I have another installment from our recent trip to Berlin today (if you missed last week’s post about our wonderful B&B, Linnen, you can see it here).
It’s safe to say that the edgy, eclectic German capital captured our hearts from the moment we arrived. It isn’t exactly pretty – it’s shabby in places, with plenty of sprawling Soviet-era apartment blocks – but it buzzes with life and creativity. It’s also full of character, and every neighbourhood has its own personality, from down-to-earth Prenzlauer Berg (where we were staying) to vibrant, multicultural Kreuzberg (home to a large Turkish community).
Our visit coincided with a blistering heatwave, so many of our sightseeing plans were eschewed in favour of sprawling out in the shade with ice creams, but we still managed to muster enough energy for a bit of exploration.
We were particularly keen to learn more about Berlin’s division during the Cold War – a period of history that has fascinated me ever since my dad returned from a business trip in 1990 clutching a piece of the newly fallen wall – so we started at the Wall Memorial, just a few minutes’ walk from Linnen. Here a section of the wall remains, accompanied by information boards charting failed escape attempts and heart-wrenching family separations. We spent a while taking it all in, our minds boggling at the thought that all this took place so recently, before heading around the corner to Nordbahnhof station to see a fascinating exhibition on ‘ghost stations’: dimly lit, guard-patrolled U-Bahn stops under East German territory, which West German trains passed through without halting.
Another section of the wall still stands on the bank of the River Spree in the edgy, alternative district of Friedrichshain. Today it’s the East Side Gallery – a collection of 150 works celebrating freedom and peace, first daubed onto the concrete in the 90s and since repainted by the original artists. Much of it was hidden behind posters and wire barriers when we turned up, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless.
On our second day, we took a peek at some of the city’s icons: the gleaming Alexanderplatz TV tower, the futuristic sail-shaded Sony Centre, the Brandenburg Gate and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (whose bomb-splintered tower has been left as a reminder of the horrors of war). We also spent a while gazing up at Norman Foster’s stunning Reichstag Dome, watching tourists scurrying up and down the spiraling walkways inside.
Most poignant of all was the Holocaust Memorial, made up of imposing concrete slabs arranged in a vast grid. To me it resembled a cemetery, and the towering blocks created a sombre, claustrophobic atmosphere that was entirely fitting.
When the heat got too much, we dived into the cooling green expanse of the Tiergarten park, which occupies a vast swathe of central Berlin. Here we stumbled across the soaring curves and reflective pools of the Haus de Kulturen der Welt, designed in 1957 by American architect Hugh Stubbins and known locally as the ‘pregnant oyster’. It’s now a centre for international arts, and it also has a lovely riverside terrace where we stopped for an alfresco glass of wine as tour boats pootled past.
The focus of our final day was a visit to the Bauhaus Archive, which sits in a stark modernist building in the city centre. I’ve long been fascinated with the Bauhaus school of design and its blend of function and form, so seeing original pieces by Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Klee, Kandinsky and the many other famous Bauhaus names (many forced to flee Germany after the Nazis’ rise to power) was a real treat.
As for the rest of our time in Berlin, it was largely spent hopping between cafés, bars and restaurants in search of cooling drinks and good food. More on that to follow next week…
Photography by Abi Dare