Berlin has seen an overwhelming transformation over the last 75 years, with a tumultuous history so recent it almost feels palpable.
This city was headquartered by fascists, heavily bombed during World War II, divided by Communism with the Berlin Wall and finally reunited — all in just the 20th century.
Today, Berlin is one of the most multicultural and open-minded cities in Europe. It also has some of the most amazing cutting-edge, and eclectic mix of architecture of the cities we have visited.
From it’s destruction in World War II that left very few historic buildings intact, and the contrasting urban planning during the years of division, the city is now filled with new and wonderful buildings that might not have found space in other cities in Europe.
At present a new U-Bahn or underground line that runs right under the Unter Den Linden is being built. All this area was under the control of the GDR during the times of division, where no money spent on these beautiful buildings or any services or upgrades.
Today huge cranes tower all over the city, construction is everywhere. The master-plan is that this area along the Unter Den Linden is to be the ‘Showpiece of Berlin’ and will be completed by the mid 2020’s.
A replica of the former Prussian City Palace is being built now. On the outside it will look like it’s predecessor, but the interior will be modern and be used for cultural events.
You may have seen my post on the palaces of Potsdam with their Baroque splendour. This post is more about the modern Berlin, and the way that the modern and the historic have been so brilliantly integrated together.
The contemporary buildings of Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus School we visited not long ago on our way to Berlin, to Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield’s re-construction of the Neues Museum, but that still shows the remnants of it’s war wounds on the inside walls.
Chipperfield’s new modern James Simon Gallery addition onto the National Gallery just opened last weekend. The building raised on a stone plinth over which sit the tall white stone columns that form the stunning colonnade The gallery’s new building will also function as the new entrance to the cluster of Berlin’s museum buildings on Museum Island, by the Spree river in the centre of Berlin.
Or I.M. Pei’s 5000 sq metre exhibition hall, a massive glass façade that opens out onto the 300-year-old armoury that now houses the German Historical Museum. The prize winning, Chinese born architect Pei was in his mid-80’s when he designed this building, said ‘architecture should seduce people to move through the whole building full of curiosity and pleasure’ he also designed the spectacular glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre, and studied under Bauhaus’ Gropius. He died in May this year aged 102. He must have been an amazing man.
In the cultural centre is the beautiful Opera House and the easy to be missed site of the public book burning by the Nazi’s in 1933. My picture of the empty book shelves underground, has I think, although I may be biased, a great reflection of the side of the State Opera house in a square that also includes the first university in Berlin, the Humboldt which was originally the palace of a prince.
Moving further down the Unter den Linden is the Brandenburg Gate which is probably Berlin’s most famous, and photographed landmark.
Built by a Prussian King as a symbol of peace the gate is topped by the Quadriga, a golden statue of Victoria the winged goddess of victory, driving a chariot pulled by four horses.
A former symbol of this once divided city, where a friend told us you could once climb to an observation platform to get a glimpse of the life behind the Iron Curtain.
(A little extra info now for my history buffs; In 1806 after Napoleon staged a successful war against Prussia, he kidnapped the golden statue and held her hostage in Paris, until she was freed in 1814 by a gallant Prussian General).
The U.S. Embassy built in the late 1990’s sits right alongside the Brandenburg Gate.
It takes up the whole block and runs right along what was once the ‘no-man’s land death strip, and the old wall.
With all the wonderful buildings built after the unification personally I would not put this one on my architectural delights list, but thought it should be mentioned more because of it’s location. It looks just like a big office block which I suppose it is, complete with barricades, watch towers and machine gun toting armed guards
Another interesting detail; disclosures by the US in 2013 is that the top floor of the US embassy was used to wiretap mobile phones being used just across the park, only a stone’s throw away in the Reichstag, even targeting Chancellors Angela Merkel mobile.
Will those American’s ever learn?
The Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament has been bombed, burned, re-built and is now topped with a glistening glass dome that reminds me of a giant beehive, but apparently was designed as a metaphor for transparency and open-ness in politics.
We lined up for more than an hour the first time we visited this amazing building, it was worth every minute. Now you can book tickets in advance.
Right behind the US embassy is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Above ground all you see is the field of stelae, the 2711 grey concrete slabs of the same length and width but in various heights, all arranged in precise straight and narrow rows over nearly 20,000 sq meters of undulating ground. Apparently from the air it looks like a huge grey wave.
Whenever we have visited this memorial, I always see people sitting on the lower stelae. To me that that seems disrespectful, and it takes all my will-power to not yell at them to get off it!
The title of the memorial above ground doesn’t say ‘Holocaust’ or anything about who murdered those European Jews, but the museum below with it’s poignant and heart-wrenching themed rooms lifts the veil of anonymity from the six million Holocaust victims.
In one darkened room the names and year of birth, date and place of death are projected onto the four walls while the names are read out loud. It’s very moving.
Around every Berlin corner there are amazing things to see and do. A huge park the Tiergarten right in the city to cycle through or bring a picnic to have under the Linden trees. Free lunchtime concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic in their concert hall right across the road, remnants of the old wall, the flea-market in the Mauerpark and it’s ‘bearpit karaoke’, my list could go on and on.
Gritty, glamorous, edgy, radical and fascinating would be my best words to describe Berlin……and it’s a place everyone should visit at least once.