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Holocaust memorial in Berlin

Holocaust memorial in Berlin


I have a friend who says Berlin is one place where she doesn’t feel like she’s in a foreign country. To her, it just feels like Brooklyn.

Sometimes I feel like Brooklyn is a foreign country, but I agree on the similarity. They’ve got the same funky, expressionist pulse. And as it turns out, that’s nothing new.

Many people associate Berlin first and foremost with the Soviet Union’s unraveling, but the city was known as a magnet for inquiring minds long before the Wall divided hearts and families. Think Liza Minelli and Cabaret. Or, if you insist on real life, how about the famous residents of its artistic heyday in the 1920s: Max Beckmann, Fritz Lang and Nabokov, to name a few.

That’s what interests me about this current resurgence: How does expectation (stemming from an artistic legacy) determine reality, especially in an age where history moves so quickly and memory is so short?  Maybe its role is minor. I was in high school when the Berlin Wall was smashed apart, leaving fertile artistic ground in its wake, but many of today’s young artists were yet to be born.

View of the Konzerthaus from my hotel

You’ll feel the vibe almost everywhere, via culinary diversity, gallery notices, shop windows, public art spaces and a minor amount of graffiti (this is Germany, after all), making it largely unnecessary to recommend one route over another. When I visited with a friend on a sunny day in June, we began at the Gendarmenmarkt, a city square housing the concert hall (Konzerthaus) and French and German Cathedrals, plus some outdoor cafes.

Humboldt University

We headed up Friedrichstrasse and hung a right past the tree-lined Unter den Linden esplanade in order to come up behind Humboldt University. Famous residents and faculty here, including Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Arthur Schopenhauer and G.W.F. Hegel, have taught equally famous alumni like Karl Marx, Otto von Bismarck, W.E.B. Du Bois and my companion on this trip, Sarah.

The back side of the University abuts an eclectic grouping of bars and restaurants built underneath the train tracks of the elevated S-Bahn. From here, it’s just a block to “Museum Island,” housing among others the imposing Pergamom Museum, Germany’s most visited, which is home to monumental buildings of antiquity that have been painstakingly reconstructed.

Bradenburg Gate

No walking trip would be complete without a stroll through the Tiergarten, a huge public park that surprises many unsuspecting visitors with its au naturel sunbathers. Formerly a part of West Berlin, it is bordered by Bradenburg Gate (“Mr. Grobachev, tear down this wall!”) and contains the German president’s residence and other government institutions.

Riechstag (federal government seat) – the glass dome symbolizes transparency in government

In between the Tiergarten and the Spree River is the Reichstag building, meeting place of the German Bundestag, or parliament. The transparent dome on top provides a panoramic view of the city from which visitors can also look directly down on the parliament. It’s a fitting inversion of another prominent landmark, the TV tower of East Berlin, which provided a high vantage point from which officials of the East German government could observe the citizens of West Berlin.

East Berlin’s TV tower

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  1. Wow, Jenny-You’re finally having the chance to write a travel blog. The piece on Berlin is wonderful. It’s full of interesting tidbits and impressions. It makes me want to visit-maybe soon? xoxo

  2. Beautifully written, daughterbus! I feel like I’ve been there, thanks to you. As you know, your grandfather’s heritage on your father’s side is German. In a way, you’re going home.

    I’ve never seen the Brandenburg gate, but I do recall President Reagan’s speech. It was a call to freedom for the oppressed peoples of East Germany. He said, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

    Not to bore you with history, but I never thought I’d see that wall go down, let alone the fall of the Soviet Union. It just goes to show you what can happen when good people come together in a righteous cause!

    Love you bunches,

    Herr Vater Harrison

    Ich liebe dich!

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