The D&O Diary is on assignment in Europe this week, with the first stop in Berlin, for a series of business meetings. My schedule while in Berlin was full, but I did have some time both days during my two-day visit to the city for a look around.
I have been to Berlin before, and I was very glad to be able to return after my prior visit about five years ago. Shortly after arriving and checking into my hotel, I took the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, and from there I walked to the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin’s most iconic landmark (pictured at the top of the post). I had seen the Gate on my last visit, but I wanted to be sure to return, because the last time I was in Berlin, Unter den Linden, the famous street formerly in East Berlin that runs east from the Gate, was under construction. I hoped I might see the street this time fully repaired.
Alas, now Unter den Linden is completely torn up and, in much worse shape than the last time. The city is extending an existing subway line that will run along beneath the street. For now the street is a complete mess, which takes away from the experience of visiting what is one of the most famous streets in the world. I walked the length of the street anyway (as shown in the pictures below), all the way to Alexander-Platz, with its famous TV tower, the Ferhnsehturm, before heading back Unter den Linden, through the gate, and into Berlin’s famous park, the Tiergarten.
Berlin is now a great and prosperous city, its countless construction sites proof of the city’s current dynamism. Just the same, there are so many features of the City that bring home the city’s complicated past. For example, in Potsdamer Platz, a section of the Berlin Wall has been preserved as mute testimony to the way that Wall cut through the city. An even stronger reminder of Berlin’s complicated past sits between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate — the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The past may be gone but the complicated history lives on.
In the Tiergarten, just a few hundred yards from the Brandenberg Gate, is a massive memorial to the Soviet army. The Tiergarten memorial, which is actually one of three Soviet memorials in the city, was built in 1945 within months of the fall of Berlin, and is dedicated in particular to the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. The memorial was built in part from stonework taken from the destroyed Reich Chancellery. The victorious army built the memorial for its own reasons, and there the memorial remains, a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in a terrible battle, but also a vestige left by a hostile occupying army; it is undoubtedly a thumb in the eye for many Berliners and a harsh reminder of their army’s defeat and of their city’s violent destruction – as well as of the causes of the defeat and destruction.
I feel compelled to point out that that angry and vindictive Soviets who built their memorials in Berlin — while none of the other allied forces did any such thing — did so in a particularly stupid way. It is almost as if they intended that no one would possibly care about their monument. As built, about 99.98% of the human race can’t read anything on the monuments. All of the inscriptions are in Cyrillic. Now, you would think that if they wanted to show those Germans what’s what, they would at least have bothered to include inscriptions in German. I fault them for failing to see that. Seems kind of dumb in retrospect. The worst part for the Soviets (and I don’t fault them for failing to see this) is that they couldn’t see that 72 years later, almost no one, outside of the shrinking demographic of Russia, would read Cyrillic. It would have absolutely killed them to know that if they wanted anyone to read their inscriptions and care, they would have to put the information in English.
A short distance from my hotel is the fashionable and compact urban park, Savignyplatz, a comfortable square with carefully tended beds of blooming flowers. Just as I was taking the picture below, a sudden drenching cloudburst materialized. I took shelter on a park bench under a vine-covered trellis that protected me from the rain. It was actually quite pleasant, sitting on the bench and watching the rain, though the shower passed almost as quickly as it arose.
After the rain stopped, I strolled through tidy neighborhood streets to Kurfürstendamm (known to the locals as Ku’damm , shown in the picture below), Berlin’s famous shopping street. I was just getting my saunter going when there was another rain shower. While I stood under a store awning watching the rain, an older couple came up to me and asked, in German, if I knew where their hotel was, telling me the name of the hotel. I stammered in my halting German that I was not from Berlin and don’t really know my way around the city, but they persisted, showing me a piece of paper with the name and street address of the hotel. I took out my own pocket map, and with a little bit of scrutiny found the street they were looking for. I then managed to piece together a complete sentence in German telling them how to get to the street from where we were standing. They were quite grateful, and as they walked away I found myself reflecting how strange it was that I was giving directions in a large, strange city and in a foreign language. We are all strangers in a strange land, I suppose.
My hotel had rental bicycles on offer, so the morning of my second day in Berlin, I rented a bike and headed out for an energetic tour of the city, before my afternoon meetings. I quickly discovered that traveling by bicycle is the absolutely optimal way to tour Berlin. The hotel was just a couple of hundred yards from the Landwehrkanal, along which run bicycle paths leading into the Tiergarten. From there, I reached the Spree River, which has a network of bike paths extending on both sides of the river. I crossed back and forth, exploring and discovering new things.
I covered well over a dozen miles in the morning. After doubling back, I had lunch in a sidewalk café in the Hackescher Markt on the Neue Promonade (pictured below). I then crossed over to the Museums-Insel, where I listened to a lunchtime classical music concert in a pavilion between the Neues Museum and the Alte National-gallerie. After the musical interlude, I headed out a little further east on the Spree River, before doubling back again and heading back to the west toward Schloss Charlottenburg. I explored all of the quiet, leafy neighborhoods around the Schloss before heading into the Schloss Garten. By then, it was time to get ready to head back to my hotel to get ready for my afternoon meeting.
Traveling on bicycle proved to be a great way to explore the city. Traveling around by U-Bahn and on foot, my impression had been that Berlin was a massive, sprawling, crowded urban city. On bicycle, I had found that Berlin includes extensive green space, a lot of interesting and attractive waterways, and many secret places and passages that were worth exploring. I found myself regretting that my visit to Berlin was going to be so short. Even after all of my exploring, there is so much more of the city to explore.
More Pictures of Berlin