THE CAPITAL CITY OF AN EMPIRE, BERLIN
THE CAPITAL CITY OF AN EMPIRE, BERLIN, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 28.06.2014
Berlin, the capital city of Germany, has been a popular topic for movies based around the post-war separation of the Berlin Wall. For Turkish people it has another meaning, with the highest Turkish immigrant population in the world, it has become like of a second home.
Touring Berlin, it was almost impossible to ignore the traces of war, the left overs of Nazi Germany, and all the suffering caused by the Berlin Wall.
Once the capital city of an empire, Berlin, after the loss of the Second World War, was invaded by the Allies; USA, UK, France and USSR. During the post-war separation period (1949-1990), the capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany known as West Germany was Bonn whereas the capital city of the German Democratic Republic, East Germany, was Berlin. Because of conflicts between the Allies in the west and the USSR in the east, in 1961 a wall was built along the river separating the city as east and west. After the construction of the wall, the ban on passing to the other side of the wall caused many people to be separated from their families and loved ones for 28 years. Especially the attempts of people living under the strict government of East Germany to escape via the river and reach West Berlin have been a popular topic of lots of movies based on fact, which have become a part of Germany’s sad history. Due to the restrictive communist regime the people in East Germany lived in poverty whereas, with all its property and technology, West Germany turned into one of most modern countries in Europe. The Berlin Wall, which used to be called the Wall of Shame in the west, was torn down in 1989 and the city was united again. Berlin became the capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Along with its prosperity and historical role, Berlin has always been a commercial center. These days it is a large, crowded European cultural center full of immigrants who have migrated there to work and live.
It's also the city with the highest population of Turkish people living abroad. East Berlin especially has seen many developments since the fall of the wall, and has many places worth visiting.
Places to See in Berlin
Kreuzberg is on the west side of the city and because of the high Turkish population it is also called “Little Istanbul”. In the past it used to look like just like any other immigrant neighborhood, but now it has a lot to offer. Kreuzburg has transformed into a nerve center full of life and intellectual activities with Turkish restaurants, bazaars, art galleries, shopping and entertainment centers. The neighborhood never sleeps and has something for everyone with around 200 thousand Turkish residents, Turkish visitors to Germany will feel very at home here.
Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) located in Pariser Platz was built in the 18th century and as the site where the ceremonial review of the troops used to take place, has always been a historical milestone.
The gate with the goddess of Victory depicted in a chariot drawn by four horses was part of the neutral zone after the wall was built, and today it is a symbol of the reunification. Around this area, there are the American and French Embassies, art galleries, the Kennedy Museum and just beside it, the Parliament Building, Reichstag.
Representing the return to a unified Germany and parliamentary democracy, Reichstag is a work of Lord Norman Foster. The large glass dome with stairs is a site to see for architecture lovers. If you want to have a tour of Reichstag, you have to take an appointment via the internet a few days ahead.
If you go straight ahead from Brandenburg Gate on the beautiful boulevard surrounded by the ever green Tiergarten Park, Haus der Kulturen der Welt will be the first thing that catches your eye. Designed by the architect Hugh Stubbins Jr. in 1957 it was one of the most important structures of the period. It's the house of the cultures of the world and at the same time is a convention center.
At the end of the road there is the Berlin Victory Column (Siegessaule). An 8.3m high bronze sculpture of Queen Victoria was added on the top of the column in 1906.
Beside the bronze sculpture of Victoria, you can see the official residence of the President of Germany, Bellevue Palace (Schloss Bellevue). It was built in 1789 on the banks of Spree River and was the first Neoclassical building of Germany; the garden in front of the palace is a lovely place to take a rest.
If you walk to the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, to the Potsdamer, you'll see the one of the city’s most interesting monuments, Holocoust Memorial. It was built by the architect Peter Eisenman and the engineer Buro Happold as a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe during the Second World War and was opened in 2005. It's a memorial park consisting of 2711 concrete slabs, plus there is also an information point.
One of the most important centers of the city, the Potsdamer Platz, is a very colorful square full of offices and malls. In this district you'll see colored pipes. First we thought these were installations or something but later we were shocked when we learned that they were construction water pipes and draining pipes. In order to avoid an ugly site they have been painted in lively colors.
Other interesting sights to see are the Sony Center with its interesting tent like design, The Berlin Film Museum, the Berlin Philarmonic Building, and the Daimler Complex.
The 3.5 km long main street of West Berlin, Kurfürstendamm, is known as Ku’damm for short. It's one of the most popular streets in the city, and has very contemporary scenery with lots of shops, cafes, street artists and musicians performing on the street.
On one site of the street, one of the symbols of the city Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche) is located. The church which was built at the end of the 1800s, was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War and has become a very important symbol for Berliners.
The Europa Center was built in 1960’s and is still one the most loved places from that time. The center is open 24 hours a day and holds many different shops and movie theatres. The World Fountain at the entrance of the center, Lotus Fountain within the center, and an interesting clock, working as a barometer with long tubes full of colorful liquids, are all worth seeing. There is also have a wonderful city view from the Berlin Windows on the 20th floor.
