Berliner Philharmonie, completed 1963
A beautiful, modern building; gleaming with new-world building materials. Inspiring, unique design; interesting as a site and up close.
Bundestag U-Bahn Station, completed 1994
This station is just outside the Reichstag. It is on a very short segment of the U-Bahn, still under construction. The interior looks like it could have been used in a sci-fi movie. Wait a minute, it was used in a sci-fi movie; two in fact – Resident Evil and Æon Flux. Cool.
This is a view of the open space between Bundeskanzlerampt and Paul Lobe Haus, adjacent to Tiergarten, looking toward the Reichstag. I came by twice and couldn’t bring myself to stand in line long enough to enter the Reichstag.
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral Church)
It looks as if this was one of the lucky beauties to make it through the war unscathed. But it was in fact destroyed by a single liquid incendiary bomb in 1944. Reconstruction did not begin until 1974 and was not completed until 2002. It is located on Museum Island, just north of Schlossplatz (the main thoroughfare that runs east from Brandenburg Gate to Alexanderplatz. The lawn in front was full of picnickers.
Potsdamer Platz
After WWII rubble was cleared, a 30 acre wasteland was left where Potsdam Gate once stood, a historic portal in the city wall where the road from Potsdam entered. Then the Wall came in 1961, bisecting the area, rendering redevelopment a conundrum. Tearing down the Wall in 1989 suddenly made this area the hole in the donut - the last big chunk of vacant prime real estate available for building. Developers drooled. The city government held a redevelopment design contest, then sold the area in four chunks to commercial investors who agreed to develop the property according to the winning plan. The entire process and what was created by it was hugely controversial – still is. Personally, I was thrilled by the variety of architecture in this area. And, if user reviews matter, this appeared to be one the most popular areas of the city. (Of course, department stores and movie house account for some of the crowd.)
Otto Bock Building, Completed 2009
One of the smaller architectural wonders I delighted in.
Sony Center, Potsdamer Platz
A wild building of many different textures with an attractive atrium at its center.
After the original was destroyed in 1943, it was decided to build a replacement next to it, which was completed in 1963. Stabilization of the original ruin is still going on inside an artful, temporary façade.
The new church is an octagon of some 20,000 stained glass blocks.
Outside view showing assemblage of blocks.
Inside view of the blocks. Although the glass is predominantly blue, artful traces of other colors wind through it. The scope of the design, the subtle way in which the trace colors spread across multiple blocks and panels is awesome and mesmerizing.
The floor design inside the church continues on the outside of the entrance in a simpler pattern.
The floor design inside the church continues on the outside of the entrance in a simpler pattern.
Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial is a very interesting space. I spent a long time here taking it in. Although the starkness of the blocks and the size of the space they inhabit gives pause, there is no signage to explain to passers-by what they are looking at. The trees on the western edge and the blocks at chair height create a comfortable social space and invite further exploration. Two or three official representatives of the information center, underground, at the rear of the complex busy themselves handing out leaflets describing the memorial and reminding people of proper behavior at a memorial. People are invited to walk through, but are chastised for walking on top of the blocks, which, in their various sizes are reminiscent of tombs.
Holocaust Memorial
Both the height of the blocks and the terrain varies, creating a wall height of 15 feet in some places. The distance between blocks is wide enough for two people to pass in one direction, not wide enough to pass in the other direction.
Cobble Stones
In the area of my hotel, around Olivaer Platz, there were some older streets I loved to walk and admire these small, hand-laid cobble stones. The paving had showed such craft I couldn’t get over the care that had gone into it.
I also happened to see a number of “stolpersteine” on my meanderings. Stolpersteine (or “stumbling stones”) took on a different meaning in 1993, when Gunter Demnig got the idea to make little brass-plated cobble stones in commemoration of individual victims of Nazism. The idea is to set them amongst the cobble stones outside the entrance of the last known address of the victim. They are marked with the name, year of birth, death, and cause of demise – as much as is known. Started in Cologne, there are now thousands of stolperstein in hundreds of cities across several countries.
