Is Germany on your list of places to visit? Then you must be male and either a beer or a soccer fanatic! But this belief of mine was shattered when I visited Berlin last month. After spending 3 glorious days in the city, I too wanted to be a Berliner. There are some peculiarities to getting into Berlin, the Tiegel airport is a strange one with security check points at individual isolated gates and not much by way of food or shopping. But at the this airport you can buy a ticket to ride, your pass to all that is Berlin. The Berlin pass allows free access to all forms of public transportation and is also good for reduced entry prices at most of the major museums in the city. The buses and subways (U-Bahn) and trains (S-Bahn) are very user friendly, clean, and generally on time. We stayed very close to the Alexander Platz and the Berlin Dom. The Alexander Platz houses a unique TV tower and a sublime Neptune fountain with the old Marion Church in the background.
This same plaza is also home to the statues of two of the greatest thinkers from the region, Marx and Engels!
Of course THE structure that means Berlin for many, is the now almost gone wall! A visit to the border between former East and West Berlin is still very interesting with Checkpoint Charlie. Some guys are no doubt paid to pose in uniform and give tourists some photo ops.
Very little remains of the wall as it was, and cars whiz by and tourists cycle and walk past the one block of crumbling wall.
A much longer stretch of wall is now the East Berlin Art Gallery with “graffiti” from artists the world over and FREEDOM being the prime thought expressed.
Very close to Checkpoint Charlie, is a Berlin icon that is not to be missed. The Jewish Museum is spread over two buildings, an old classic and new very modern angular one. The two building are connected on the inside with a series of corridors and stairways.
The angularity of the insides is a constant theme throughout the museum. This invokes a sense of unease and a feeling of disconnect that somehow suits this museum perfectly. The corridors branch off into “paths” – one leads to the holocaust ending in the holocaust tower, an eerie uneven pyramidal space with a very small opening to the surface through which light filters in and one can hear childrens voices from a nearby park. Inside this tower one can feel the despair associated with being in a space that is closing in about you and while there is a little ray of hope it is far away and almost out of reach. Another space associated with this event in Jewish history is the memory void. This space is filled with nothing, and on the ground are numerous “autumn leaf-like” sculptures, which on closer examination turn out to be faces with mouths open in primal screams!
The few who were lucky enough to escape the inevitable fate of being Jewish in German, fled with scarcely any possessions, and went into another kind of disconnect, a life without any roots. Their plight is seen in the Garden of Exile. Here concrete blocks of unequal sizes, tipped with plantings of olive trees, make a maze. Warnings are posted telling you to go in at your own peril, and wandering through this is not recommended for those prone to vertigo.
But all is not gloom and doom in the museum; some managed to live and survive in Germany and this section is a monument of hope, with lamps highlighting some individual stories.
A visit to this part of the city is incomplete without a view of the Brandenberg Gate, which was a setting for complete chaos this visit, as Germany day celebrations were in full swing. The US Embassy is right next to the Brandenburg gate in a brand new imposingly huge building.
The final stop that day for us was (after a long wait to get in) the Bundestag. An impossibly modern interior welcomes visitors, gives a 360 degree view of Berlin (narrated on headsets provided gratis) on the outside
and a rare view into the interior of the Bundestag!
It was time for a meal, we saw but resisted the Bolliwood restaurant (it was tempting for a few minutes), and ended up at the famous Master Vuong instead. My Indian looks (a standout in Berlin) got us a table and the food was all that the various tour books had said – simply bursting with flavor and to die for!