My second weekend in Germany was spent traveling to and exploring the capital city: Berlin. While only about half the size of London in terms of population, Berlin is a massive city at approximately 560 square miles! Two days was not nearly enough time to experience everything Berlin has to offer, but my friends and I made the most of our time there and got to see some pretty cool things. Another trip, maybe three, is very much needed to fully explore Berlin. Here are the main sights I got to see during my brief-but-worthwhile trip.
Stationed near the busy Alexanderplatz, the Berlin TV tower was our first major stop on our excursion. The tower was opened in 1969 and is approximately 368 meters high, measuring from the ground level to the tippy top of the antenna. The panoramic floor is situated 203 meters from the ground in the globe of the tower. Groups move in every half hour, allowing for just enough people to enjoy the view without it becoming too overcrowded. The 360 degree view was incredible, and I was able to spot the Berlin Cathedral, which was the next stop.
While there was unfortunately not enough time to go inside, the Berlin Cathedral was a sight worth stopping for. The cathedral is known for housing the coffins of 89 members of the Hohenzollern royal family. I may not have been able to go inside, but I could still admire the outside architecture. Luckily, there is a large, grassy area (appropriately named Domplatz) beside the cathedral that was perfect to take pictures. The locals seemed to revel in relaxing in front of the impressive structure, with many taking naps or reading on the grass.
Behind and a bit to the side of the Berliner Dom is a place called Museum Island. The name stems from the four museums (and one national gallery) that lay right beside one another. Another great place for photographs. Berlin is home to many great museums and galleries and while it would have been lovely to see more of them with time, that sole honor was given to the Jewish Museum.
The Jewish museum was one of my group’s last stops on the first day, but its extensive detail and creativity put it high in my list of favorite experiences in Berlin. More than anything, I found myself utterly captivated by the continuous flow of historical, cultural, and personal information the exhibits provided.
The museum was divided into four levels, the lower level, ground level, and the first and second floors. The lower and ground level were my favorites, as they are meant to stir emotion from visitors while placing them as much as possible in the shoes of Jews during World War II. The ground level is comprised of two long, white hallways that cross each other. One hallway was titled the “Axis of the Holocaust” and the other “Axis of Exile.” Behind glass enclosures in the walls were personal items, such as letters or house hold items like candle sticks and eating utensils, of deceased or exiled Jews. On the “Holocaust” wall are the names of the concentration camps that Jews were sent to while the “Exile” wall listed the countries they had successfully escaped to.
The ground floor held my favorite exhibit, the “Memory Void.” The instillation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman is on display there. The instillation is a narrow, high-ceiling room with the floors covered in sad and horror-stricken faces made of metal. Visitors are allowed to walk over the display, which I think is meant to exemplify the burden and injustice Jews have experienced. They, like the faces, have been walked on in silence.
The first and second floors are comprised of major topics in Jewish history starting from as early as 950 A.D. to present day. These two floors felt more like a traditional museum, meant to quench the thirst for knowledge as people passed from one exhibit to the next. However, my favorite installation was an interactive one. There was a tree where museum guests hang their answers to a question. I ended up taking the paper around the museum with me while I tried to come up with the right words, and I did eventually hang it up. The question is thought-provoking and still relevant today.
Once incorporated into the Berlin wall and the most prominent symbol of the division of Germany and its capital city, the Brandenburg Gate now stands as a monument for reunification, allowing thousands of people every day to travel between East and West Berlin. The plaza where the gate stands is rather busy during the time we went, which was around noon, and reminded me very much of Times Square but on a much smaller scale in terms of congestion and crowd activity. My only regret is not being able to walk under the gate since, at the time, a stage was being constructed on the west side (most likely to play the Eurocup finale game live). I would recommend seeing the gate much earlier in the day and not on a weekend.
I came across a picture of the Reichstag building being used as the Bing daily photo just a few days before my trip. The picture alone was enough to convince me that I needed to visit the building, if only for a mere glimpse of the glass copula. The Reichstag building was re-opened in 1999 and serves as the German parliament building. The historic exterior, constructed for about a decade in 1884, has remained for the most part unchanged. The interior, however, is modern and reflects Germany’s desire to preserve its history while continuing to develop.
While the Reichstag apparently (according to a pamphlet I kept) offers other forms of entertainment, such as a restaurant and gallery, the glass dome structure atop of the building is what attracts millions of viewers a year. With so many patrons, a reservation is required and can be made across the street really quickly for the next day. Once up there, a free audio tour is available as you walk up the spiral ramp to the top and back down. The bottom of the copula has monitors with information tracing through Germany’s communist history leading up to reunification and the present.
Check Point Charlie/East Side Gallery
The history surrounding Check Point Charlie and the Berlin Wall is far too extensive to elaborate on in this blog. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves on this one!