Friday, June 26, 2015

Berlin more than 25 years after the fall of the wall (Part I)

Berlin's majestic Brandenburg gate is a symbol of a unified Germany  (wikipedia)
BERLIN, GERMANY Difficult as it may be to believe the Berlin Wall came crashing to the ground more than a quarter of a century ago, yet it is the sort of historical moment that appeals to travelers who enjoy immersing themselves into the living past that had significance during their lifetimes.

Alexanderplatz is one of Berlin's gathering spots  (Berlin tourism)
If ever there was a destination to capture the collective cultural imaginations of travelers it would have to be Berlin. Here visitors can experience luxurious shopping, vibrant nightlife, eclectic architecture, centuries of history, countless museums and exquisite dining in just a few days or an extended holiday. Either way it is impossible to completely satisfy a curiosity seeker’s appetite.

No other city in the world can claim three thoroughfares as prestigious as Berlin with Unter den Linden, Kurfurstendamm and Friedrichstrasse. Add the River Spree as the primary water route through the city, and it is easy to see why Berlin is unique.
The River Spree adds a peaceful ambiance to Berlin  (wikipedia)

The Kurfurstndamm, or Ku’damm as locals call it, has long been one of the great shopping avenues of Europe as well as Germany. The snaggle-toothed steeple of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a symbol of the city and World War II at the eastern end of the street, while the Rathous Schoneberg where President John F. Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech is located in Tempelhof-Schoneberg.

Unter den Linden, which means “under the lime trees,” was once Berlin’s premier promenade. The long east-west avenue sits in the heart of the historic area of the city, which includes the Brandenburg Gate and the former Berlin Statehouse. It also crosses Friedrichstrasse and the river.
Interior of the famous Pergamon Museum in a city filled with spectacular artistic exhibitions  (wikipedia)
The two-mile north-south route of Friedrichstrasse gained notoriety during the Roaring Twenties, but it was October of 1961 that focused the eyes of the world when American and Soviet tanks faced each other at the dividing line between West and East Berlin known as Checkpoint Charlie. Some observers say that Friedrichstrasse represents the character of Berlin in a nutshell.
Remnants of Checkpoint Charlie are not as menacing as the days of the wall, but they convey the sensation  (wikipedia)
For travelers with only a little time, a tour along these three streets alone will arouse more curiosity and history than can be found in the entirety of many cities.

Visitors to Berlin can spend several days focusing exclusively on World War II and the Cold War and barely scratch the surface of the city’s attractions.

Remnants of Checkpoint Charlie remain intact enough to provide at least a semblance of the aura that once existed at that notorious landmark. To round out the visit, spend some time at the nearby Checkpoint Charlie Museum exploring the fascinating photos and multitude of ingenious ways people created to breach the wall into the West.

Interior scene of Berlin's fabulous Egyptian Museum  (wikipedia)
At Brandenburg Gate, President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, in a speech in 1987 honoring the 750th anniversary of Berlin when he boldly said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” A year and a half later the wall did, indeed, come down.

East Side Gallery reminds us of the ominous Berlin Wall (wikipedia)
Other remains of the era include the East Side Gallery which, at roughly a mile in length, is said to be the world's largest outdoor open air gallery. When unveiled in 1990 with depictions by more than 100 artists from around the world, it was hailed as an international memorial to freedom.

Since that time, the “gallery” has been the victim of graffiti and vandalism, but enough has survived as a poignant reminder of the euphoria of the time as well as humanity’s never-ending desire for freedom.
The Reichstag was once NAZI headquarters  (wikipedia)

Just beyond Brandenburg Gate, in East Berlin, is the Reichstag Building which opened in 1894. It housed the German parliament, or Diet, until it was severely damaged by fire in 1933. The building was renovated following the reunification of Germany and is now, once again, the home of  parliament. During NAZI rule from 1933 to 1945 there were no parliamentary sessions.

As a city still undergoing the metamorphosis of reunification, Berlin continues to adapt, fascinate and beckon. Great squares such as Alexanderplatz and the Gendarmenmarkt and Potsdammer Platz add to its vibrancy. Historic churches abound and Museum Island in the center of the River Spree is not to be missed.
Another of Berlin's great squares is the Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of the city  (wilipedia)

Berlin is a destination unto itself. Or as the Germans would say it’s “Wunderbar!”