After a series of trips outside Europe, we decided to visit one of the most historically significant cities on the European continent – Berlin. With about 3,450,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in Germany and also the capital city. By population, it is second in Europe just behind London.
Unlike most of the big cities we have visited so far, in Berlin, we did not have the feeling that this is a multimillion city. The population density is not as high as in other European capitals. The surface of the city occupies 890 square kilometers. Due to the expressive large surface area, after a 40-minute train ride from the center of Berlin, you will still be within the city limits. Germany, unlike most European countries, had an extremely high level of economic development in 2011, and this is evident in the multitude of construction sites and luxurious facilities currently under construction. It is impossible not to notice how well they have combined architecturally modern buildings with beautiful old buildings that are quite a number. More interesting is how the former old massive buildings (formerly used as barracks and warehouses) were repurposed into functional and modern centers, such as shopping malls, museums, galleries.
Tourists in Berlin mainly aim to visit the most famous historical sites that mark the city’s development and its events. There are such historical monuments all over the city, and they are quite far from each other, so this is an additional reason why you cannot fully “experience” the increase in the number of visitors who visit the city every day. If you have the opportunity to visit Berlin, reckon that you must check-in at least two days in advance to visit the Reichstag Parliament House. The Berliner Dom, one of the most significant of the many churches in Berlin, can be visited on the same day without notice. The entrance is charged 10 euros, but arm yourself with patience because due to the extreme interest of tourists, you may wait a while. Although we believe that paying for a visit to the churches is not in the spirit of the same, we must say that it is still worth it to pay a ticket and see the inner decoration of the church. Besides, you have the opportunity to climb high on its dome and walk outside, offering a magnificent view of this great city. We would like to point out that in some other smaller churches, there is also an entrance fee, plus a photo license, but since there is nothing so special about them to be perpetuated, it is our advice not to pay that extra amount.
Before visiting Berlin, our perceptions of it were completely different from those which we have acquired after arriving in the city. What we were most interested to see were the remains of the Berlin Wall, which left such a deep mark in the history of the town, and especially among those who unfortunately experienced it and felt it on their skin. To remind, Berlin was divided into eastern and western parts in 1961, although the city itself was entirely located in East Germany and the German Democratic Republic. With the fall of communism in 1989, the wall was demolished, and Berlin became the capital of a united Germany.
Expecting to find traces of the wall at the site where it was built, we were left a bit surprised because the wall was almost completely removed, and parts of the wall could be found “scattered” in various locations of the city like a monument. The former wall was not built on the spot but was made up of large precast concrete blocks stacked side by side. Looking for the remnants of the wall, we were first instructed to look at the once main crossing between West and East Germany, the Checkpoint Charlie, where today stands two American soldiers dressed in uniforms of that time with an American flag in his hand. Behind the soldiers are Russian fur and various other hats that tourists, who want to take a picture with them, put on their heads for attraction. There is also a beautifully decorated museum with its content extensively talks about Berlin during the existence of the Berlin Wall. You can buy small pieces of wall as souvenirs at different places in the city, but their credibility is questionable.
If you want to get a real picture of the city, you have to move away from the center, at least 15 – 20 minutes’ drive with a train to a peripheral part, which is not as regulated as the center. We set off on a tour of the eastern part of the city, where some of the old and abandoned buildings can still be seen, which give the impression of what the city looked like before the wall was removed. Also nearby is The East Side Gallery, the longest set-up of artwork in the world. It is a 1.3 km long wall made up of original blocks of the Berlin Wall, painted by 105 artists from around the world. That wall is an expression of the artistic freedom that reigns in Berlin. Substantial opportunities are given to artists who are in large numbers in the city. They express their art in various ways but never enough space. So they draw on different walls, doors, windows and thus transform ordinary city streets into street galleries of graffiti that often express the emotions of artists or contain messages that artists send to city dwellers, the government, or the whole world.
Berlin is quite tidy and clean, giving the impression of security at all times of the day and night. For a relatively low price, you can reach the most amazing points in the city by train.
Two navigable rivers pass through Berlin the Haver and the Spree, on which was built more bridges than on countless channels through Venice. We believe that boat trips are a unique experience, but on this occasion, we did not have enough time to enjoy sailing. Probably many wonder how Berlin’s nightlife looks like. We can say that this city offers countless places for different tastes, from very luxurious and expensive restaurants and nightclubs to modest, but always original, decorated bars. Berlin is quite tidy and clean, giving the impression of security at all times of the day and night. For a relatively low price, you can reach the most amazing points in the city by train. If the weather permits, we would recommend cycling through the city, which is very interesting because there are no hills and bike lanes are throughout the city. In addition to being on the move, you will avoid unnecessary traffic jams. If you are walking in the city, be careful not to follow the bike trails, as this will cause the cyclist anger.
Accommodation in the narrow and broader city center is quite expensive. If you want to spend an inexpensive night there, be prepared for very modestly decorated hotels. For shopping lovers, there is no end to the pleasure of top-notch offer, the only limit is the depth of your pocket. Shopping centers are concentrated on the Potsdamer Platz, but the most exclusive centers are in the heart of Berlin, such as the Lafayette Gallery or the Hackesche Höfe. The Lafayette Gallery is built in the heart of the city, where are boutiques of all the world’s most expensive brands, not just fashion but also cars. Thus on the main street, you can see huge showrooms Mercedes, Porsche, and Bugatti. Hackesche Höfe is, in fact, a former Jewish luxury mansion with courtyards, connected by narrow aisles to create a seven-court complex. It is a shopping mall with small but very tastefully decorated shops.
There are many parks in Berlin, and the largest (covering an area of 2.3 km²) is in the city center at the Brandenburg Gate. This is Tiergarten, where the Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, is located at the entrance. Today it is one of the most fascinating sights of Berlin thanks to the renovated glass dome from which one can enjoy the beautiful view of Berlin.
Although the winters here can be quite cold and always accompanied by snow, the rest of the year provides well climatic conditions. If you do not like the cold and winter joys, then for a visit to this European capital, choose a warmer part of the year so that you do not feel the “cold” of the former Iron Curtain in the present.
TEXT & PHOTO – Lovro Barbalić