July 9, 2012
It has been 25 years since Graham and I were in Berlin. It was one of the highlights of our last holiday and was on the top of our “must-see” locations this time around.
We were keen to see how the city had changed since unification and wanted to stand under the Brandenburg Gate, which was in no man’s land when the wall was up.
I wish I had printed some photos from our last visit and brought details of my travel diary to better remind us of the streets we visited. But we found some key landmarks – the Berliner Dom, then in partial ruins as we recalled, the old town rathaus, likewise, and the war memorial, guarded at the time by serious Soviet soldiers.
Today, the Berliner Dom is a stunning architectural beauty, with a monster pipe organ and a winding staircase that leads you first to the inner dome ceiling and then to a walkway around the outside, beneath the golden rooftop statues.
The rathaus is part of a noble civic precinct (still love its dome) and the war memorial remains sombre and pock-marked by battle but no longer under armed guard.
The Pergamon. We made it to the Pergamon. It was a key destination for us when we crossed through Checkpoint Charlie in 1987. But the queue stretched so long we gave up and went to spend our East German marks elsewhere.
This time around there was hardly any queue so we did our tour, only 25 years late. It was impressive, but more exciting because it was a promise fulfilled. (Another promise, to visit the Bauhaus museum, is also ticked!)
And of course the Brandenburg Gate, which we walked through several times. Magnificent, standing as it should, central to this shining new city, a symbolic link between what was for a time divided and is now one.
Berlin impressed us with its grand public spaces and boulevards, its parklands and its memorials to past atrocities.
The Holocaust memorial (more properly the memorial to Jews murdered in Europe) and its lines of silent, standing, stones was evocative but Berliners, and visitors, have constant reminders of the destruction wrought by wars in every old building that bears patches from shrapnel fire more than 60 years ago.
The touristy reproduction of Checkpoint Charlie, where you can get your passport to East Berlin stamped, is kitsch. But the line of bricks than runs through the streets to indicate where the wall once appeared overnight, separating families and friends is not.
Thankfully there are still a few remnants of the wall standing; but I can understand why people took to it with whatever forces they could muster to destroy all trace 20-odd years ago.
We have stayed in a terrific, airbnb apartment within walking distance of the Tiergarten and with a fantastic trattoria, run by the friendly Claudio, next door. We can see our building from the viewing deck of the Victory Column. We walk for miles each day but spend our nights relaxing and even catch a movie, in English: The Amazing Spider-Man in 3D. It has an intermission!