I am holding multiple perspectives of my trip to Berlin last month that I want to share with my future self along with a quick summary of the trip. I went with my Mother for three days. She was there last time in 1987 and never ventured to West Berlin. I did managed to cross the magical “West” around the same time for a few hours and I also passed through Berlin a week before the Wall came down in 1989. So we both wanted to check out the new/changed city. Hence the first perspective: comparison with itself from almost 30 years ago. I think the most memorable difference is the contrast between the vast empty spaces back then around the Wall–along with the general dreary grayness–versus the bustling constructions and new buildings everywhere. Yes, the changes on the streets could not be more tangible. We didn’t venture out too much to the East and West part of the city, so couldn’t fully compare the success of the unification. However we got the sense that it is mixed success. There are parts where it was hard to decide/remember whether which side we were on. Other spots were clearly belonged to one or the other too in their former selves.
We met an old friend from Hungary who has been living in Berlin for decades. He wasn’t the only one who described the city as “livable”. I cannot imagine a highest praise for a city. After all that’s what city folks want to do there live. This is where the second perspective comes in. We came directly from Budapest. Which is a great place to visit. It can also be made quite comfortable if one puts the effort in it and ha the resources to do so. However in Berlin I felt that the leaders of the city do a lot, including legislation and the way they must make decisions (involving the populace and experts) to ensue that the city serves its inhabitants and visitors. This concerted effort seems to be lacking in Budapest. So from the second perspective, comparing contemporary Berlin to Budapest the former comes out as a winner. It was most obvious when we were looking at the people on the streets, buses or S-Bahns. And I am not just talking about the multitude of skin colors and styles/types of people who coexist cheerfully. (After we returned to Hungary and watched the people on the public transportation they seemed so monotone, way less vibrant.) No, the its the general outlook and the mode of the people that I found more interested/interesting in Berlin. Yes, a lot of people look at their smartphone at both places, which seems alienating. However Berliners also looked up and were engaged with their surroundings and people lot more. And their face was more vivid, alive. Hungarians just keep looking stressed and sad. (Of course it is a gross generalization, there are lots of counterexamples in both cities, but I am just sharing trends I noticed.)
My third and final perspective came form the fact that I have been living in the US for 21 years and somewhat internalized its culture and frame of reference. Looking at Berlin as an American tourist was also refreshing. “We, Americans” are used to convenience, we like when things are arranged in a way that is easy to access, digest, consume. Berlin is a vary tourist friendly city. The signs are clear and unambiguous, everyone speaks at least some English, the spectacles are numerous, well maintained and vary enough to keep the visit interesting. One can find any kind of cuisine at any price range, although didn’t see “traditional American” food; not that I was looking hard. So my American self was fully satisfied with the visit.
So what did we do and see? Here are some highlights along with links to the images I took
- The afternoon of the day we arrived Stiftung Neue Synagoge (official site, my pics) Old, partially destroyed/reconstructed synagogue including a rebuilt dome, with a nice vista I ventured up to.
- Mitte district (my pics), where we stayed and wandered around quite a bit
- We started off the second day, our first full by going next door to our lodging to the Designpanoptikum – surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte (aka Surreal Museum of Industrial Object (official site, my pics). It was well worth the entrance fee.
- Then we went to the free, Tuesday noon lobby concert at the Berliner Philharmonie (official oncert description, video segment of the show) where we listened to Beethoven’s Romance in F major op. 50 and César Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A major. The same day we checked out an outdoor exhibition about the Nazi’s euthanasia program, the Sony Center at Potsdamer Pl, the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Tor, the LaFayette (French department store) (see pics of this part of the day).
- Still the same day we saw Gendarmenmarkt, the Ritter Sport chocolate store, Alexanderplatz, had coffee with a friend and took a double decker bus to see the West side of the city (see pics).
- We packed the next day tight too. Visited two major museums Pergamon and Alte Nationalgalerie (see my pics), utterly enjoyed the DDR/East Germany museum, checked out the Aqua Dom, “a 25 m (82 ft) tall cylindrical acrylic glass aquarium with built-in transparent elevator” (wiki) and at the end of the day took an hour long boatride on the river Spree (pics).
- Our flight left on the afternoon of the next day, but that didn’t stop us from going to Checkpoint Charlie on our way to the Jewish Museum, where our visit was cut shor as we had to head back to the airport. (pics)
P.s. From the hundreds of pictures I took on this trip I chose the one you see above, because it represent my biggest experience. I had a strong epiphany that I do love my life, which is how the German text translates.