No Need to Rush Berlin

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004: Berlin, Germany

Berlin is a huge city with so much to see that we have decided to stay a few days longer and not rush our visit. It is sunny and gloriously warm again today. We enjoy our morning and decide to focus on a walking tour of the older parts of Berlin, some of which we stumbled across yesterday. We select some bread and fruit for lunch from the Turkish gentleman across the street from our flat and grab the U-bahn and start our tour.

A Two Hour Tour

Our tour takes about 2 hours and focuses on Old Berlin (what there is left of it), most of which is in the former East Berlin. The city certainly doesn’t amaze you as you turn every corner but, the Pergamonmuseum, the Altes Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, which are all situated on Museum Island, and the Gendarmenmarkt, which sells itself as the most beautiful square in Berlin, all are wonderfully striking areas to enjoy. And of course the Doms: The Glorious Berliner Dom (which is, despite the +/- 250 rather creepy sarcaphogi of the Hohenzollerns in the crypt, spectacular), the Französicher Dom and the Deutscher Dom all stand out as beautiful tributes to a glorious pre-war city, surviving a post-war communist tear down of much of what remained. Berlin has its own distinctive feeling – not as romantic as St. Petersburg or Istanbul – but nonetheless rare and compelling.

Dinner in Hackescher Markt

We have plans to meet our friend Derek this evening for dinner and we wind our way over to the Hackescher Markt and the neighbourhood of Scheunenviertel, which is close to the old Jewish quarter of the city. Derek gives us a min-tour of the area showing us small memorials and buildings that have been left intact after the war, bullet holes included. We walk another block and Derek points out where a building once stood. It was obviously bombed during the war and the building was not replaced. The row of tenements on either side of this open space are as they were, somewhat modernized but still standing. On the inward facing walls of those remaining buildings are the names of Jewish families, inscribed on big plaques legible from street level, placed where their flats once were. It is a little chilling. We pass the Neue Synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis on Krystallnacht and now completely rebuilt. It is heavily guarded by Berlin police officers.

We have a good nosh of Thai food on a patio overlooking the square that is abruptly interrupted by a tremendous thunder and lightning storm that quickly overtakes the city. We run to the S-bahn, which cannot contain the torrents of rain, wait it out a bit and take the train to Derek’s car where we ride through the flooded streets to our neighbourhood and head to a bar to continue our interrupted, wet catch-up.

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