Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
John F Kennedy, June 26, 1963
Berlin is a major city with so much to see & do, that a flying visit was never going to be enough. But we couldn’t get this close to Berlin and not visit, could we? The ship docked in Warnemünde, and we disembarked by 6am to hop on a train to Berlin. The train was a private train for the Viking Sea passengers, but it was not air-conditioned so the 3 hour trip on a warm day was rather long.
With only about 5 hours to explore, we had planned an itinerary that would give us a look at some of the different faces of Berlin. Skates would have been useful! Here’s a summary of our day:
Hackesche Höfe – a series of eight courtyards bunny-hopping through a wonderfully restored 1907 Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) building. Berlin’s apartments are organized like this—courtyard after courtyard leading off the main roads. This complex is full of trendy shops & cafes. This courtyard system is a wonderful example of how to make huge city blocks liveable. Two decades after the Cold War, this area has reached the final evolution of East Berlin’s urban restoration: total gentrification.
Museum Island – this island in the Spree River is home to several of the world’s great museums. It was very painful not to go into any of them, but I know if we did we never would have come out.
Unter Den Linden – Berlin’s grand boulevard. We walked the length of it enjoying the atmosphere and wishing we had more time.
Under a glass plate in the middle of a square is this haunting reminder of the burning of books by the Nazi’s – a room of empty shelves, accompanied by a chillingly accurate quote from Heinrich Heine from 100 years earlier “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”
The Reichstag – Germany’s parliament was almost completely destroyed in the war; only the exterior walls survived. In 1999 a stunning new restoration and redesign was opened, including the now famous glass dome. We had pre-booked tickets to go inside the dome and enjoyed the free audio guide which pointed out architectural details of the dome as well as the great view of Berlin from there.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – On a site covering 19,000 square metres, there are 2711 concrete slabs of different heights. The area is open day and night and from all four sides you can fully immerse yourself in the fully accessible spatial structure. The memorial is on a slight slope and its wave-like form is different wherever you stand. The uneven concrete floor gives many visitor a moment of giddiness or even uncertainty. Its openness and abstractness give you space to confront the topic in your own personal way. The sheer size of the installation and its lack of a central point of remembrance call into question the conventional concept of a memorial. This creates a place of remembrance, but not with the usual means.
Potsdamer Platz – For many years this area was a wasteland, with the Berlin Wall running right through it, a virtual no mans land. It is now a vibrant modern shopping and entertainment district, capped by the striking marquee-like roof of the Sony Centre. The Grand Hotel Esplanade was destroyed by bombing during WWII. The surviving façade has been restored and is left like this as a memorial.Just outside Potsdamer Platz is a Berlin Wall display. The wall fragments are covered in chewing gum – apparently showing people’s disgust for the wall. By now we had only a few minutes to meet the Viking Sea guides to catch the train for the (again non-air-conditioned) 3 hour ride back to the ship. We knew exactly where the guides would be but when we arrived they were nowhere to be seen. After a few very anxious minutes we found them tucked away in a corner of the square and we just got there in time!
Another very full and satisfying day.