”Sorry, Paris. We love Berlin!” This funny slogan is written on the poster. A lot of my friends agree with it, cos Berlin is less posh, more weird and free in a way of creativity. When I was there 7 years ago (it was 5-hour-stop on a way from Groningen to Kiev) I found it as a city without a soul. Strict architecture, visiable traces of WW2 together with winter cold gave me impression of unfriendly place. The goal of my weekend trip to Berlin was to change my negative impression. Trully saying, this was my hardest post so far. I spent a week on writing, making stops on controversial thoughts. I still have some doubts, but I am 100 % sure, that you will never find a city more historically concentrated, than Berlin.
A man wearing yellow shorts, girls shining with purple hair, people demonstrating their impressing piercing… How can you do sightseeing, when you’re surrounded with such a public? During few hours I just couldn’t notice neither monuments nor buildings, only people, which reminded me some kind of art objects. Today Berlin attracks creative minds from art, media, design and fashion by giving them cheap accomodation and food. A typical thirty something inhabitant here most likely lives from temporarily earning, tries to generate own ideas and nomadizes from one cheap apartment to other. Isn’t it a perfect conditions for modern youth?
Talking about art, Berlin do really surprize. We realized it as soon as entered the hotel, Propeller Island City Lodge. This 3 storeys of creativity was established by German artist Lars Stroschen, who aimed to make visitors “living in a work of art”. I must admit, that he succeed. We got a small room, which was totally laid out with mirrors. In such a kaleidoscope it was difficult to hide anything. Even luggage, which could be placed only in a small ambry behind the mirror. This tight room contains a double bed, a sink and loudspeakers, which you can turn from your bed. Other rooms can have real tombs instead of beds, furniture hanging from the ceiling, green stained glass instead of walls or be a prison cell with a hole in the wall. To live in artist’s immagination is unique experience.
Even serious hotels try to amaze visitors. Radisson erected the World’s Largest Cylindrical aquarium at the lobby. The massive attraction hides 1 million liters of salt water and 2600 fish. If you are not a guest of a hotel, you still have a chance to enjoy the massive tank (11 meter diameter) from lobby bar or glass-enclosed elevator in the center, which can travel you up to reach the sightseeing point upstairs. In the past divers entertained the public while feeding the fish. But probably it was already too expensive to build such AquaDom, which costed around 12.8 Million Euros, so paying for extra services was too much. I like that not only guests from their suits can enjoy this masterpiece, but also people from the street, who can get both: coffee and the view at the same time.
Another popular place for drinking coffee is Potsdamer Platz – a square covered with iron dome, which looks like an unbrella. Do you know the reason of erecting such a modern hood? It was symbolically built to imitate Mount Fuji for Sony Center to protect the Japanese company with the power of Asian volcano. In the past it was a start point for travel to Potsdam (there was a Potsdam gate), today – it hosts hotels, offices, cinemas, film museum and dozens of cafes. It was here, where Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) performed legendary concert The Wall after the wall fell. Surronded by skyscrapers the square was my brightest impression 7 years ago, but not today, when I can compare it with Hong Kong’s buildings. This time around I tried to find my first cafe in Germany, where I tried my first proper gluwein back then. But most probably it passed with time and was changed into Australian one, where they cook a real kangaroo. By the way, on my second visit no one had hot wine in their menues, especially here. The waiters were suprised that someone (me-one!) wanted it amidst warm May.
Our next artistic stop was so-called Museum Island, named after great concentration of museums in one place. This island on Spree river in the very center of Berlin reminds me the very center of Moscow, where Golden island (called by locals Red October) is washed by Moscow river. Even souvenirs such as ‘matrioshka’ and winter hats proove this similarity. Out of 5 museums we visited only Neues Museum, which demonstrates Egyptian and Early History collections.
Even being called New, museum initially was built in 1843-1855, but the great damage of WW2 forsed to make a total reconstraction. This honour was presented to English architect David Chipperfield, who just like Copperfield played his magic, which resulted in a totally new museum in 2009.
His idea was not to rebuilt the previous building, but to connect what was left with modern materials. Basically, this means that it is impossible to rebuild the past, it is needed to erect current architecture. From the first site the combination of destroyed frescas and modern bricks looks weird, but later I realized how brilliant it is! Chipperfield never touched anything remaining from the past and supported this valuable piece of history with what we have today. So, near colums scratched with bullets stands a minimalistic pillar.
But the newest part in this incrediable museum is people. I must admit, that I never noticed so many young people inside the museum. New generation also seeks ancient knowledge.
Some of the ruins could be foundations of historical buildings, as Berlin was almost completly destroyed during the war. But most of the ruins in the center are pieces of the great Berlin Wall – as much popular German attraction, as the Chinese one.
The ex-border between East and West Berlin had transformed into art object, being painted with graffiti. I can’t imagine how people lived 40 years in isolation, cutted from the world by beton frontier! Most likely such social restrictions brought about the modern Berlin’s way of life – free and creative. The wall gave the backgroung to street art, which is strongly presented in the city. The way how the city was devided into 2 parts influenced the way how these parts were developed. That’s why Berlin has several centres and unofficially has 2 cities within one: West with green parks and clean streets, and East with industrial face, flea markets and cheap bars.
The best place to see what had left from beton 155 km long fence is in the area of Wilhelmstrasse. Erected in 1961, the wall marked uncompromised 43-km line between socialism and capitalism. And when it fell in 1990, a new era started for Berlin. It is hard to find so strong symbol of freedom, as Berlin Wall.
On the crossroads of Friedrichstrasse and Mauerstrasse there is a small checkpoint with flags, dirty sacks and a soldier. Tourists usually pay 2 euros for making a picture with him. This small booth is historically named as Checkpoint Charlie and known as a legendary crossing point between East and West Berlin. It became the sign of the Cold War fight between Soviet Union and USA. This loophole in the border often appeared in spy movies, like in ”James Bond”.
The most controversial place in Berlin for me is Holocaust Memorial. Even if you don’t know what does the square with 2711 grey slabs mean, most probably you feel uncomfortable and discomposedly. The Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust occupies about 19,000 square metres in the center of Berlin.
The memorial was opened in 2005, just 60 years after the end of World War II in the place that is difficult to miss – near Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag. The fade to 6 million victims coasted about 25 million. This beton cemetry was a subject of controversy for years. But the way how Germany repents and pays for its crimes can’t leave you blind. They show that it was their guilt, responsibility and sins.
I always feel like walking on the cemetry here, through 2700 tombs. And I just can’t understand the way people jump from one plate to other, cos it is like defile the memory of those who passed away. Walking through the slabs, I feel lost and small in the places where the stones reach 4 m hight. I think this is the most verbose memorial of those I have seen.
For me Berlin is a place where they are ashamed for their ancestors’ mistakes. The city has a right to show such an attitude, cos it was also demaged by the past. A mixture of Europe and Russia, Berlin did accept its guilt and moved further. It forgives, but not forgets its past. Maybe this is the key to the rising responsiable, free and gifted Berliners.