Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Quick Drive Around Berlin

This afternoon we met our new friend, Lutz - an excellent journalist and writer - at Barcomi's Deli in Mitte, the central district of Berlin. Mitte was apparently the site of the original small town of Berlin. This was the first of many interesting facts and insights into the city that Lutz gave us today. We thought that we were just meeting him for a quick coffee and a hello, but that's not what he had planned for us...

Lutz whisked us away in his car and gave us an awesome free tour of the city. Like Los Angeles, a couple of hours of driving around does not even begin to cover all of the sights and neighborhoods of this place, but it was a fantastic introduction.
The German Cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt

We rolled through Mitte and onto Museum Island, the site of a number of monumental buildings with many rich layers of European history. We stopped for a few minutes next to the Lustgarten between the Berlin Cathedral and the Altes Museum. Lutz told us that there were once four buildings surrounding this square, and that they represented the four pillars of society - church, state, military, and the arts. The state in this case was a castle which was destroyed, and a new building is being constructed there now (which is something Berlin is known for doing).

We pulled up aside the Gendarmenmarkt. This beautiful plaza is home to the Konzerthaus in the center, and flanked by the identical French and German Cathedrals. We were told that this plaza is absolutely lovely in the summertime, and filled with people, art, and music. A place we will definitely return to!

We drove by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a chilling monument that we will come back to spend time at and fully absorb its impact.

Another sobering sight was Bebelplatz, where some of the Nazi book burnings took place. The building next the square was apparently the library from which they pulled the books they deemed necessary for destruction. We will return here as well, because in the center of the plaza there is a window in the cobblestones with a view of empty bookcases which would fit the 20,000 burned books.

We passed through the developing Moabit neighborhood, and the Schoneberg and Wilmersdorf area, where Lutz highlighted Viktoria-Luise-Platz, one of his favorite spots. It looked like a very nice neighborhood with a lot of pretty apartment buildings and little restaurants. We also passed through Charlottenberg, and down Kurfurstendamm, as well as past the gay-friendly area of Nollendorfplatz.

We drove through the beautiful, wintery Tiergarten, the famous central park of Berlin. This took us around the Berlin Victory Column as dusk fell.

The Berlin Victory Column
We ended our tour with a freezing walk to the top of a hill in Kreuzberg. At the summit there is the Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars, and a magnificent vista of Berlin stretching in all directions. This is one spot that we will come back to on a warmer, less windy day so we can actually appreciate the view!

This was a great way to spend our fifth day in Berlin, and an easy, relaxing way to sightsee with a very knowledgeable guide! As much as we look forward to spending time at these places on foot, the comfort of the chauffeured car was a great perk. We feel like we've gained a lot of inspiration for getting out and seeing the city in the coming weeks.

Having friends like Lutz to help us get to know Berlin is a wonderful thing. This place is huge and exciting, and full of history and beauty around every corner. Lutz said that Berlin is a city that is not as known for its beauty as Paris or London, but that the beauty is hidden. But, I found myself disagreeing for at least one reason. Coming from LA, and seeing, as I did today, so many people on the sidewalks walking together and biking on the streets, instead of everyone alone in their cars, I began to see beauty all around me.

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