BY JANET STEINBERG
In November, Germany, and the world, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Overnight ‘The Fall of the Wall’ not only changed an entire nation, but it also changed the rest of the world. The reunification of Germany ended 28 years of terror that tore apart families, friends and neighbors. A visit to Berlin reveals a rejuvenated city that is no longer divided…a free city that that is celebrating reunification and democracy…a city that has confronted its past and is forging ahead to the future.
|FORMER BERLIN WALL…NOW THE EASTSIDE GALLERY
Emotionally, visitors of all religions are volleyed between the delights of their time in Berlin and the poignant reminders of the terrible years under the Third Reich. Architecturally, Berlin is a smorgasbord of architectural masterpieces, scanning centuries. From the original Reichstag to Sir Norman Foster’s glass-domed roof…from the original Jewish Museum…to Daniel Libeskind’s 21st century addition to the structure…to Frank Gehry’s space age DZ Bank lobby.The Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s Parliament, originally opened in 1894. After the reunification of Germany, the building was fully restored by internationally renowned architect Sir Norman Foster. Completed in 1999, the restoration features an iconic large glass dome that has a 360-degree view of the surrounding cityscape. Lunch at the top of the Reichstag is overpriced, but worth it just for the experience and the view. Outside of the Reichstag is a memorial to the 96 Reichstag members of opposition parties killed by the Nazis.
|GLASS DOME OF THE REICHSTAG
The baroque Jewish Museum of Berlin, built is 1735, first served as the Collegienhaus (Supreme Court building) for the Royal Court of Justice. World-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind’s eerie addition to the museum culminates with the horrors of Hitler’s persecution and extermination plans. Sole access into the new addition, is through the historical Collegienhaus.
|LIBESKIND’S MODERN ADDITION TO 1735 JEWISH MUSEUM
The Libeskind addition has three main corridors: the Axis of Continuity, the Axis of Emigration, and the Axis of the Holocaust. The Axis of Continuity connects the old building with the new addition. The architect described that axis as the continuation of Berlin’s history from which the other axes branch off. The Axis of Emigration leads outside to the Garden of Exile that Libeskind said attempts “to completely disorientate the visitor. It represents a shipwreck of history.” In the Axis of the Holocaust, Libeskind stated that the bare concrete Holocaust Tower, with a narrow slit at the top, “is the space which somehow ends the old history of Berlin.”
Nearby is the Brandenburg Gate (1788-1791), the city’s most famous landmark. The centerpiece of the Pariser Platz, the Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of Berlin’s reunification. It is crowned with the 18th century Quadriga Statue that depicts the Goddess of Victory driving a chariot pulled by four horses.
|THE BRANDENBURG GATE
On the south side of Pariser Platz, between the Brandenburg gate and the Hotel Adlon, is the DZ Bank headquarters, one of architect Frank Gehry’s most interesting buildings. Strict urban planning regulations for buildings in the center of Berlin made it impossible for Gehry to erect one of his sculptural masterpieces such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Therefore, he solved the problem by putting his traditional Gehry touch within the entrance area in the form a 4-story-high, steel-clad, wood-lined shell that seems as if it is floating in space. This sculptural structure serves as the building’s primary conference hall.
|FRANK GEHRY’S DZ BANK LOBBY
One block south of the Brandenburg gate is Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as The Holocaust Memorial. The 2,711 concrete slabs (stelae) of differing heights are set in a grid pattern on a sloping field. Eisenman’s project text explains that 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.
|EISENMAN’S HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
The East Side Gallery, a long section of the Berlin Wall near the center of Berlin, is the largest open-air gallery in the world. It is a place where the old Berlin meets the new Berlin. More than 100 murals, by artists from around the world, cover this memorial for freedom. The association of the artists involved in the project stated “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”. More than three million people visit the wall every year.
|RENOWNED MURAL-LEONID BREZHNEV & ERICH HONECKER
It’s tacky and touristy, but one cannot go to Berlin without taking in the sight known as Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. It was the crossing point for foreigners, diplomats, and members of the Allied forces. The ersatz guardhouse, with its ersatz soldiers standing guard, is a favorite photo op for tourists. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a private commercial venture, but it does have some interesting exhibits such as escape cars, a small submarine, and amazing stories about how some people attempted to escape.
If, by now, you are in desperate need of a shopping fix, there are plenty of souvenirs at Checkpoint Charlie. Mostly schlock…but good mementos.
Janet Steinberg, winner of 47-travel writing awards, resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her home.