Berlin – New capital of re-united East and West Germany.


Spread out, and chopped up, thanks to decades of multinational rule – the British, French, American and Russian retain at least vestigial portions of their identities, except that of the Russian section.

One can say that navigating in Berlin resembles directional purgatory for tourists.

Berlin is both an ancient city and crucible of the modern world. During World War II more than 70 per cent of Berlin was bombed to smithereens, but reconstruction was swift, albeit relatively poorly planned, due to different jurisdictions.

The Russian section was rebuilt with Soviet prefabricated apartment blocks in contrast to imperial Potsdamer Platz nearby.

Brandenburger Tor (Gate), in the middle of Berlin, is still imposing, a focal tourist site today. In the past it divided the city between east and west.

This imperial monument is now used for advertising, as the city needs the revenue. London, New York, Paris, Madrid, Toronto or for that matter any major city anywhere in the world would not allow a national monument for advertising.

Berlin was the capital of Germany until 1945, and was laid out in impressive, imperial proportions i.e wide streets, tree-lined allees, imposing buildings, cavernous ministries, and three airports, (Tegel, Tempelhof, and Shoenefeld).

The setting in the middle of forests and innumerable small lakes allow citizens to walk in “pristine” nature after a short bus ride. Many Berlin denizens happen to be avid sailors, and you can, using several canals, sail up to the North Sea a few hundred kilometres north.

The public transportation system of buses, streetcars, U-Bahn (subway), and S-Bahn rapid transit) is very reasonably priced (for a three day pass the price is Euros 4.00, and for seven 34.00, and a single ride is 3.00.

After the fall of the “Wall” and reunification n of both East and West German governments federal politicians decided to transfer the Bundestag (Parliament) and most mysteries from Bonn to Berlin. A few ministries were left in Bonn. The East German capital was then East Berlin.

The construction of a huge number of ministerial buildings soon overwhelmed city finances despite immense amounts of federal government financial help.

The city with 3,500,000 inhabitants has 196 libraries, 170 museums, 83 public swimming pool, 8 orchestras, 3 opera houses, and 2 university hospitals all of which are draining city coffers. The abundance of all these facilities is the result of “ 2 cities” now united.

Berlin is now a young, vibrant, city and filled with ambitious and talented artists.

It is also quite inexpensive compared to other major European capitals.

You can eat inexpensively in small kiosks or in Kreuzberg (home of thousands of Turkish immigrants who opened small Middle Eastern eateries), or even downtown. If you want to splurge, go to Pauly Saal or Ka De We Kaufhaus (gastronomy section).

Regardless of this financial calamity Berlin offers a lot to the observant tourist. The Kurfurstendam aka Ku-dam is the main luxury shopping street lined with tea rooms, cafes, restaurants, high-end fashion stores and the Ka De We (Kaufhaus Des Westens) department store offering everything imaginable on its eight shopping floors.

The citizens decided to preserve the bombed out Gedachtniskirche (The Memorial Church) on Ku-dam as a reminder of violence and destruction of war.

While in Berlin, take the opportunity to wander into the soup kitchen of Aschinger and order a split pea soup with sausage. Experience this gastronomic delight and observe the local populace. Many a poor student survived by visiting Aschinger several times a week.

The city is wide spread, but a well thought out public transportation system allows citizens to travel fast and inexpensively.

Every trouist must pay a visit to “East Berlin” to see how the communist government literally crippled development and prosperity. The buildings carry the pockmarks of street battles from WWII and seem near collapse.

While there, visit Hotel Adlon (Unter den Linden 3), arguably the world’s most luxurious hotel prior to WWII, now restored to is old glory. Experiencing one of its restaurants could be the highlight of your Berlin stay, but equally possible you could be disappointed with the service.

Potsdamer Platz is a cluster of skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Berlin Mitte is a hub of media and high-technology companies. It is impressive but offers little to a tourist casually interested in modern buildings.

Any visitor must not miss the opportunity to visit the Pergamon Museum. It houses priceless treasures of Pergamon, an antique Greek city located on the Aegean Sea. The ruins of the city are now in today’s Turkey and were excavated by German archaeologists) .After the first successful attempts the Germans transported the best preserved frescoes, mosaics, artefacts, statues even part of buildings to Berlin with the permission of ottoman officials who at the time were ignorant to their value and could not be bothered to save them for eternity. Interestingly enough, now the ministry of culture in Turkey wants all treasures back.

The Hamburger Bahnhof, now a gargantuan contemporary art museum, is worth a visit, to see the ingenuity of modern architecture in converting a railway station to a museum.

Berlin’s indigenous population is well known for its humour. There are several “Kabarets” where stand up comedians make fun of all politicians in front of appreciative audiences nightly.

Even a monolingual English tourist will be able to get the gist of the jokes, if not pick up the nuances of the language. Studying the reaction of the audience is an experience itself.

The Bundestag building is a blend of old and new. The front of the old parliament was preserved and a glass “bubble” in the form of a dome was erected behind it. Some look at it as a masterpiece, others dismiss it as trivial. Regardless it is impressive.

For museum buffs, the number of museums is a sheer delight, but you will need several months to visit them all. Select judiciously. But you should visit the 1936 Olympic Stadium and experience the meaning of solid.

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
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