Berlin, July 2008

Fortunately, I do have contemporaneous reports written for some of my travels, which is a bit of a relief since my memory isn’t that wonderful and my photographs not particularly well captioned. This trip that I made with Chris in July 2008 was enormous fun and I’m delighted to find that I recorded so many details of city life rather than simply dwelling on the contents of the fabulous museums. Here is what I wrote about Berlin upon my return.

I’m not sure what my expectations were when I traveled with a companion to make my first visit to Berlin, indeed, my first to a former soviet country. I certainly got a surprise at Tegal airport’s BVG kiosk, when the attendant refused to sell me two 48 hour bus/underground passes. No, he said firmly, if you have another type of weekend pass it will cost you half the price. Transport to the centre of town is very simple, the X9 does indeed get you there fastest, and more surprises awaited at Norlandorfsplatz, our appointed destination.

Our instructions for finding our friend’s flat were categorical; while orientating ourselves from the station we should take time to admire the distinctive art deco architecture of the Metropol concert hall. Fortunately we only had hand baggage but, even so, being hot and tired from the flight we did not stop for photographs. The flat was on the third floor without a lift and, in addition to giving a brief outline of the Berliner Hof building style, the instructions were very specific about resting half way up. We were beginning to get the feel of German life.

Norlandorfsplatz is a safe residential area situated only a few U-Bahn stops from the City centre. It is clean and pleasant and only a keen eye would discern the fact that the military supply shops also sell interesting leather outfits. A few gentlemen walk hand in hand and my companion’s slightly drooping eyelid caused him to receive one or two interesting winks. Of more immediate interest, however, was Kaisers, the excellent local supermarket/delicatessen. Here, apart from the wonderful array of delicacies, we found the first real indication of how much cheaper life is in Berlin. Whether it is spent on travel, accommodation, food or entry tickets, the Euro seems to go a lot further here than it does in Paris or Dublin.

Berlin’s number 100 bus must be one of the best sightseeing tours in Europe, running from the Zoolological Gardens in the West to Alexanderplatz in the East and taking in such sights as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, the Tiergarten and the Riechstag. With our weekend passes we rode it a number of times and found it excellent for both photo opportunities and for getting from museum to gallery to museum. These central parts of the city showed little, if any, evidence that Berlin was so brutally and so recently divided. Potsdamer Platz positively glitters with new commercial architecture, the Kulturforum sprawls with more museums, galleries and concert halls than most visitors could possibly do justice to and all along the avenue of Unter Den Linden the stately grandeur of Imperial Berlin is being carefully restored. The Berlin Wall has been most fittingly broken up and made into paperweights and fridge magnets. Yes, of course I bought one.

Museum Island, located two bus stops East of the Brandenburg Gate is one of the greatest treasure chests of Western civilization; with Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections to rival anything in the British Museum or the Louvre. Even more exciting though, is the Pergamon Museum with its breathtaking restorations of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate and the great Pergamon altar. These particular parts of the museum complex often become very crowded, with the tour buses queuing all along the opposite bank but such visitors come and go like flocks of starlings and the lone traveler can avoid them. After all, there is just so much more to see. Also on the island, the Berliner Dom, is a protestant cathedral with a dazzling neo-baroque interior. It would be quite miss-able but for an absolutely splendid, life-sized bronze rendering of death (if indeed death can be life-sized), complete with his cloak, scythe and ledger.

While my companion rested, a special excursion took me out to the Schloss Charlottenburg in search of Heinrich Schliemann’s legendary Trojan hoard. Here, at the end of a long walk through some beautiful grounds where the English eye couldn’t help but notice a certain Teutonic regularity to the herbaceous borders, I found the classical scholars’ holy grail. The attendant in the little museum was quick to point out that the gold items of Priam’s treasure were all reproduction but I explained that I had come all the way from the windy hill of Hisarlik in search of ceramic and bronze. Once I had found what I was looking for I discovered that the museum also contained many other treasures including a breathtaking collection of gold jewellery from the ancient tribes of Germania and Gaul. This was definitely not reproduction and certainly nothing to apologize for.

Grateful for such a charming and comfortable stay, I left Berlin with mixed feelings at the end of my four day visit. I found myself sorry to have been unable to fit in more of the wonderful sights and experiences but delighted with the discovery of a city so inspiring and so welcoming that I shall undoubtedly return before too long.

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