Berlin is probably at the top of people’s “must do” destination list. As it should be. It is culturally diverse and historically rich with beautiful architecture and stunning nature. A city that never stands still and is forever becoming. That’s the Berlin I’ve experienced.
Berlin is the first European city I’ve travelled to, my first solo travel experience in 2004. As a wandering spirit yearning to explore the entire world, I was very frustrated that I was in my early 20s and had only been to three countries. I therefore applied to a language institute in Berlin that offers TEFL certificates, after a month-long intensive course, to become a certified English teacher.
The flight to Berlin was tiresome and uneventful, but flying over Berlin took my breath away and gave me goosebumps. The entire land was so green and beautiful, with lakes and forests, and my eyes literally hurt while I was taking in the view.
It was very exciting to be in a great city that holds so much history, even though it is one of the younger European capitals. I stayed in Turmstrasse – Alt Moabit in the green Teirgarten, which is located west of Central Berlin, and divided into eight sightseeing areas.
The historic core is located along the eastern and northern banks of the river Spree, around Unter den Linden and on Museum Island. Further west is Kurfurstendamm or Ku’damm, the centre of former West Berlin and also the location of the school I was attending.
Finally, at the edge of the city centre is the summer residence of the Prussian kings, the Schloss Charlottenburg. In the 19th century, luxurious buildings were developed along Ku’damm, and the connecting areas of Breitscheidplatz and Wittenbergplatz became full of hotels and department stores.
Some travelers say that Berlin isn’t the easiest city to move around in, but I found it very convenient. Residents can be able to survive and commute in the city without a car. Only a map of the two separate train networks – the U-Bah and S-Bahn – is needed to explore the city.
Cycling is also very popular in Berlin, so most of the main roads have separate cycling lanes and special traffic lights at intersections. You can even take your bike on to trains. While you stand at a pedestrian crossing, you can hear a monitor that produces a loud or soft sound that directs blind commuters, which I believe transmits a positive image of German culture.Walking around the city and watching people of cultures and backgrounds going about their lives is very fulfilling.
Since I arrived to the city at the end of June, I had the pleasure, although unwittingly, of attending Christopher Street Day. To those of you who don’t know, it’s the gay and lesbian parade named after a guy named Christopher who was murdered because of his sexual preference, or so I was told.
For a somewhat religious Muslim girl, who lived all her life in the Middle East, the experience was quite shocking. I’ve seen examples of “the forbidden life” on TV but witnessing it in real life, in living color, is a different experience. People of different sizes, shapes, gender, and colors were riding huge trucks with their stereos on full volume and dancing seductively at the people walking by. I can’t really describe what they were wearing because they weren’t wearing much. Very intriguing.
Throughout my stay in Berlin I visited many popular sites. One of the most significant places is the Berliner Dom located on Museum Island. Built between 1747 and 1750, the original Berliner Dom was based on a modest Baroque design by Johann Boumann.
The present Neo-Baroque structure in the interior is the work of Julius Raschorff and dates from 1894 to 1905. Following severe World War II damage, the cathedral has now been restored in a simplified form. It was absolutely breath taking, standing inside the Dom with its beautiful stained glass windows that depict scenes of the life of Jesus, and mosaics depicting the Four Evangelists.
Also one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kirche, a vast Neo-Romanesque church that was designed by Franz Schwechten. It was constructed in 1895 but was destroyed by bombs in 1943. After WW II, the ruins were removed leaving only the massive front tower at the base which the Memorial Hall is situated. Amazing.
Berlin also has a huge number of museums, hence Museum Island, which contain all you need to know about a number of cultures, countries, and religions all over the world. My favorite was the Jewish Museum. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-Jewish architect based in the United States, the exhibition has gathered together many artifacts that bring to life the memories, stories and culture of Germany’s Jewish community and the repercussions of the Holocaust.
Since at the time I had not known much about the Jewish way of life and beliefs, I was astounded to discover how similar we were in our traditions, culture, and thoughts, which makes what going on right now in the world very annoying. It was really depressing to walk along the long, narrow galleries interspersed by voids that represent the vacuum left behind by the destruction of Jewish life.
Another museum I really enjoyed was the Pergamon. Built between 1912 and 1930, it houses one of the most famous collections of antiquities in Europe, the results of large-scale excavations by German archaeologists. The museum owes its name to the famous Pergamon Alter, featuring the goddess Athena and a battle between the gods and giants, located in the main hall. In addition to housing the Pergamon Alter, the Greek and Roman Antiquities hall contains fragments of other Pergamon structures and Roman architecture represented by the striking market gate from the Roman city of Miletus. The Near Eastern Antiquities hall was made up of sculptures, architectures, and jewelry from Babylon, Iran and Assyria. And finally, the Islamic Art hall, which began in 1904 when Wilhelm von Bode launched the collection by donating his own extensive collection of carpets, and now contains facades and carpets from Jordan, Iran, Asia Minor, Egypt and Caucasus.
No one can leave Berlin without visiting the famous Checkpoint Charlie, the notorious Cold War border crossing between the American and Soviet sectors. Between 1961 and 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was the only crossing point for foreigners between East and West Berlin. During that time, it represented a symbol both freedom and separation for the many East Germans trying to escape from the communist regime.
It was surreal, standing at the replica booth at the former Checkpoint Charlie and thinking that there were people standing at the same spot fighting for their lives and freedom. It was also surreal standing on the line the marks where the Berlin Wall used to be.
Meanwhile, the city of Berlin has a massive selection of restaurants, as every multicultural society should – Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Jewish, Somalian, Italian, and Lebanese among others. You could pick a different cuisine depending on your mood each day, and I had so much fun discovering all the tastes and flavors.