berlin felt dead. However, another thirty years has passed and I have a different opinion. These older buildings now give character to Berlin and the city centre has moved east to where it originally was. We stayed near Oranienburger and the area had charming cafes and galleries as well as plenty of designer shops and restaurants. I felt like I could have explored the area for days and yet we had so little time as we had tons of things to see around the city. I had made a list of the modern architecture I wanted to see and fortunately much of it was on the itinerary for our group: Gehry Bank, Foster Reichstag dome and all the buildings in the Potsdammer Platz. The best one was the Foster Dome which looked fairly ordinary in pictures, but was spectacular to see. We went on our last evening around 9:30 and were able to see all the landmarks for the city that we’d visited. Not only was it spectacular space, but there was a history of the government/building for the last 100 years which was also fascinating.
Other than the charming ambiance of the city, what was also intriguing was all the memorials to the Jews, second world war and the wall. They were disturbing times in Germany’s history and they aren’t avoided. They are also not glorified, but are respectfully presented and often in beautiful modern structures. It was very compelling and at times our guide thought we might have had enough, but you wanted to see more. It’s interesting that most of these were constructed since the wall came down and Germany has risen again as the powerhouse of Europe. I remember in 1980 feeling a bit of animosity towards Germany before I had ever set foot in the country and understood why some of my fellow youth hostellers of Jewish ancestry refused to visit. Now you see that
the Germans regret this horrible part of their history and have built these monuments so that they won’t forget what happened, not just to say I’m sorry. I’m glad they’re aesthetically beautiful as well as being capable of wringing you dry emotionally.
I’d go back again in a heartbeat and try and see all the things I missed. There are so many buildings that are still being renovated or newly built and the collection of artwork is wonderful. I assume the Nues Museum, which was renovated by Chipperfield was in ruins when I was there before, so it was wonderful to see the building as well as the Egyptian collection. I remember sketching the Nefertiti bust in my art class for an assignment. I barely scratched the surface of the museums and I never realized how much of the collections were somewhat inaccessible being located in East Berlin (or Russia where some of it was removed to) so many years ago. I’m glad that the city is a mixture of modern architecture and restored older buildings. It’s a place you can visualize yourself living, like London, Paris and New York; tons of stuff to do in a great environment.