Friday, July 3, 2015

Berlin, Germany: A capital idea (Part II)

Vast stairway to the grandiose Sans Souci Palace in Potsdam just outside of Berlin (wikipedia)
BERLIN, GERMANY More than a quarter of a century after the reunification of Germany, the assimilation process between east and west continues. Nowhere is that more evident than Berlin.

The once divided capital with its tale of two cities has been a site of transition since the infamous wall came down over 25-years ago. The thriving German metropolis used to have two of everything; subway systems, opera houses, subdivided museums and other major facilities and venues.

Though the integration process is ongoing, Berlin has undergone a renaissance since November of 1989. It is a place rich in history and a vibrant cultural hub as well as a city of mystery and intrigue, the combination of which makes Berlin a traveler’s Mecca.

Alexanderplatz is a main gathering spot in Berlin  (wikipedia)
While many European cities boast of monumental gathering spaces such as Piazza San Marco in Venice, Red Square in Moscow and Trafalgar Square in London, Berlin has three, not counting the Brandenburg Gate.

No place in Berlin represents reunification better than Potsdamer Platz. Once Europe’s busiest traffic intersection, Potsdamer Platz was completely destroyed during World War II. 

Since 1995 the former site where trading paths once crossed has again become a commercial centerpiece, though not without controversy. Today the area is divided into four districts filled with gleaming glass skyscrapers and contemporary architecture as debate continues about its prospects for success in the future.
Potsdamer Platz has been completely rebuilt since the wall came down in 1989  (wikipedia)
Even so, the symbolic impact of the project is exemplified by the route of the Berlin Marathon which meanders through both Cold War sectors of the city and passes through Potsdamer Platz approximately ten minutes from the finish line.

Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt is almost symmetrical  (wikipedia)
A second majestic square is the Gendarmenmarkt which dates to the late 17th century. The immense square is flanked by almost identical two cathedrals, the Deutscher Dom at one end and the Franzosischer Dom, which features an observation platform, at the other. In between is the concert hall which is home to the Berlin Symphony.

The third member of the trio, Alexanderplatz, was the center of Berlin in the Middle Ages and one of its most bustling squares. The recognizable TV tower, the Fernsehturn, with its revolving restaurant at the top is one of the tallest structures in Europe.

The Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) is a popular attraction showing the time in other cities throughout the world. In the center of the square seductive aquatic sounds emanated form the Fountain of International Friendship, a circular fountain with a series of shallow bowls that create multiple mini-waterfalls. Both were added in 1969.
Museum lovers can spend an entire day browsing five great exhibition sites on Museum Island  (wikipedia)
There is much to see beyond Berlin’s squares, however. Museum Island, which sits in the center of the River Spree, features five world class museums built in the hundred year span of 1830 to 1930. The best known gallery, the Pergamon Museum, is also the newest exhibiting reconstructions of historically important buildings such at the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.
The Pergamon Museum takes visitors centuries back in time (wikipedia)
In addition to the museums is Berlin Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage site can be visited with a Berlin Pass which includes many other attractions throughout the city as well as local transportation services. A two day adult pass costs about $100.

Berlin's Egyptian Museum is the best outside of Cairo (wikipedia)
In another part of Berlin, the Egyptian Museum is said to be the best collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities outside of the country. The museum was divided between East and West Berlin until the wall came down. Under reunification, it, too, returned to singular status.

Berlin’s Versailles, the 17th century Charlottenburg Palace, or Schloss Charlottenburg, is not only the largest palace in the city, but the only surviving royal residence dating back to the Hohenzollern dynasty.

Entrance to Charlottenburg Palace at night  (wikipedia)
Historians should not miss an opportunity to visit the Jewish Quarter of Berlin which is highlighted by the remnants of the city’s first Jewish cemetery dating to the year 1672. Nearby, a memorial pays tribute to the 55,000 Berlin Jews murdered during the Nazi regime.

Another popular symbol of the war is the ruined spire of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which offers a dramatic view for rail passengers arriving at the main train station.  A contemporary church has been constructed next door, leaving the ruin as a solemn reminder of war and a “memorial to peace and reconciliation.”
KaDeWe Department store in Berlin is second only to London's Harrods in size  (wikipedia)
Shoppers can revel in the second-largest department store in Europe known as KaDeWe. Only Harrods in London is bigger. Kaufhaus des Westens, or Department Store of the West, has nearly 200,000 square feet of shopping space spread over eight floors.
The State Opera House at twilight in Berlin  (wikipedia)
Berlin is getting its act together. It is an alluring multi-faceted jewel to suit any traveler. For those who remain unfulfilled or just want more, San Souci Palace outside the city is always a favorite attraction. But that’s a story all its own.