Berlin – Historic Mitte and Around   10 comments

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On to the last major city of our trip. Another sleeper train but a much better experience this time. Fuelled by more chimney cake from station kiosk, ready a few (worrying!) minutes before the train departed

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The train left on time and arrived on time. We had a nice leisurely evening watching the stations roll by before turning in for a proper night’s sleep

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Arriving bleary eyed but excited in a new city

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The huge and magnificent glass palace that is Berlin Hauptbahnhof

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The apartment was still being cleaned but the owner kindly let us use the facilities and dump our bags so we could do a bit of sightseeing. We were close to the historic quarter so we headed there along the Spree river

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First stop was the Reichstag building.

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One of Berlin’s most famous landmarks but more on that in a later post

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We were heading for the Brandenburg gate we passed this memorial to the Sinti and Roma gypsies murdered by the Nazis. Just a simple pool and fountain with a fresh flower laid every day. One of the list of Nazi crimes that I wasn’t aware of. It became a regular theme of our stay in Berlin, a city recovering from an association with the darker parts of history

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The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791 as a triumphal arch based on the Acropolis in Athens.

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It was the heart of the city then and still to an extent is now with the Reichstag on its doorstep and several embassies around Pariser Platz where it sits. Its one of the city’s most recognised landmarks

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The sculpture on the top is the Quadriga, the winged goddess of victory, her chariot and four horses. Napoleon stole the statue after one his Prussian victories but it was liberated and returned by a Prussian general a few years later

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As an aside my guidebook said we should check out the DZ Bank Building with its free-form sculpture and glass atrium

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The metal sculpture is actually a meeting room

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Pariser Platz with Under den Linden stretching away into the distance

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Into the dark past again with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial. Its official name is the Denkmal fur die Ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe). Over 6 million people were mercilessly slaughtered.

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This is the descriptive text from my guide-book:

“For the football-field-size space, New York architect Peter Eisenman created 2711 sarcophagi-like concrete stelae (slabs) of equal size but various heights, rising in sombre silence from undulating ground

You’re free to access this massive concrete maze at any point and make your individual journey through it. At first it may seem austere, even unemotional. But take time to feel the coolness of the stone and contemplate the interplay of light and shadow and then stumble aimlessly among the narrow passageways, and you’ll soon connect with a metaphorical sense of disorientation, confusion and claustrophobia.”

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As I walked around with the family in silence I felt that disorientation mentioned above. It also entered my head as whether this was right sort of monument and indeed more pertinently whether there is any monument that can in any way represent the senseless murder of so many people

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The photos can’t really give the same impression as being there and making you think about what group of people can coldly and calculatingly do to another. I read that many Nazi officers spent hours working on plans and strategies to make the slaughter more efficient, how they could maximise the number of people murdered on a daily basis. I still cannot make the mental connection as to how anyone intelligent rational individual could think like that. Chilling.

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After sombre reflection and discussion among the family we decided we couldn’t face the excellent underground exhibition just now. We had a very fine brunch on Unter den Linden before walking down towards Alexanderplatz past the statue of Frederick the Great

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This is one of the buildings of the Humboldt University. Marx and Engels studied here and Einstein taught here. This building is locally known as the Chest of Drawers. Lenin did some of his study in this place.

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The Schlossbrucke Bridge

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The Berliner Dom Cathedral with the Fernsehturm Tower alongside, a nice mix of old and new

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Stepping over the Schlossbrucke effectively takes you on to an island in the Spree. The island is home to a collection of major museums that give the island its name Museuminsel. This one is the Altes Museum, home to Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts

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This is the Pergamonmuseum home to Ancient world and Egyptian treasures

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And the Bodemuseum with its medieval sculptures

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The museums are world renowned and a couple of days of your time to see them properly. Not reall our things so we wandered back along the river to the apartment to settle in

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Afterwards, time for a proper look at the Reichstag

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10 responses to “Berlin – Historic Mitte and Around

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  1. Visited Berlin a few years ago. Sombre sort of sums up the city for me. Imposing, impressive grey buildings but you are never far from WW2 reminders. Only spent a couple of days there though. Dresden has more elegant buildings and a nice river (i.e. it’s prettier and feels happier somehow) despite being heavily bombed during the war. Not so oppressive. Or that’s my take on it after admittedly brief visits to both. David Bowie has a firm presence in Berlin- bars- galleries etc and Lou Reed and Andy Warhol.Loads of donner kebab places as well.

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    Blue Sky Scotland
    • It was far from being our favourite city but that’s not saying we didn’t enjoy it or feel glad that we visited. It is much earthier, grittier city and in that respect suffered a little in comparison against the romantic visions of Venice, Rome and Budapest. It made a change to see a more contemporary history even if much of that history is dark. There is still a huge amount of building work going on and I guess that after decades of neglect under the DDR regime it will take a long time yet to make the city look like it should. It was my first visit so I don’t have much of reference point but I know people who saw it in the DDR days and the change is apparently staggering

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  2. The buildings, monuments and bridges are just stunning.

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  3. My first impressions are of a solid city, difficult to describe really, maybe it lacks the delicate grandeur of some cities? A sort of teutonic, no nonsense sort of place?

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    Brenda-Dawn Linney
    • That’s a really great description Dawn. I’ve been struggling with what to make of Berlin as well. I enjoyed my time there and really glad I went. But did I like it in the same way as the other cities we visited. Loads of history and very educational due to its pivotal role in more recent events but not loveable. I’d go back to other cities on our trip without hesitation but not so sure about Berlin. Perhaps I need to discover its quieter side or more in the way of leafy parks and shady squares

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  4. I’ve been intending to visit Berlin for an age, although, it now occurs to me, I know almost nothing about it, aside from having a certain image of dissolution due to things like Cabaret and the fact that people like David Bowie and Lou Reed have been drawn to the city.

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    beatingthebounds
    • You’ll know a lot more about the city when you’ve read the rest of my posts! Its a really interesting and rewarding place to visit but it lacks the charm of the other cities we visited. I think you need a real interest in the dark recent history to really get the most out of it. TJF didn’t like it as much as the other places so probably one we wouldn’t go back to as a family. It would be a great place to visit as a group of adults taking in some of the bars and restaurants of which it has plenty and lively scene as it were

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      • School history seems to be almost entirely about that dark past these days. Almost certainly overly so. A was reading us the questions from a recent history test in the car today (oh, how the journeys fly by!) and B guessed every answer as ‘Hitler!’. He wasn’t right, but he had a very valid point – my kids are gaining the distinct impression that history revolves around a few key figures – mainly Henry VIII and Hitler.

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        beatingthebounds
        • Actually a good deal of the history of Berlin is more related to Wall and the DDR days (although we found a few more “Hitler” sights). The impression is of a city that’s been through a great deal of turmoil and is now trying to shake off that image without forgetting that past. I think you’d love it and the kids would if they embrace that dark past. I liked the contrast with the living museums of Rome and Venice but as I say as a more modern city it lacks that obvious charm. Budapest and Barcelona span the divide really well hence they were probably my favourite cities

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