One of the biggest and most luxurious shopping centers, the renowned KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), is also here. Since its foundation in 1907 Kadewe has been considered almost as a monument, it is a must-see place for not only shoppers but also wandering gourmets.
If you’re traveling with children, don’t miss Zoologisher Garten, located near Ku’damm, it is one of the biggest zoos in the world. Opened in 1841, it is also the oldest zoo in Germany, and with its elephant sculptures at the entrance it can’t be missed.
If you want to escape the city landscape and see some greenery and beautiful gardens, I recommend Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), located in Charlottenburg and open to visitors. Sophie Charlotte, one of the nobles of the 17th century had this fabulous palace built including a large garden. There is also a little lake in the garden where you will find swans and ducks enjoying a swim. You can also take a relaxing walk in Tiergarten Park, another green place in Berlin. It is one of the world’s biggest city parks and serves as a recreation spot for Berliners.
I can say that the most fashionable street, where the modern face of Berlin can be seen, is Friedrichstraße. This is a long, large street resembling Istanbul’s Bağdat Street. Both sides of the street are crammed with luxurious shopping centers, stores, cafés and restaurants. There is also a branch of Lafayette shopping center, famous for its luxurious stores, which was designed by world famous architect Jean Nouvel. Wandering along the street, you can have a look at the historical Friedrichstadt-Palast, one of the most important entertainment centers, and if you walk downwards you will arrive Checkpoint Charlie.
One of the must-see places in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, was once the cross border area, populated by American and Soviet soldiers, between East and West Berlin. On the exit point from the west side, known as the American sector, there is still a sign that reads “You’re leaving the American sector”. There is a museum named “Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie” which has accumulated the real methods and stories of people trying to cross from east to west. Some of the methods you will come across in the museum are both shocking and ingenious, for example, people having themselves assembled in car seats. Some remains of the Berlin Wall are still standing in this area and you can purchase a small piece as a souvenir.
If you proceed through Checkpoint Charlie, you can see the open-air photograph exhibition in the Terror Museum (Topographie des Terrors).
The highest part of the Berlin Wall still remains and is being preserved and exhibited as both a shame monument and a touristic sight. If you want to visit this part of the wall, known as the Peace Monument, I suggest you head for East Side Gallery and take a walk along the wall. Each piece of graffiti, especially on the east side of the wall, is almost a work of art, and tells the longing of those living on the east side to join the west side and freedom.
The historical Oberbaumbrücke train bridge, built over the Spree River, is a must-see structure. The bridge was constructed out of wood in 1871; it is such an aesthetical work with its red brick towers on both sides.
The Mitte area of Berlin which is surrounded by canals is called Museum Island. It contains Berlin Cathedral, the Egyptian Museum, the Classical Antique Ages Museum and the famous Pergamon Museum. Museum Island was listed as a World Heritage in 1999. I highly recommend you visit Pergamon Museum, which is important especially for Turks. You’ll be amazed by the gigantic sculptures and columns, and how they ended up in Berlin.
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), built in 15th century, is Berlin’s most remarkable Protestant cathedral.
After visiting Museum Island, you can take a stroll along the monumental Karl Marx Alee, which was created in memory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and see the attention grabbingly beautiful Neptune Fountain, located a bit further along. The fountain was built in 1891. Around the Roman god Neptune, there are sculptures of women symbolizing the four big rivers of Germany: Elbe, Ren, Vistula and Oder. In front of the fountain you’ll see a Renaissance structure “Rotes Rathaus” meaning “City Council clothed in red”. Behind the fountain there is the 368m high Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm), still the highest structure in Germany, which was built by East Berlin architects in 1965. You can buy a ticket to ascend the tower and eat at its restaurant while watching the 360 degree view of Berlin.
After TV Tower, you will arrive at “Alexanderplatz” square. It is one of the most important squares of Mitte and the square’s world clock is also quite remarkable. Here you can see many people from all nations together; you can watch street artists and musicians and also shop in shopping centers. Alexanderplatz is a meeting point especially for the young. Formerly this area was within the borders of East Berlin, and was named after the Russian Tsar Alexander the first.
The places to see in Berlin are endless. Berlin Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion), built in 1936 for the Berlin Olympics, and located outside of the city center it reflects the stateliness of the Hitler period. The Old National Art Museum (Alte Nationalgalerie), Madame Tussauds Museum, where you can see wax sculptures of celebrities, the Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum), Gendarmerie Square (Gendarmenmarkt), the Prime Minister’s office (Bundeskanzleramt), "Hauptbahnhof" the central train station of Berlin with its distinct modern architecture, the center of night entertainment Oranienburger Straße, and also the amazingly well kept and beautiful city Potsdam should be added to the list.
Berlin is a historically important city and today it is one of the most important cultural centers. With Turks everywhere, you will feel at home. I suggest sparing at least a week to get the most out of your trip to the beautiful and interesting Berlin.