Week 9 in Europe: Spring Break Part 2 – Berlin
This week in Europe: I head to Berlin for the second half of my spring break.
Thursday – Day 8: First Thoughts
Today was my first day venturing into the city. My roommate’s aunt led us around and showed us most of the important landmarks in Berlin. The subway system here is complex and overwhelming at first, but you can get almost anywhere in the city using it. The architecture here is also a lot different than in Athens or Florence. The houses are more like what we have back in the states, and once you get into the center, there’s a lot of modern architecture. We first visited Museum Plaza, which had an elaborate set of walkways in front of the Gemäldegalerie (picture below). You can also see the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall, which is the building across the street.
Another place we went to was the Holocaust Memorial (right). The memorial is made up of 2,711 of rectangular concrete blocks, all of different heights, sitting on uneven ground. The gridded pattern creates an ordered system, but the irregularity of the blocks produces an uneasy and confusing feeling. The repetitive arrangement of the blocks also resembles a cemetery. One block away was the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most well-known landmarks in Germany. As usual, the base was completely surrounded by fences, due to some of kind of event equipment being set up nearby.
Something I noticed about the roads here is that the distance between buildings from one side of the street to the other is much more than in Florence, where sunlight rarely reaches the street level unless directly overhead. There is also a dedicated lane for bicycles, with bikers who get really pissed off if you’re walking in their space.
After lunch, we wandered around the Jewish area in the northern half of the city. What made this area so unique was the amount of artwork filling the streets; one entire wall was covered in murals of many different artists while red, orange and yellow flags hung from ropes that crossed overhead.
Around the bend, there was a huge metal sculpture that looked like some kind of insect, and beyond that was a roof covered in giant bubble-like spheres. To wrap up the day, was a trip to the Victory Column. Standing at roughly 220 feet tall, it was completed in 1873 to celebrate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War. A narrow spiral-staircase brought us up to the top, where a bronze sculpture of Victoria stood on top. The column offered amazing views of Berlin from all directions. Plus, we went during sunset, so the lighting made the views even better.
Friday – Day 9: Olympic Park, Funkturm, Reichstag & Sony Center
The next day, we met up with one of our friends from UMass who was studying abroad in Berlin. He lived up in the northern area, across the river. Even though the Berlin Wall has been long demolished, the differences between the two sides can still be seen today. Trams are only used in East Berlin while buses, typically double-decker, are used in the west. Our first stop of the day was the Olympic Park. The main attraction was the stadium, built for the 1936 summer Olympics. It was recently renovated for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, so it was much more modern than it used to be.
There was a swimming facility next to the stadium which wasn’t as well kept as its neighbor. The next landmark on our stop looked like a mini Eiffel Tower. The Berlin Funkturm is a radio tower where you can take an elevator up to an observation deck at the top. The weather wasn’t the best for views, since the fog limited how far we could see, but it was still fun. My friends said they could feel the tower swaying in the wind, but I couldn’t. Right before getting back in the elevator for the ride down, you could look through the small crack between the platform and the car and see all the way to the bottom.
A quick hamburger pit stop and a break in the afternoon preceded our visit to the Reichstag Building – the German parliament building. A renovation in 1999 restored the building back to working order after having been severely damaged in 1933. A glass dome on the top allows the public to get a glimpse of the parliament hall below, while offering views of the Berlin skyline from the top (bottom left).
To wrap up the evening, we all met up with one of our other friends who was visiting from Prague for an architecture summit. We walked through the Sony Center complex, at Potsdamer Platz. I’ll let the picture below tell the rest of the story.
Saturday – Day 10: Jewish Museum, Panoramapunkt, Nice Cars & Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Saturday was out last full day in Berlin. After a later than expected start to our day, we all headed over to the Jewish Museum. A new addition to the old museum opened in 2001, which drastically changed the whole experience of the visit. For me, the journey through the building was more fascinating than seeing the artifacts and history inside, but that’s because I’m an architecture major. The addition is zig-zagged in shape, and the visit started in the basement level. From there, we proceeded up to the top floor, and worked our way down. The most memorable part of the museum was the memory void. 10,000 faces punched out of steel discs fill the open floor space, and as you walk over them, the metal clanging sounds echo throughout the cavernous space (below).
Panoramapunkt is an observation deck on the 24th floor at Potsdamer Platz. The building also has the fastest elevator in Europe. At the top, is 360 degree views of the city, and the only view that beats this one is from the 1,200 foot TV tower, but the wait was too long when we went. I was able to stick my GoPro camera out between the bars and get some pretty cool shots, including the one to the right. Back on the ground, we walked through the Sony Center again and came across a bunch of sports cars parked in front of the Ritz Carlton Hotel across the street, including a Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Aston Martin. When the Ferrari pulled out, it took off down the road, making the best sound I’ve ever heard from a car.
Later that night, I went out with my friend from Berlin to take some night photography. I got my best shots at Hauptbahnhof, the main train station in Berlin. The station is made up of 3 levels, with train service running on the top and bottom, and pedestrian access in the middle. We arrived by train on the top platform, and walked out to the end, where I got the shot below. After some time there, we took an elevator down to the bottom. Since it was so late, no trains where running down here and it gave me a chance to admire the architecture of this modern station.
The trip of my lifetime was finally coming to an end, but I was happy to return back to Florence and get some rest. Constant traveling for 11 days is exhausting. Our flight from Berlin to Rome was 45 minutes late, due to engine problems. This wouldn’t have been such an issue except for the fact that the train ride from the airport to the central terminal was an hour late, which caused us to miss our high-speed train back to Florence. There wasn’t any way to get a refund, so we had to buy tickets for the next train at full price.
The moment we walked through the front door into our apartment, life was back to normal. This trip has taught me many things, but one of the most important ones was the logistics of planning the transportation for a trip like this. I feel like traveling anywhere in the world is possible once you’ve got some experience under your belt.
See all of my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ddbrown/sets/72157640640691544/.