Berlin: Gate without a wall

By Mike Yardley


Mighty Berlin, the city that stood on the seismic faultlines of the 20th century, is haunted by its sooty Cold War image. It's a city of monumentality in a state of organic transformation, where the vestiges of Nazi and Soviet architecture jostle with pulsating feats of cutting-edge design.

It's been nearly 20 years since I visited Berlin, and the first impression was the conspicuous absence of the snaking concrete slabs that formed the Berlin Wall. Gazing down at the footpath, I happened to notice the unobtrusive line of cobblestones, laid to mark the Wall's former path.

If Cold War nostalgia is your bag, beat a path to Checkpoint Charlie, where East and West would face off in bristling trigger-happiness. Checkpoint Charlie is now the ultimate tourist trap with costumed officers posing for photographs in exchange for payment, plus there's all manner of kitsch Cold War souvenirs for sale.

Next to the border post is a magnificent open-air art installation that chronicles the history of the once-partitioned city and includes a huge slab of Berlin Wall. Reflect in the bewildering maze of coffin-like grey blocks of the Holocaust Memorial.

For an upbeat change of scenery, explore the baroque magnificence of Unter den Linden, Berlin's beautiful processional boulevard, flanked by a trove of museums, galleries, embassies and Berlin Cathedral. The grand avenue is headlined by the Brandenburg Gate, the German capital's most enduring landmark. Built in 1791 and crowned by the horse-drawn chariot sculpture, Quadriga, it was here that Napoleon breezed through in triumph over Prussia.

Next door is Germany's Parliament, the Reichstag. Infamously set on fire, bombed, and left to crumble, the restored building is a potent symbol of Germany's unification.

In the east of the city, all manner of macabre nostalgia draws in the tourists. There's the Stasi Museum and the Stasi Prison, but the old main square of East Berlin, Alexanderplatz, is a major magnet for its austere, brutalist architecture perpetrated by the Socialists.

To get the flavour of Berlin's muscular urban renewal, visit the new heart of the city at Potsdamer Platz. Here, you'll find a showcase of work by some of the world's finest architects.

- Hamilton News

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