Berlin is a great city, and not like any other place I have been. It's a big capital city with no clear center or downtown, and almost every street has historic and ornate buildings next to angular and glassy 1960s architecture. There is construction everywhere, as old buildings are restored and new ones are built. People in Berlin seem to be going somewhere all the time, on foot and by bike and bus and train, but they are not in a rush. There is graffitti all over the city, but that doesn't mean that the neighborhood is dirty or run down, it's just... decorated. It feels kind of mismatched, but like it's supposed to be that way. Berlin felt to me like it's continually being reinvented.
Brian was in a conference during the day time, so I played tourist. On Friday I took a walking tour that covered a lot of the sights and a lot of the history of Berlin. We saw everything from the original cathedral - there has been a church on that site since the 1200s - to the site of the Nazi book burnings and the Berlin Wall memorial. About 90% of the city was destroyed in World War 2, so a lot of buildings were either rebuilt and restored, or were replaced by something more modern looking. Former East Berlin has most of the interesting tourist sites - the museums and churches and monuments. It also has the cooler, edgy sort of neighborhoods with lots of shops and restaurants. Our hotel was in former West Berlin, which was better rebuilt after the war but is also a little more plain and predictable.
On Saturday I rented a bike and did my own little tour around the city. I was impressed by how many languages I heard people speaking as they walked down the street - English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Italian, French and others I didn't recognize. I decided that you would need a week to see most of Berlin. Aside from the historic places, there are also a lot of spots for nightlife and live music and art. Even with a whole week you couldn't see all of the museums there. So I kept a map in my pocket and pedaled around town to see what I could.
Sunday was museum day. I went to the Berlin Wall memorial and a museum located on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters. After Brian's conference ended, we went to the House on Checkpoint Charlie, which is a museum about the checkpoint and the Wall in general. It was in a couple of houses that journalists used to use to observe the checkpoint, which was one of seven places where people could cross (or try to) between East and West Berlin.
|Red Rathaus and TV tower|
|Berliner Dom cathedral|