– July 2015.
Berlin is a tremendous city and one that surprised me in a lot of different ways. I was only there for two full days and the extent of my knowledge of Berlin post-1989 came through the second Bourne film. While that is a great film and watching Matt Damon be a general badass through the streets of Berlin is always fun, it doesn’t reflect the true Berlin at all. After exploring Berlin, I found that nothing I had watched before visiting displayed a very accurate representation of the city. Many cities like New York and Paris have copious amounts of films made in their honour, and a lot of them are able to capture the spirit of the city, but Berlin is different to this. I found that Berlin was far more dynamic, and a lot larger than I thought, while also feeling oddly small at times. The truth is that it is indeed a very big, and very flat city, but it is easy to walk around and the efficiency of the underground/overground train system makes the city seem even smaller in terms of how easy it is to get from one side of the city to the other. What I came to love about Berlin most of all was its versatility – Berlin is a city plagued by totalitarianism, fear and evil in its recent history and all of this is still visible across the city. Yet so are the even more historical buildings which cover a whole range of different architectural designs, as well as the more modern and slightly futuristic areas of the city which all combine to create a city remembering its tragic past, while also looking ahead to its very prosperous future.
Natur Park is an abandoned railway yard, often referred to as the ‘romantic rail yard’ by locals, situated in Schöneberger. With free admission and only a minutes walk from Priesterweg S-Bahn, Natur Park is a great place to escape to for a different look at Berlin. The rail yard, once part of the Tempelhof marshalling yard, gradually became a desolate industrial area following its closure after the Second World War in 1952. Now the yard is open for anyone to stroll around, and there is a lot to see from the railway tracks winding through the trees, to the graffiti-stricken tunnels – it is a great place to explore.
2. Reichstag Building The Reichstag Building is an obvious place to visit, probably on the top of most peoples ‘things you kinda have to do’ list when visiting Berlin. Home of the German parliament, the Bundestag, the Reichstag Building is a superb blend of architecture – combining the pristine baroque architecture with a more modern look. This modern look comes in the form of the glass dome atop of the building, which is free for tourists to ascend to after booking in advance. The dome was designed by Norman Foster in 1999 after the building was restored and ran into use again following years of vacancy after WWII.
3. Brandenburg Gate The Brandenburg Gate is just south of the Reichstag Building, and used to act as the awe-inspiring entrance to Unter Den Linden, which previously led directly to the City Palace of the Prussian monarchs. These days it may be more of a general gathering for anyone with a camera or phone to take endless pictures of, but the momentous feel of the gate still remains.
I have to say, I was a little bit let down by the Tiergarten, believing it would be like a German fairy tale with creepy trees letting in only the faintest of light. Instead, it is more of a maze of confusion – or more simply a lot of trees, and the occasional pond, with paths running in every direction but the one you’re heading in. Yet, this confusion offers a sense of adventure in a place you normally would not find in the centre of such a large city, as well as offering the chance of a more peaceful stroll through the city. The real gem of the Tiergarten (which definitely isn’t the poor-mans National Trust garden – the English Tiergarten) is the Berlin Victory Column which is positioned somewhere in the centre. Half the fun of the Column is actually getting to it. It’s a bit like getting to Mordor in that you have to go through a huge forest and then under a tunnel and then up 1000 bloody steps to reach its summit. The Victory Column was designed in 1864 after the Prussian victory over Denmark, and was originally located in front of the Reichstag Building until the Nazi’s moved it into the Tiergarten during their plans to redesign Berlin and create ‘World Capital Germania’ – this movement was largely responsible for keeping the monument intact throughout the Second World War. Now the monument is open daily and costs €3 to climb, as well as providing a small museum detailing the rise and significance of world landmarks from more ancient times through to the modern world. A word of advice for anyone who does decide to brave the ascent to the summit – take your hat off or the wind will do it for you when you reach the top.
TV Tower, known formally as Berlin Fernsehturm, is probably one of Germany’s most famous and recognizable modern landmarks, often featured in films set in Berlin. Located in the busy (and very touristy) Alexanderplatz the tower finished construction in 1969 and shows mankind’s everlasting pursuit into the heavens. Normally I would not like to recommend visiting somewhere that requires suffering through a lengthy queue, but the TV Tower is worth it. Costing €13 to enter you are given a ticket telling you what time you will be admitted, and then you will be hoisted into one hell of a disorderly queue. Nobody can queue like the British… But anyway, after queueing and going through a security check you will be put in Europe’s fastest elevator, which travels at 6m per second to reach the panoramic viewing floor at 203m high, just short of its 383m peak. Due to the flatness of Berlin, from this floor you can see for miles in any direction with most of the city’s landmarks easily visible. There is also a restaurant above the panoramic floor which I presume is very nice, but commoners like me aren’t allowed places like that. Or at least that’s what the woman’s eyes suggested when I asked to go up…
The Holocaust Memorial is a slightly weird one to be completely honest. It is definitely worth visiting for the harrowing feel of the place as you get lost in a tangle of sadness and frustration the more that the reality of what happened kicked in. From an aesthetic perspective, the memorial is amazingly simple yet effective and for that alone is worth visiting. But it is the haunting feeling it gives you that makes it a key place to visit. Whenever you learn about the holocaust you can never really comprehend how many people died until you see something physical that shows you the true level of evil. The Holocaust Memorial is massive and great for reflecting on the horrors of war while exploring the Inception-like architecture.
Next week I will write another blog with the rest of the best places I visited such as Potsdamer Platz, The Berlin Wall Memorial, New Yam and more! So check that out if you enjoyed this, or perhaps just love Berlin!
– All Photographs my own