I went to Berlin hoping to learn how it has changed since the collapse of Soviet controlled East German government, the GDR, in 1989.While most visitors are simply looking for the tourist sites, I was looking for something more.
Having visited Leipzig just days earlier, I had seen St. Nicholas Church near the city center and learned of the “Peaceful Revolution” of October 1989 inspired there. It resulted in nonviolent demonstrations in Leipzig, in Berlin, and in other GDR cities and the collapse of the Soviet controlled government. Berlin was a divided city for nearly 30 years and the Berlin Wall (the "Wall of Shame" according to former mayor Willy Brandt) had symbolized the "Iron Curtain" that separated the city and Germany. Today, only a small section of the wall remains and its a graffiti art gallery.
The Berlin Wall Memorial is a stark reminder of the division of Germany. Located next to the former border, there is a piece of the Berlin Wall next to the infamous border strip and watchtower. The facility shows how the border facilities were constructed and imparts to the visitor a lasting impression of the nation’s tragic division. The Reconciliation Church was located at this site. It was blown up in 1985, as it stood right on the no man’s land “death strip”. After the fall of the Wall, a Chapel of Reconciliation was erected and opened in 2000. Victims of the Wall (more than 1,100) are regularly remembered during church services. There are also several other “Wall Memorials” in the city.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is located near the Brandenberg Gate. It consists of nearly five acres covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae", arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. According to the architect, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. An underground information center here has the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.
The Jewish Museum Berlin, one of the finest (and most recognizable) examples of contemporary architecture in the city, was designed by Daniel Libeskind. He has called it “Between the Lines”, a title that reflects the tensions of German-Jewish history. The permanent collection extends over 2,000 years of German-Jewish history.
Every Berliner over 40 years of age can remember the years when the city was divided and the Soviet Union controlled East Berlin and East Germany. The DDR Museum (GDR in English) here recalls life as it was for millions of Germans during the years of the Soviet regime. Visitors can see a furnished apartment and a Soviet made car. The interactive exhibits demonstrate the many pressures and limitations that made up everyday life under Soviet rule.
The Brandenburg Gate, erected between 1788 and 1791, has been one of Berlin’s most important monuments for over two hundred years. A former symbol of the divided city, it drew visitors who would climb to an observation platform to glimpse of the world behind the Iron Curtain which separated East from West Berlin, geographically and politically.
I asked my guide what Berliners thought following reunification. “Initially everyone was very pleased,” he said. “Later, some from East Berlin missed the old system where most all of their needs were provided for, and some West Berliners complained strongly about the high cost of rebuilding East Berlin and East Germany.
Berlin has 170 museums (Museum Island in the Spree river alone is the site of five internationally significant museums) which makes it an impossible challenge to visit all. However, American travelers will no doubt appreciate The Kennedys Museum and The Ramones Museum. President Jack Kennedy make a great impression on citizens when he visited here in 1963, at the height of the Cold War, and made his famous quote “Ich bin ein Berliner.” The president and his family are remembered at this museum. The Ramones were a punk rock band from New York City. They had a 30 year career before retiring in 1996. The museum exhibits the impressive personal collection of artifacts from a Berlin fan.
Berlin is blessed with some of the world’s greatest architecture, both classic and contemporary. One could spend weeks just exploring architectural gems.
The baroque-style Hohenzollern Palace, once the seat of German government was a landmark in the city since the 15th century, when the Prussian royal family began construction, until 1950, when the GDR decided the war-ruined palace was a reminder of a decadent old world and destroyed its remains.
In 1976, The Palast der Republik was built. It housed not just the East German parliament (largely a ceremonial body) but also a bowling alley, a disco, and other public space. In 1993, it was torn down because it was riddled with asbestos, but critics argue that asbestos problems in West Berlin were solved without demolishing buildings. They believe a remnant of Cold-War politics was behind its demolition and the neo-Hohenzollern palace construction project now in the works.
The question is when it might be finished. The due date is 2013, but its budget still has to make up an 80 million Euro shortfall in private (corporate) donations -- and 32 million Euro from the city of Berlin, which was deeply in debt even before the current financial crisis hit. For now the "Schlossplatz," or palace square, is empty, and not all of Berlin will mind if it stays that way.
I had hoped to see the new Berlin International Airport scheduled to open in June 2012, however, here to, construction delays have pushed the opening back a full year. A good reason to return in 2013. Berlin is a fascinating city and I hope to see more.
If you’re traveling to Berlin, you should consider staying at Indigo Hotel, a new boutique hotel well located in the old East Berlin www.hotelindigoberlin.com . Owned by the same folks who own Holiday Inn, it is very comfortable and has an excellent restaurant. When planning your trip view www.visitberlin.de/en and www.germany.travel.com.
The DDR Museum remembers life in Berlin as it was under Soviet control from 1945 to 1990.
Brandenberg Gate was the dividing line between East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years.
Holocaust Memorial remembers the millions of European Jews who died under Nazi rule.
In 1989 Berliners demonstrate against the Wall and help bring down the Soviet backed government.
Olympic Stadium built by the Nazi government for the 1936 Games now fully restored was the site of the World Cup Soccer Championships in 2010.
Senior Travel Editor