Monday, March 16, 2009

A Weekend in Berlin

Perhaps moreso than our other upcoming trips, Teriann and I were excited to go to Berlin because we were going, in part, to see one of our favorite bands: the Killers. Plus, neither one of us had ever been to Germany before.

We were traveling with our flatmates Ed and Julie (here's us at the Killers concert),

and the four of us started off the trip by visiting the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and seeing a piece of the Berlin Wall that was left standing as a kind of memorial. While one is tempted to think of them as distant and ancient, I think it's astonishing how recent historical events like WWII and the civil rights movement really were; it's all the more astonishing, then, that the Berlin wall still stood during my lifetime.

Teriann's on the west side of the wall... get it? Ha!

We also visited the much-touted Daniel Liebeskind-designed Jewish Museum. It's ultra-conceptual (the most straightforward exhibit is the 'memory void' which is a series of completely empty and blank rooms that, in a legitimate museum, would have stuff in them... I get what they're going for, but it's disappointing as an experience) and is pretty much a multi-million-euro playground for Liebeskind to show us all how deep and artist-y and important he is. He needs to get over himself — I would argue that the numerous "Mr Liebeskind's work continues to be open to interpretation to all our visitors" signs posted actually detract from the true subject of the museum: the Jewish people and the horrors they have suffered. It makes me shudder to think that the new building on the site of Ground Zero in New York is a Liebeskind design.

And yes, I did take a picture of the Christmas tree in the Jewish Museum.

Our first night finished up much better: with the Berlin Philharmonic. They truly are a fantastic orchestra and I felt privileged to have heard them live. This is their beautiful-looking and -sounding hall, the Philharmonie.

The next day, we ate breakfast along a row of shops and restaurants with several figures/mascots (what does one call them?) outside. Of course, Teriann needed pictures.

It made us realize, though, that Berliners (and maybe Germans in general — who knows?) love their mascots/figures/somethings. For instance, immediately upon arriving in the city and getting off the underground, we were greeted by this cheery chap.

(We had dinner here on our first night and it was fantastic! More on that later...)

And since the bear is a symbol of Berlin, all kinds of bears, stuffed and painted, line the streets, subject to our picture-snapping whims.

That day, we went to the Reichstag — the German parliament building crowned with a late-90s glass dome,

the Brandenburg Gate,

Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful square with two nearly-identical churches on either side (only one church is pictured below — it's impossible to do justice to that space with a camera),

and an enormous chocolate store (supposedly the largest in Europe) with chocolate versions of the famous landmarks.

Teriann even caroused with the less-than-reputable locals.

That night was the main reason we came to Berlin: the Killers. After another spectacular and surprisingly-cheap dinner, I was incredibly glad that (even though we had general admission tickets) we got a seat and didn't have to stand on the floor with the masses. For old fogies like me, it's never much fun to be smashed into the masses in front of me by the masses behind me. And Teriann wouldn't have been able to see hardly anything on stage if we were on the floor.

It was a great show, and though photos can never capture the energy of a rock concert, there are a few in the facebook album (linked at the bottom of this post).

On our final day, we visited the underwhelming Friedrichskirche, a church nearly destroyed during WWII but left standing as a memorial (Coventry Cathedral is far better), the victory column, and the German History Museum.

The victory column is where Barack Obama gave his wildly popular speech last July, and offers a great view of the city. Below is the column, the ubiquitous graffiti on the stairwell, and the view of the Reichstag from the top.

Is Teriann holding it up or pushing it over?

The final attraction before our final (and characteristically mindblowing) dinner was the German History Museum. I thought it was expertly presented and fascinating. It's like the British Museum — if I had the luxury, I would go back to it day after day until I had taken everything in. I was likewise impressed by its unflinching account of WWII and Germany's role therein. Both in the museum's case and in general: if Germany went through a phase where the subject was taboo or relativized, in Berlin, at least, that phase has long since passed.

In all, though I enjoyed the trip immensely, I'm not sure I'm sold on Berlin. Though it's undeniably cosmopolitan, its spread-out design and grungy-modern buildings make it seem more like a typical American city than one with cozy, old-world charm; though every local one meets is both nice and helpful, the constant graffiti and dodgy neighborhoods make you feel less-than-welcome.

In my opinion, the best thing about Germany? The food. It's at least as delicious and distinctive as Italian food, so why isn't it as widespread? I can stand on any street corner in London (or, for that matter, most of America) and find several shops with something — pizza, pasta — Italian Why not a schnitzel of a wurst? After this weekend, I'll be looking for sure.

If you want to see more pics from the trip, here's the facebook album.

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