Berlin, one of the richest cities in the world for its history, sights and memorials. While walking around the city, you can’t help but wonder what the street you’re feet are treading on was like under Nazi reign or during the cold war.
The Holocaust memorial is one of the most moving places I have ever been to. At first this maze may seem unemotional and almost weird, but after a minute or two of walking through the uneven concrete blocks you realise how powerful and over whelming it really is. The coolness of the stone, the lack of light and the dominance of shadows perfectly resemble the dark, cold past that was the Holocaust and the loss of six million Jews. A minute in the memorial serves you a huge dose of grief and perspective.
American architect Peter Eisenman designed the 19,000m2 area with 2,711 uneven concrete slabs with the aim to produce a confusing and uneasy atmosphere while representing the supposedly ordered system of modern-day life that has lost touch with human reason, heart and feeling. Despite this being my second trip to this site, the feelings of being encompassed and almost claustrophobic within this hostile and confusing environment certainly weren’t dampened.
The Reichstag – the home of German politics, and the Brandenburg gate – the 18th century neo-classical triumphal arch, are both of course stunning, but it was the Berlin Wall that really captivated me on my second trip to Germany’s capital.
Few events in history have the power to move the entire world, but the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall was definitely one of them. August 13, 1961 saw East German soldiers and police rolling out miles of barbed wire, later replaced with slabs of concrete. Suddenly, the city of Berlin was divided in to two, with the East not allowed in the West and the West not allowed in the East. In West Berlin, the wall even came right up to residential areas – not exactly a real estate selling point – so artists tried to humanise the grey concrete inner city barrier with what we see today, a wall doused in colourful graffiti. Imagine waking up one day to a 106km long, 3.6km high concrete wall dividing you from your neighbours, colleagues, friends and even family, not knowing that the life you knew yesterday would ever be the same again. Unfathomable really.
28 years later in 1989, the Walls demise came as surprisingly and unexpectedly as it’s arrival. It’s ironic that Berlin’s most popular tourist attraction is one that no longer exists – in its entirety anyway. A 1.3km stretch of the notorious divider of humanity has been kept however. The East Side Gallery is the worlds largest open air mural collection and makes for an interesting walk. Walking along the remains of the Wall raised all sorts of juxtaposition like queries in my mind – how is it that this dictatorial, in-humane, concrete divider of a nation is now viewed almost as a piece of art, something to be photographed and appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is its demise that is what is celebrated, but for me it still posed a lot of questions and thoughts about this city with such radical history.
Berlin hasn’t had an easy ride, it’s not its beautiful sister city Munich, full of Bavarian beauty, architecture and green parks, you can definitely feel the turbulent history the city is entangled with. It might be edgy and cool; full of street art, fashion and clubs, but the scars of its dark past show and there’s definitely a sullen and moody air to it. Parts of it seem, and often are, abandoned and run down leaving a feeling of hopelessness to it – but then other parts are grand, modern and stunning, showing that reformation is always possible and second chances exist. Perhaps this is where Berlin’s beauty lies.
I’d be lying if I were to say Berlin is my favourite city in Europe, but I think it’s one of the cities you absolutely must visit. There’s so much to see, do and learn in Germany’s capital and cultural centre.