Our visit to Berlin was almost painfully brief, but gave us enough of a taste of this elegant and exciting city that we're determined to return for a longer stay. In hopefully better weather. Cold, occasional sleet, and patchy fog interfered with our seeing and appreciating many of the area's landmarks, but didn't keep us from having a good time and being very impressed with this recently patched-back-together capital.
Here is my blog post covering our day in Berlin. And there are many more photos in this Flickr set. If you want to follow our sight-seeing geographically, and also see how much of this great city we didn't get to see, here's a map with highlights of our trip marked:
View a larger version of my Berlin map here.
The Reichstag was our first stop, after a bus ride from the train station (not as scenic as it should have been due to condensation and precipitation on cold bus windows!). Here is Henry posed with the structure, and a couple of detail shots. In the middle you can see the sleet that kept us from staying longer to admire the impressive edifice. The legend "Dem Deutschen Volk" means "For the German People."
The current German government still uses the Reichstag building. The dome you can partly see over the middle in the picture on the left above is the roof of their parliament chamber. But there are some equally impressive new buildings nearby housing other government offices. On the left below I'm standing with our hosts on the banks of the Spree in front of one of these. (The crosses in the background are war and holocaust memorials.) On the right is a closeup of another one of these glassy beauties, with an example of charm from another era in the middle, in the shape of a lamppost on the back side of the Reichstag.
Next up was another iconic Berlin landmark, the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor). How many times have I seen this in movies, newsreels, and historical photos?! And here I am with Henry, right in front of it, alongside a Christmas tree, no less!
Here are the two sides of it. First, approaching it from the park, on the west, then looking at it from the side with the tree, which used to be in East Berlin:
And here are some closeups: on the left, of the famous chariot of victory sculpture on top, and on the right, what it looks like to walk through the gate, as we did to get to the Christmas tree and the bustling section of the city on the other side. Quite a different experience than when the gate was essentially no-man's land between Communist East and free West Berlin.
More sites with cold war associations aren't far from the Gate. Here are the signs marking another famous boundary of west and east, during what our hosts referred to as the "dark days of the DDR"—"Checkpoint Charlie."
The street we walked down approaching this checkpoint works as a sort of open air museum, with displays such as the one of the left below, showing what the street and the checkpoint looked like in earlier, sadder times. Today, however, there is little sinister about it, except for the historical echoes. The Christmas tree sporting flags of many nations (perhaps of fellow EU members? the only ones I recognize are European) represents the spirit of the new Germany, here at a landmark of the old. Another landmark (of globalization?) might be the Subway coffee cup someone left on the sandbags at the checkpoint, visible in the far right of the photo of two American tourists who spent childhoods hearing nightmarish stories about attempted escapes from East Berlin. An emblem of hope for a better world, indeed.
We wished we'd had time to visit some of Germany's famous museums on their Museum Island (Museuminsel), but we did have a nice warm-up hot chocolate stop in a cafe in the area, and were able to see some of its sights from outside. Including this exquisite bridge decoration (thanks to Henry for always noticing stuff like this and snapping shots of it):
More museum district sights: Above on the right is the iconic TV Tower (Fernsehturm), along with the St. Marienkirche church steeple of many old/new Berlin photos. In the foreground, though, is something even more interesting. Our hosts told us that they were in the last stages of demolishing an ugly old DDR-era building, no doubt to replace it with something more in keeping with the upscale area's present Zeitgeist. Pretty neat to get to see some of this work still going on.
Below on the right is the lovely Berlin Cathedral, nearby. And on the left, not taken near the museums, I don't think, is an example of the unique traffic signal designs one sees throughout the city. One of my London students, when she visited, came home with a tee-shirt showing the little walking man on it—wish I'd thought to get one!
We did get into one museum, the Friedrichswerder Church (Friedrichswerdersche Kirche), a small showcase for German sculpture, primarily the works of Johann Gottfried Schadow, of whom our hosts are big fans. Here is a look at the museum/church interior, showing what an attractive setting it is for the art. There's a carnival (perhaps just for the Christmas season?) right outside as well, and sculptures such as this charming pair of aristocratic Prussian sisters, my favorite piece in the museum.
We were in the city until after dark, which would have been hard to avoid even if we'd wanted to, since it was late November and dark comes early. But we were planning on visiting another Christmas market (can't get too many of them!) and certainly enjoyed sights like these when the lights came in the streets:
The square holding the large market we visited, the Gendarmen Market (Gendarmenmarkt), has other attractions in addition to the market tents. Here are two shots of the German Cathedral (Deutscher Dom) on one end of the plaza, by day and by night:
And on the left below is another impressive permanent structure, the Concert Hall (Konzerthaus). The other photos here show more market-related scenes:
But perhaps the most breathtaking views were yet to come, in an unlikely place. Standing on the train station platform, waiting for our train back to Potsdam, we admired the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) in the distance, lit up with the searchlight display you see here on the left. The photo in the middle shows what the searchlight points looked like up on the clouds. Then, all of a sudden, completely unexpectedly (as far as we were concerned), a fireworks display in the lights! What a visual treat! And what a gorgeous way to highlight the Church, an impressive and moving monument to Germany's troubled past. Just about a perfect way to end our whirlwind tour of the city. And sure to leave us ready to return and see all we'd missed.
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