Thursday, July 11, 2013

Berlin: What took me so long?

My first trip to Germany was in 1969. I travelled from north to south but never got to Berlin. I returned to Germany with Sally in 1976 on a Eurail Pass. We traveled around...even took a boat trip along the Rhine, but didn't get to Berlin. In more recent years we've been all over Europe, but for whatever reason, until now we never went to Berlin. I'm not exactly sure why...perhaps its close association with Hitler? other negative images? the food?
Of course, whenever people heard we liked to travel they often asked had we been to Berlin. "You'll love it" they always said. And then, two years ago, Michael Audain gave me a fascinating book, In the Garden of Beasts about the Nazis rise to power in Germany. After reading this book, I knew we had to go to Berlin, sooner rather than later.

So last year we started to organize a home exchange in Potsdan, about 40 minutes from Berlin in the former East Germany. However, I didn't have terribly positive images of the place, (I expected it to be poor and grey) but for other reasons, the exchange collapsed. So instead we organized a house exchange in Hamburg, with plans to spend 5 days in Berlin.

Berlin is a very big city and we didn't know where to stay. So we looked on TripAdvisor and noted a great disparity in the advertised rates for the Ritz Carlton, ranked #8 out of more than 600 hotels. So thinking a bit of luxury never hurts, we booked it. And I am so glad we did for many reasons.
Firstly, it is part of the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz, once considered the centre of Berlin. It has been the site of one of the most significant redevelopment projects in Europe in recent years. It's quite outstanding. Furthermore, there were plenty of good restaurants, cafes and shops nearby, and excellent transit access to almost everywhere. The hotel also had the best-equipped and beautifully detailed bathroom of any hotel I have ever stayed in. I'll write more on this later.
The interior covered courtyard of the Sony Centre, across from the Ritz-Carlton
Across from our hotel was the magnificent Sony Centre. But to the east was my favourite building in Berlin. In some ways, it exemplified what has been happening in the city.

I should note this is not a real building....just some vinyl sheets on a metal frame designed to look like a building. One day soon the real building will rise, but until then, this vinyl building creates the illusion of a building on a site destroyed in the war while hundreds of millions of euros are spent completing other nearby sites. 
Below are a few miscellaneous pictures of old Berlin. In future posts I'll add pictures of new Berlin, Jewish Berlin and of course the wall.

Let me conclude this post by suggesting that if you, like me, have been putting off a visit to Berlin for various reasons....DON'T!
Many older buildings like this were severely damaged in the war, but have been successfully restored. Don't ask me about the running shoes dangling in front of it!
The Hotel Adlon, once one of Berlin's legendary luxury hotels, was severely damaged in WW2, and replaced by an also luxurious  'historic-modern' building in the 1970's. Inside, it's difficult to know it's a relatively new building. ps Sunday Brunch was 99 euros!
Humboldt University from the 18th C. The first university in Berlin
A city of large plazas, old and new buildings, most of which have a comfortable mid-rise scale
The Brandenburg Gate; a structure with an incredible history. When east and west were divided, it was in no man's land
Reichstag Building (the Parliament) altered by Sir Norman Foster in 1994-99
There's a lot of gild, and a lot of guilt in Berlin
This elegant building is sited along Kurfurstendamm Strasse, a street we particularly enjoyed

The infamous Checkpoint Charlie exemplifies the city with old and new buildings and a lot of stories
I liked this building with its old grey stonework and new Starbucks at the corner.

1 comment:

রাজু আহমেদ said...

Oh, I'm waiting for this since you announced to make a Berlin guide. We go to Berlin at least once a year and we will check out all your lovely tips next time - thank you so much for sharing!! It all sounds great!
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