Monday, July 18, 2011

Berlin Ist Wunderbar

Life is Tough.
My current setting involves a wonderful lounge chair, view of the Spree River, glass of Reisling, and a breeze blowing through my hair. It’s just about 6 PM here and my third day in Berlin is winding to a close. I’ve had it rough. For anyone that hasn’t been to this fantastically dynamic city, make it a priority. There is so much to see from historical landmarks to an outstanding array of artistic expression, culinary delights (and I mean beyond currywurst and sauerkraut) to stunning architecture, fascinating transit system and melting pot of visitors.

Living in New York, I’ve come to appreciate the subway and bus systems as they are my only modes of transportation (aside from my feet and bike); however, it pales in comparison (think albino pale) to the Berlin transit system. You have the S Bahn and the U Bahn (Subway and elevated train), the M Tram (surface trolley), the city buses as well as extensive biking paths and of course sidewalks for walking. As this city is beyond sprawling, all of these are quite necessary and so easily navigable not to mention the stations are quite varied in their impressive architecture and fastidiously well kept. A friend suggested I purchase the Berlin Welcome card prior to arrival, which has allowed my 72 hours of jumping on and off all these modes of transportation with no need for a new ticket. The card also included unlimited access to all the museums on Museum Island as well as discounts to a plethora of attractions, sites, restaurants, etc. Highly recommend it.

My bike replete with bell and squeaky toy & named Jennifer Aniston
As yesterday was my birthday, I pre-planned a 5-hour bike tour of Berlin and then dinner with friend’s of a friend to watch the US World Cup (let’s not discuss our basic own goal assist…who clears it in FRONT of the goal?!) The bike tour was led by Randall, the hilarious (and quite bright) Australian (no typo) who led us around the city for hours. As the tour was extensive, I’m going to list the major points of interest (no particular order):
·      TV Tower – the TV Tower was built when Eastern Berlin was still isolated and they wanted to compete with the West’s already existent TV Tower. So they smuggled in Swedish engineers (most of the Eastern engineers had fled the GDR by then) and constructed this 365 meter high tower. Ironically, the façade is reflective and at one point in the day when the sun hits it just right, it creates an image of a cross, not an image very in-line with the Socialist leanings of Eastern Berlin. Western Berliners found it quite amusing, referring to the reflection as the “pope’s revenge.”
·      Checkpoint Charlie – this was the US border cross point between East Berlin and the US West Berlin territory. When the wall came down in 1989, the crossing, which had the same scale of the Tijuana crossing station, was torn down and replaced with a museum and mock replica of the crossing station in one of its earlier iterations.
·      Berlin University (re-named Humboldt University) – the Bebelplatz, a plaza located between the Opera House and the University Library is the site of the Buchverbrennung on May 10, 1933, where Joseph Goebbels infamously burned over 20,000 books that conflicted with Nazi ideology. An underground monument echoes the travesty of this night in a room of empty white bookshelves appropriately entitled “Empty Library.”
·      The Reichstag (Parliament) – this morning I was on the U Bahn to Charlottenburg and caught the most amazing glimpse of this building from afar. It’s impressive in size, beautiful in construction and quite striking in it’s apparent strength with Deuthschland flags flapping in the wind and “Dem Deutschen Volke” (For the German People) emblazoned across the epistyle. 
·      The Tiergarden – Berlin’s answer to Central Park replete with exotic animals, vast gardens and walkways, biergardens, and of course nudists. Yes.
·      Brandenburg Tor (Gate) – considered the center of Berlin, this gate is the site of numerous historical occasions including Napolean’s entrance into Berlin (and sequestering of the Quadriga statue in 1806), President Reagan’s encouragement to Gorbachev in 1987 to “Tear down this wall!”, and of course who could forget America’s own, David Hasselhoff’s stunning performance clad in savvy attire.

Biergarden in the Tiergarden
There were many other spots we explored and explanations of historical landmarks like the former location of Hitler’s Bunker where he committed suicide, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Unter den Linden, but I’m sure I’ve lost most of you by now. Despite being from Brisbane, Randall was a wealth of knowledge and has a keen interest in the history of Berlin so we learned so much on our tour and had a really fabulous time. Lunch included a stop at the Schleusen Krug biergarden in the Tiergarden where we dinned in Merguez sausages and Heffeweisen before returning back to our starting point.

Post bike trip, I ventured over to the DDR Museum, which attempts to articulate in a hands-on visual approach what living in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was like. Topics covered range from clothing to education, work professions to living conditions, travel options to beach nudity (given their monotonous – and horrid – clothing options, nudity seems to have been a subversive mode for freedom of expression, and apparently still carries on to this day.)
The Cathedral

The weather has been absolutely fantastic – sun, perfect temperature, no humidity, and a slight breeze. Until last evening when it started to pour (apparently the more typical Berliner weather.) Luckily I had dinner plans with friends and we stayed inside watching the finals of the World Cup and socializing. Although the game outcome was less than sublime, the balance of the day was an amazing entrée to my thirty-second year of life.

Tomorrow I’m off to Basel, Switzerland where I’ll catch up on the happenings from today and whatever my brief visit there brings! 

No comments:

Post a Comment