East Side Gallery
On the East bank of the Spree River stands a kilometer of the original Wall intact. In 1990, artists from all over the world painted it with over 100 pictures. The subjects run from humorous to dark, political to sexual.
East Side Gallery
The original works have suffered heavily from the elements and vandalism. Renovation has further destroyed some of the artwork, sparking a court case to determine the balance of rights between the original artists and the restorers.
East Side Park
The tradition of painting walls continues on panels erected in East Side Park, a green space created between the surviving Wall and the Spree river. What could be better than heading down to the park on Sunday afternoon, drinking a few beers and watching one of your buddies spray paint a new masterpiece before your eyes?
Schlesische Strasse
There are some atmospheric city blocks in the area of Schlesische Tor that are clustered with little shops and restaurants. Also in this area are a number of big wall paintings. I particularly liked this whimsical piece.
Near the close of the 1950’s, the US opened a listening station in what was the British sector of Berlin, on top of a hill that was created by dumping nearly 35 million cubic yards of debris from western Berlin.
This became an important US intelligence outpost that ended up employing thousands and continuing to grow throughout the cold war. It was closed after the fall of East Germany. Investors bought the property, intending to build apartments and hotels, but that project went bust.
Since then the area has been declared park land and the hollowed-out buildings have been vandalized. The place is strewn with garbage. It looks like Burners or Goths camp out on the grounds. I paid a hippy admission and signed a release form at the gate. Who he represented was unclear, but I wasn’t going to raise a stink over eight euros.
The view from the top looked like a set out of “Def-Con 4”. While I was snapping pictures I struck up a conversation with an LA dude who turned out to be a former NSA employee who spent a few years working on “The Hill”.
City Nacht
A 5k/10k run happened to be routed down a street that ran past my hotel on the Saturday evening I was in town.
Heidelbeere Kuchen
No trick photography – this is an enormous piece of my favorite dessert: fresh blueberries held together with gelatin on top of Bavarian cream on top of thick pie crust. I pointed to what I wanted, expecting the lady to bring me half of the piece on the platter. That alone would have been generous. But, this is what she served. (Actually, I think they were set up mainly for take away and this was meant for two.) Just in case it was possible for me not to think I was being a pig, a patron chuckled and said something to me in German on her way out. I think it was something like, “You need some help with that?” Nien danke.
There is a 500 acre park stretching west from Brandenburg Gate. Much of it is woodland and there are many waterways running through it. Near the SW border, just north of the border with the zoo, there is a little lake called Neuer See on which you can rent row boats. I must have come by on absolutely the most perfect afternoon of the whole summer. People were having such fun and it all looked so romantic. It was a scene out of a storybook.
On the southern shore of Neuer See is a restaurant called Café Neuen Am See. It was packed and it smelled like a backyard barbeque. It was a great example of what I think of as German esthetic.
Hackescher Markt
Here is another romantic setting I found just north of Museum Island. The Hackescher Markt S-Bahn stop is directly above this square ringed with restaurants. This whole area was smart and trendy; interesting shops and fusion restaurants, like new world order dressed in old world charm.

Berlin, 8/1-5/2012

Last thing I remember, Berlin was a forest of building cranes following the 1999 decision to move the seat of Government back from Bonn. Mentioning this to someone on the train, I was surprised to hear that building is still booming. Suffering 80% destruction during WWII certainly opened up a lot of space for development. And, wow, they have taken on some grand construction projects in that space. If I were to sum up Berlin in a word, it would be “architecture”; grand, spacious, impressive, austere, sharp, serious stuff. To my eye, they all shout, “Respect me!” Dueling architects perhaps. I am surprised they didn’t think to create more intimate, user-friendly places amidst all the new stuff. This point is all the more curious to me  when I consider the particular appreciation Germans seem to have for atmosphere – a beautiful view, places to sit and relax, trees, candles on the table, gemütlich.