I just got back from Berlin… After some considerable travels I now think that I have a good basis of comparison when it comes to big cities in general. Comparing Berlin to New-York, Miami, Washington, London, Budapest, Rome, Brussels and what not, I would dare say that Berlin is something more and something less…Its history is unique; its recent past is harsh and its modern identity mixed and in formation.
If you are looking for architectural wonders, glamorous avenues, narrow medieval streets or huge sky scrapers, Berlin is not the place to be. A Friday-Sunday weekend is not enough to get the full image of a world city, but I do consider that I got the main feeling and vibe of it. I will be biased and say that I do prefer cities with a tidy, well planned architecture but this is just not applicable to Berlin. Probably November is not the best month to visit a city, but besides this I will try being objective as I just ignored the rain 🙂
Historically it started developing later than its European counterparts, the 18th century saw its rise, when it became the new capital of Prussia and later on the German Empire…Its recent 60-70 years of history though left the biggest impact on the city. Some old buildings are still visible and scattered around the city, such as the Dome, the Pergamon Museum, the renovated Reichtstag, the Brandenburg gates or some fancier streets in Charlottenburg. But we must not forget that this city suffered incredibly much in the 20th century. And once you get the historical perspective into place, then you can probably put aside the lack of organization, old architecture and what not. It has been the place of one of the bloodiest battles in history. During the battle of Berlin in 1945 more than 3 million soldiers, 7000 tanks, thousands of aircrafts fought for control over the city. One cannot imagine the devastation, the city basically being raised to the ground. This was followed by the Division between the Soviet, American, English and French occupation zones, the splitting up into West-East Berlin, the devastating wall and the communist architecture which predominates the East Berlin suburbs.
Berlin is just an incredible mix of everything and nothing. I cannot say I came back with one overall feeling. I expected at one point to have a certain emotion that every other city has triggered in me: walking on chique shopping streets, narrow medieval paths or ultra-modern high-rise buildings. Berlin has a bit of everything; it is just a huge lasagna with lairs of pre-modern era architecture, devastation of war, communist architecture and a more posh Charlottenburg.
The division between East and West can still be felt once you go to the suburbs and I most be honest, the Eastern suburbs reminded me of the neighborhood I grew up in, and all the “wonderful” effects communism had over out cities back home.
Economically, comparing it to Munich or Hamburg, the city does face some difficulties. The streets can be dirtier, certain city parts are littered with baggers, unemployment is higher and 10 min. away from the centre you can find some nasty industrial zones. But besides this, tourists just flock the city because the historical significance of this city is just overwhelming. I think I’ve never been to a city where I felt the pressure of recent history on my shoulders and to which I could relate in so many aspects. One minute I was in posh Charlottenburg, with streets resembling those next to the Alster in Hamburg and 20 min later I was back in just another communist type neighborhood. I felt the history of this city on my skin, and the recentness of events just kept baffling me. It is a symbol for the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is a symbol of every Eastern European nation and it is a city where I saw myself being an almost 3 year old kid watching the tanks role on the streets of my city when the 1989 Romanian Revolution broke out…
But Berlin is modern. It became a truly cosmopolitan city with every possible language being spoken on the streets, where alternative people try finding their identity and where East and West had to mingle in something new and not yet settled. The identity of Berlin is that of an old scarred war veteran given a second chance to live and rejuvenate himself. The events of the near past are still too recent, and unlike Rome, London or Paris, with their settled identities, Berlin is still finding hers. Or maybe that’s her identity, the struggle to find it again 🙂
Must see places:
– renovated Reichstag
– the Brandenburg Gate
– Pergamon Museum
– DDR Museum
– Streets of Charlottenburg
– Check-point Charlie + Wall memorial next to it
– Preserved Wall section+ Wall memorial on Bernauer Strasse
– East Side Art Gallery/Wall on Mühlenstrasse
– Random shisha place on Oranienburgstrasse 🙂
– Get lost on some streets, find a cheap corner diner and eat a cheap “gulyas” soup, with some wieners and waffles
Costs – approx. 110 euros
– Hamburg – Berlin: gas money paid to driver – 32 €
– Hostel – 21 euros (2 nights)
– Transportation in the city – 6 euros (try not paying, no-one will check)
– Beers, Shisha, Partying – 20 euros
– Souvenirs, museums – 15 euros
– Food – 20 euros
Berlin 5-7 Nov. 2010