“And that’s another great club over there” the taxi driver points out. “Good music… itz, itz, itz, itz! Better to get there after 4 AM.”
I mumble a noncommittal “Great, thanks”, rather flattered that he thinks I’m hip enough to frequent the trendy bars and techno dance clubs of Berlin’s Friedrichshain district. We’re en route from Schönefeld airport to the andel’s hotel, where I’ll be attending a two-day conference on Linear Regression Analyses. Scintillating stuff. I’ve tagged an extra night onto my trip, hoping to at least see something beyond the four walls of the conference centre and the Brauhaus Lemke – the designated destination for the “informal networking evening”, where I’ll make polite conversation with the other poor souls suffering through the finer points of normally distributed continuous data and confidence intervals.
Berlin has fascinated me since I was a child in the 1980s. I could not quite get my head around how a city and indeed a whole country could be divided into East and West. The German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. Two nations living under completely different political systems, flying different flags, competing against each other in the sporting arena. Families and friends separated for decades. Hundreds of people dying as they tried to flee to the West, thousands more suffering immense personal hardship.
I can remember watching the news coverage on the 9th of November 1989, when the East German government announced that citizens of the GDR could freely visit West Berlin and West Germany. Jubilant crowds of East Germans climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans on the other side. This historic day marked the start of the fall of the Berlin Wall, paving the way for the reunification of Germany.
Over a quarter of a century later, Berlin has embraced its somewhat dark past, turning remnants of past division into monuments that merge with the grand, historic buildings and super-sleek modern architecture of Germany’s cool capital. I’m going to take you on a quick photo tour of the places I managed to get around to in less than a day…
The Brandenburg Gate
Berlin’s iconic landmark – a symbol of division during the Cold War, it is now a national symbol of peace and unity.
Close to the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe can be approached and walked through from all sides, serving as a central place for remembering the Holocaust.
Seat of the German Parliament and Berlin’s most famous landmark.
Travel Tip: Visitors must register in advance to visit the roof terrace and dome (admission free). Further details available here.
Arguably Berlin’s most magnificent square dates back to 1700.
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), completed in 1905, is Berlin’s largest Protestant church.
The old heart of Berlin, Potsdamer Platz has been the site of major redevelopment projects since Reunification.
Berlin Wall Art
Travel Tip: I didn’t get chance to visit the East Side Gallery, where larger pieces of the Berlin Wall are on display. More than one kilometre’s worth of the concrete slabs have been transformed into vibrant artwork expressing freedom and creativity. Further details available here.
Finance Ministry Building
Purely by chance I spotted these East German era socialist propaganda murals of happy workers on the walls…
The scene of several thrillers and espionage novels, including James Bond’s “Octopussy” and the “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” by John le Carré, Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Quite literally little traffic light men, this beloved symbol was shown on pedestrian signals in former East Germany and acquired cult status after Reunification, becoming a popular souvenir item.
- I travelled to Berlin in November 2012.
- The andel’s hotel is located in the East side of Berlin, and while not particularly central, it is very close to tram and S-Bahn stops. I enjoyed the breakfast buffet and the SkyBar, which provides panoramic views over the city.
- I never did make it to any of the trendy dance clubs that my taxi driver pointed out so enthusiastically, but I’ve heard Berlin’s nightlife is fantastic…