A weekend in Berlin

The Brandeburg Gate

A weekend trip as an anniversary gift

My gift to my husband for our 15th wedding anniversary was a family weekend trip to Berlin. (His to me was a two weeks family trip to the island in Australia where we honeymooned…., but that’s another story 😉 )
So I was saying, Berlin. None of us had ever been to Berlin. We have visited Frankfurt often since my sister lives there, my husband and I have both been to Munich on business trips but Berlin has been a city I have always wanted to visit, since I was a little girl.

Why Berlin? Because of books. Did I say already that I love books? Due to my migraines I have some trouble reading now, but I have read more than my share. When I was a kid I read everything I could get my hands on – all the books in my family’s library, in Italian, in English, a couple in French and in Spanish. I read the Bible, novels, spy stories, history books and treatises, Italian classical poetry and literature, English literature, Shakespeare and many others. We also had a Treccani Encyclopedia that I consulted often – there was no internet then guys!  I had my preferences though: history was a favourite of mine. Having a photographic memory – at least until the chronic migraines 😉 – the pictures in the books were imprinted in my memory. So the Ishtar Gate and the Bust of Nefertiti were more than a picture in a book: I had looked at them and fantasied about them for a long time when I was about ten.

Ah, well I also happen to have a university degree in Political Science, International Relations – so the fall of the Berlin Wall and the East Block were an important part of my university education…. Plus a friend of mine was working as the news correspondent for the Italian state TV and I got to visit her …  So I thought Berlin would be an interesting visit and a great anniversary gift.

 Berlin

We flew to Berlin on a Friday night and I had reserved an hotel that was at walking distance from the major attractions, so we had the whole Saturday and until the Sunday afternoon when we had to fly back to Zurich to visit the city.

I wanted to look at architecture, art, museums and landmarks.
Berlin is visually stunning, with modern architecture and colourful murals, for instance these famous two:

Obama's Mural
Barack Obama in a beautiful mural

and

Make art not war mural Berlin
Make art not war mural Berlin

The city has also a lot of historic buildings, some from the Nazi times.

An old Nazi eagle watches over the former State Employment Agency.
An old Nazi eagle watches over the former State Employment Agency, near Checkpoint Charlie.

 The Jewish Museum

As we were walking towards the center from our hotel, my daughter, then 12yo, saw the sign for the Jewish Museum and asked us wether we could visit it.  I said: “Of course dear” and looked at my husband. I had planned on visiting it anyway, I just never expected her to ask to visit it, it was a nice surprise to feel her interest in such a difficult topic. She kept on walking and he smiled at me – oh my God she’s growing up!

The Jewish Museum deserves a whole day: there is so much to see and to experience. Personally I found the impact of the architect’s work (Daniel Libeskind) incredible. The whole new building uses architecture to transmit feelings to the visitor. The feelings that he wants you to experience are the sense of loss and despair, but also hope. The items that impressed me the most are the Holocaust Tower and the Garden of Exile.

The Holocaust Tower

The Holocaust Tower is a very tall room crafted out of concrete, with no heating, soundproofed and lit only by a slit-like opening on the top that lets in few grey light rays.
I could try to describe how it makes you feel, but honestly despair is the only word that comes to mind…

Berlin Jewish Museum – The Holocaust Tower

The Garden of Exile

This garden has a slanted pavement in order to let you feel physically off balance when you walk in and around it.

BJMGardenofExile
The garden of Exile of the Berlin Jewish Museum from outside. The pavement slant is clearly visible.

There are 49 large square based columns (stelae) that grow out of the slanted floor and on the top of each a tree has been planted as a symbol of hope.

BJM The Garden of Exile
Walking through this garden is an upsetting sensation, but looking up you see the sky and the trees, and it gives you some hope.

The sense of being unbalanced is what the architect wants you to experience in order to make you connect to the sense of displacement suffered by the people that were exiled. Still, if you raise your head you see the trees on top of the stelae and the sky and you feel hope.

BJM The Garden of Exile wild plants
Little wild plants growing along the grey concrete of the Garden of Exile at the Berlin Jewish Museum

The football match

On Saturday evening I organised dinner with my friend so we went to a nice … Italian restaurant – I know, I usually never go to Italian restaurants when I am abroad, I rather like local cuisine, but it was the best we could do, since there was the final Bundesliga Cup Football match between Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund that evening and the restaurant was showing the match live it on a couple of large screen TVs. I don’t really care about football but my friend, my husband and my kids are big fans, so…

The next day we found an open Bayern München shop and we had to buy something for the kids.

Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall

My daughter had a friend in kindergarten, whose family came from East Germany. Her grandmother actually fled during the night with her two kids, hidden in a grocery truck by her lover and father of her children. She risked her life and that of her children and was not able to tell her own family about her plans because they would have been interrogated and probably tortured… I still remember the goose bumps as she told us their family’s story over a barbecue, as the little girls (my daughter and her friend were 5 years-old at the time) played in the garden.

Standing there, next to the wall I thought of all the people that were shot trying to escape from the DDR (East Germany) to Western Germany as well as of all the ones that had to live in a fractured country, under a totalitarian regime.

A hole in the Wall
Through a hole in what has remained of the Berlin Wall life goes on, on a Vespa.

To think how much things have changed since that fateful November 9th, 1989 when the wall started to come down… Now Germany is united and a world power, the regions that made up East Germany are still poorer than the others but it has come a long way…

Berlin Wall Memento
A Memento of the Berlin Wall just opposite a shopping center

Neues Museum and Nefertiti

We walked to the Museum Island because I wanted to visit the Neues Museum for Nefertiti and the Pergamon Museum for the Ishtar Gate.

Nefertiti, the beautiful one has come forth
Nefertiti – The beautiful one has come forth

The Neues Museum is very interesting, unfortunately my kids were starting to get bored with the visit and I had not enough time to really enjoy it all so I concentrated my attention to getting to the Nefertiti  room where I spent more than half an hour studying the beautiful bust that had captured my imagination so many years ago. It is really stunning, if you think it was made some 3.400 years ago..

I loved Berlin and have to say that just to see its museums a weekend is not enough time. I was able to see Nefertiti but we didn’t have enough time for the Pergamon… I will have to go back another time 🙂 !

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2 thoughts

  1. Enjoyed reading your post. I have visited Berlin many times as I have a very good friend who lives there. My first visit was when the wall as still enforced. You’ve made me want to visit again.

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