Each city has a different personality and Berlin stands out from the crowds. Its angular and modern designs contrast with the legacy of more ornate times, creating a style that is completely unique. Berlin can best be described as visually unapologetic, collectively embracing the past, present and future through art. Here are some of my favourite shots and the stories behind some of them.
If you want to feel cultured by a UNESCO World Heritage site then Museum Island is your place (yeah, the place is quite self explanatory). You could say the history of this piece of land mirrors that of Berlin and Germany as a whole: built during the 19th century with royal influences, bombed in WW2 with collections destroyed and stolen, split in half during the Cold War and reunified and reconstructed in the modern era. You’d need to be a serious museum pro to scoot round all of these in a day; I’m sad to say I prized Grace away from the Impressionism collection (I’m still crying inside) at the Alte Nationalgalerie because all the paintings were blurring into one.
The gem of Museum Island is definitely the Pergamon Museum, which also houses the Museum for Islamic Art (although the Alte Nationalgalerie is a very close second). As much as I love traditional museums, this collection felt refreshing and explored times of antiquity as well as the development of a religion often misunderstood in the West. German woodcuttings from the Middle Ages didn’t really compare to the Ishtar Gate of Babylon (an intricate 6th century BC construction of cobalt blue bricks that stands 12m high) or ornate Islamic calligraphy. It’s bit like comparing kebab shop ketchup to Heinz (oh how dare you).
Ornate Mirab (Prayer Niche) In Museum for Islamic Art (Pergamon), Museum Island
If you’re a cheap skate then seeing the Bradenburg Gate and Reichstag doesn’t cost a thing, just the energy of walking down an endless road watching your soul float away. Also, don’t defeat the aim and eat at a restaurant nearby as it will be second rate and expensive.
On a more serious note, the architectural contrast in Berlin is astounding. It’s a city that takes artistic risks, nurturing new talent. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a prime example of this, being visually imposing both above and below ground. To take up 19,0002m in central Berlin highlights the city’s dedication to confronting history in innovative ways. The information centre below ground continues the narrative created by the concrete blocks seen at street level with spotlighting, raised ceilings and podiums being placed directly below each block. Such attention to detail only reinforces the magnitude of the Holocaust and the artistic skill in finding a multidisciplinary way to approach it.
The Berlinische Galerie (Modern Art Museum) is another building that speaks volumes for Berlin, highlighting how important the city has been to the art movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. Like many of you, I love the idea of art but find it a knotty topic to explore because of the challenge in ‘reading it’ (that’s another can of worms altogether). However, I found this gallery very accessible, partly because of its largely chronological layout that really reinforced the overlapping influences of different artistic movements.
Thanks to its rocky yet vibrant past, the museum is a portal into exploring life and expression before, during, between, and after multiple wars. The works of Cornelia Schleime (whom I have called Cordelia for the past 3 months) were particularly poignant in exemplifying the rebellious qualities of the Eastern Berlin art movement under the threat of arrest. Overall, the museum’s collection highlights the strength, politics and beauty of human nature during times of adversity.
The East Side Gallery (arguably the best known part of the Berlin Wall) is a further extension of these values, exploring the pain that comes with persecution but also the hope for a better future.
That’s the point I’d like to finish on, that Berlin is a city of hope and opportunity. It has an unmistakable sentiment of internationalism and proudly wears its scars for all to see and learn from, meaning it is a blend of high society, rebellion, innovation, pain and beauty. Perhaps we have something to learn from the culture of the defeated*. Basically I’m saying go and be inspired.
Top Tips in Berlin from a not so experienced traveller
- ALWAYS ask for student tickets (they don’t check)
- Don’t go to Berlin if you’re a vegetarian or anything near (okay, go, but just expect to eat only pizza and pasta- sounds great? You’ll be praying for broccoli by the end of it)
- DO NOT follow a Top Deck barcrawl by accident. You will end up in an empty nightclub of underage children and middle-aged estate agents trying to relive their sad youth. Or maybe go for the lols and a good story to tell people.
- Set time limits for museums as they all have a lot of content to work through. This definitely caught us out (worst offender= Topographie des Terrors)
- Don’t be the idiot that brings a selfie stick into a Holocaust memorial (don’t worry it wasn’t me)
- One thing I wish I’d visited: Jewish Museum (probably over Topographie des Terrors or Bode Museum)
*I use the term defeated with regards to both world wars and how the position of losing affects the way history, and therefore culture, has been presented and perceived.