By Roberto Priolo (photos courtesy of the author)
The German capital may not seem the most attractive city in Europe, but as you dig a bit deeper its amazing beauty reveals itself… In the odd relationship this place has with time.
A cold breeze was blowing on Potzdamer Platz, cancelling the sensation of comfort I was feeling as the sun shone over me. It was a bright afternoon in early September, and Berlin looked stunning.
Walking around the German capital, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, time seemed to stand still, with the many remnants of its recent history everywhere; on the other hand, Berlin is in constant becoming. It changes so rapidly it makes your head spin.
It was hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to live in the city before 1989, with the Wall still dividing it. Today’s Berlin is a cosmopolitan and lively metropolis. The Eastern and Western parts of town might still be very different, but they now share a common destiny: together, they constitute one of the most open-minded, creative and vibrant cities in the world.
The big apartment blocks in East Berlin are not particularly pleasant to the eye, but there is a certain charm in their square shapes and imposing volumes: it’s the charm of time. Not so long ago, these houses were filled with families living and thriving in the DDR, the socialist state of Germany.
The other side of the city has experienced the open market and Western way of life for a longer time. This is visible in its buildings, in the number of Western stores and in the general sensations its streets suggest.
Berlin makes these different realities coexist. It learned from its turbulent, violent and painful past; it is flourishing in the present; and now it represents a model city for future generations.
Unter den Linden is one of the main roads in the central area of Mitt that stretches from the elegant Brandenburg Gate (the most famous landmark) to the Spree River. As I strolled down it, I had the impression that I was walking through the pages of a history book.
I was silently reminded of the dark pages in Berlin’s past, as I walked past Bebelplatz (where books considered against the regime were burned during the Nazi years) and wandered around the monument built in memory of the Holocaust: hundreds of concrete parallelepipeds of different heights create a maze (and a great photo opportunity for tourists) that suggests the sense of dismay generated by the cruel actions perpetrated by the Nazis as they exterminated millions of Jews. The sight of that huge opening covered in blocks of concrete made me shiver, but it also told me how far Germany has come. The country is now one of the best examples of a functioning and democratic society in Western Europe.
Culture is a big deal in town. All the main museums are concentrated in one place, the Museuminsel – also known as the Museum Island. It is an island on the Spree River that harbours treasures such as the Pergamon Museum, with its full-scale rendition of the altar of Pergamon, and one of Babylon’s gates. The DDR Museum offers great insight into how life was in Eastern Germany before the country was unified in 1991.
Not very far from the island, on which the green dome of the Berliner Dom towers, is the gigantic Alexanderplatz, the “other centre” of Berlin. Together with the modern Potzdamer Platz, this square represents the beating heart of the capital. It is dominated by the slim silhouette of the Fernsehturm, the TV tower, and by the imposing presence of the Rathaus, the City Hall.
I wanted to see firsthand what the Mauer (or as most know it, the Wall) looked like over 20 years ago. I hopped onto an S-Bahn train towards Ostbahnof (the Eastern train station) and reached the ‘East Side Gallery’, a name that was given to the last standing mile of wall. It was made available to artists (including Keith Haring) who made it the colourful sequence of murals it is today. Many people write messages on the wall. It is as if they want to leave something to others, letting them know who they are and that they were there. After all, a piece of concrete like the Berlin Wall is a great place to imprint one’s memories.
I was madly in love with Berlin and its friendly and welcoming people. As soon as I arrived in town, I immediately felt at home. Berlin welcomes you with its warm embrace (just make sure you visit in the hotter months), just like it has for centuries.
Today, Berlin is a powerful magnet for young professionals looking for a challenging career, for savvy tourists seeking a stimulating destination, and for art and designer lovers in search of treasures.
I sat in front of the ruined church in Kurfurstendamm, one of the main shopping roads in Berlin. It was reminicient of the wide and elegant Parisian boulevards; in 1880 Bismark wanted the construction of a wide road modeled after the Champs Élysées. There were people everywhere, walking towards the train station to go home from work, gathering around a group of street performers, taking pictures, sitting at open-air cafés.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was badly damaged during a bombing raid in 1943. After the war, between the 50’s and the 60’s, a modern belfry and chapel were added. To me, this is the best example of Berlin’s attitude towards time: old and new meeting and coexisting in harmony.
Berlin is in a continuum of time. Its past and present might be very different, but you can trace the steps that led to what it is today in every corner of the city, and you can tell it is always becoming something else. No wonder the city’s motto is ‘Keep on walking’.
INFORMATION ON BERLIN
Berlin is the capital of Germany, in the heart of Europe.
How to get there
Plane: Berlin is one of the most important cities in the continent, and has many direct connections. The main international airport is Tegel, easily accessible via public transport. The other airport, Shoenefeld, server low cost airlines.
Rail: the central location of Berlin in Europe makes it a perfect hub for rail travel. From the German capital, you can easily reach cities such as Moscow, Krakow, Amsterdam, Vilnius, Paris.
Where to stay
Berlin offers a wide choice for accomodation. Hostels, hotels, B&Bs, most of them at reasonable prices.
What to eat
Try a local currywurst sausage, or a kebap from one of the many stalls and restaurants in several areas (Germany has a large Turkish community). Have a Berliner Weisser, a very sweet beer made with a local herb.
可以嘗試咖喱腸(currywurst sausage)、土耳其烤肉 (kebap – 在德國有不少土耳其人在那裡開餐館)及柏林啤酒(Berliner Weisser- 當地香草釀製成的一種甜啤酒)
The Berlinale is one of the world’s most important film festivals, held in February every year.