After visiting the East Side Gallery (see ASAP #12), I turned my attention to the other sites that Berlin has to offer.
I waited for the ubiquitous HOHO bus (no pun intended!) run here by City Circle Sightseeing. Soon the big, yellow bus loomed into sight and I was off to my next stop, the Berliner Dom, or the Berlin Cathedral. This is the third church to be built on the same site on the Spree River’s Museum Island. Berlin’s famous TV tower is a stark modern reminder of advances in architecture and technology.
The baroque multi-domed building is imposingly set on a beautiful green square, the Lustgarten (again, I’m not making up these names suggestive as they are), and sits perpendicular to the Altes Museum, the Old Museum. This imposing wide building, fronted by 18 Ionic columns, displays Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts.
Sea horses lined the bridge over the Spree and, on the other side of the bridge, was a man selling German-style grilled hot dogs. He was a walking food truck: the whole contraption holding the buns and the hot dogs, as well as the condiments to go with them, was hitched on his body!
Strolling up the wide, tree-lined Unter den Linden, a boulevard lined with historical buildings, I was on my way to what is surely Berlin’s most iconic landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. Originally the Brandenburg Gate was part of Berlin’s city wall. Built in the late 1700s, it was modeled on the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. The chariot, pulled by four horses, is driven by the goddess of Victory. Napoleon took it with him to Paris but after his defeat in Waterloo it was taken back to Berlin and was a symbol of Prussian might. Strangely enough, it is located at Pariser Plaza! After WW II, it was just inside the Russian sector in divided Berlin. After the fall of communism, it has become the symbol of a unified Germany.
Today, the Pariser Plaza was quite full but with plenty of space to walk around and take photographs. A person on a seven-seater bike, called a conference bike, was renting it out to tourists. All seven are seated in a circular fashion, one is in charge of steering the bike and braking. All can peddle or some can just sit back and let others do the grunt work.
Turning left down Ebertstrasse, I went to the Holocaust Memorial. Dedicated in May 2005, 60 years after the fall of Hitler, this memorial is made up of 2711 undulating gray slabs of stone of varying heights, set on rolling paths, and, in fact, built almost over the site of Hitler’s Bunker. Beneath is a subterranean museum. Even on a sunny, blue-sky day, the memorial gave off a somber feeling, though the man in the maze created by these monolithic slabs seemed happy enough.
Looking out over the memorial and the Brandenburg Gate is the resplendent Hotel Adlon Kempinski featured in many movies (including Unknown in which a whole floor was blown up). Here too is the U.S. Embassy which today was displaying painted five-pointed stars and a Miss Liberty BuddyBear.
Back across the Brandenburg, a little walk on the other side towards the Spree, is the Reichstag, unified Germany’s parliament building. In fact, there are several buildings ranged around squares: an older building with an imposing new glass dome and several post-modern glass-and-steel buildings on the banks of the Spree where, I imagine, much of the grunt work of governing is carried out. A row of older, East German-built gaily decorated Trabants (or Trabis, for short), were on a tourist safari of Berlin’s sights. These under-powered cars are stodgy, plain (bordering on the unattractive), very basically equipped and, yet, treasured by West German’s as collector’s items. There is a famous mural on the Berlin Wall of a Trabi breaking through the wall to freedom.
The Spree is used regularly by boat tours and enables one to get a different view of the city, its parks, and waterways. Here, on one such tour, passing the Chancellor’s office next to the Reichstag,
I noticed a camera shoot: the model leaning in provocatively, the photographer crouching down to get her curves and his assistant holding up a reflector screen (while glaring at me!).
Off the side of the glass building, reflections in a multihued pattern attract. The boat tour also passes the Bode Museum which contains Byzantine art.
I had had enough of walking around so decided to settle down for a light lunch with a beer on the banks of the Spree.
Then I was off on my trusted HOHO steed to Checkpoint Charlie. Once one of the crossing points from East to West and vice versa, it was also a famous flashpoint when tanks confronted each other. Many movies feature this site. Today it is innocuous enough that seven-seater bikes float past it. The HOHO also passed the Charlottenburg Palace.
Not all of Berlin is new: in parts of what was East Germany there are several buildings that still show walls with bullet holes. These buildings are depressing reminders of Berlin’s brutal past.
Nearby this collection of buildings, centered on Oranienburger Street, is a rapidly gentrifying street with many bars, galleries and restaurants, including the Amrit lounge, touting Indian and Singaporean dishes, with iconic Buddhas beatifically beaming on colorful chairs on the sidewalk.
We stopped at a Turkish vendor’s stall to have Gözleme, a wrap (Göz means pocket in Turkish) with fillings of your choice: meats, cheeses, vegetables or a combination. (I recall an outstanding street-side snack of Gözleme filled with meat chased down with a glass of ice cold ayran, a salty lassi-like drink, which I had in the outskirts of Istanbul in Ortakoy’s street market.) This one was almost as good.On the street a touring Pedi cab passes a mural posing an existential question next to which is another mural of a giant cockroach breaking out of a wall.
Over the high roofs you can see the dome of the New Synagogue.
A gallery aims to “Strengthen Thru Embarrassment” and a poster’s plaintive cry of “When Will I Be Famous” has been changed by a wag to read “When Will I be Infamous?” Improvers are all around!
A major street, off the famous Kurfürstendamm (a very wide boulevard which is full of shops and where George Segal in The Quiller Memorandum leads his observers on a night’s worth of cat-and-mouse), shows off the famous spaghetti noodles statue, Berlin, showing the broken pieces of Germany coming together.
That night we went to the Berlin TV Tower,known locally as the Fernsehturm, for dinner. It took a while to find the entrance which was artfully hidden. Once inside we skipped the entrance line because we had reservations. The elevators took us swiftly up to the top of the 1200 feet tower to the revolving restaurant from where there was a magnificent view of the city. The food there was surprisingly good given the fact that the restaurant was packed and you couldn’t get a more touristic setting for eating.
The next day it was back to Berlin’s Tegel airport and an Air Berlin flight to Paris and Neuilly.
And, I’ll keep you posted…