diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 13, 2015

Postkarten aus Berlin

Travel to Berlin from London, and it's tempting to compare the two. Berlin has just under half the population in just over half the area. It lies further north, on the same line of latitude as Birmingham, but is about 600 miles east. Summers are similarly warm, but Berlin's winters are colder, which is worth remembering before you book a ill-timed ticket. Both are world cities attracting global citizens, London more successfully and broadly so. But the biggest difference I noticed was architectural. Berlin is more uniform, covered by apartment blocks of similar heights, say four to six storeys, spreading from the city centre to the suburbs. London's buildings are more varied, and generally older, with no dominant style of construction. London also reaches for the skies a lot more, from sixties tower blocks to 21st century skyscrapers, in a way that the German capital only infrequently achieves. There are a few tall buildings in the centre, and a few authoritarian clusters elsewhere, but anything with double-figured floors is genuinely an exception. And so are houses. London's suburbs have acres of the things, but I saw hardly any during my time in Berlin, which seemed a much more egalitarian place to live. It may be the poorer city, economically, but that's not to say quality of life follows suit.

One entirely accessible tall building is the Kollhoff Tower, located in a highrise cluster surrounding Potsdamer Platz. Take Europe's fastest lift to the 24th floor and step out onto the Panoramapunkt, a spiky twin-level observation deck, to enjoy a 300° panorama across the city. The missing sixty is courtesy of the Deutsche Bahn tower nextdoor, but the remainder of the circuit is fine enough, from the monstrous anemone of the Sony Center round to the historic old town. And all for only €6.50, another Berlin bargain. [sechs Fotografien]

A short walk away, opposite the Tiergarten, an entire block has been taken over by a grid of 2711 concrete slabs. This is the Holocaust Memorial, with interlocking rows of passageways sloping throughout, some light and open, others deep and dark. A museum lurks underneath accessed by stairs, but most visitors prefer to wander through, or play some impromptu hide and seek with friends, or take selfies, and I'll leave it up to you to decide how far down that list is appropriate behaviour. [fünf Fotografien]

An even shorter walk away, to the south, I wondered why quite so many people were stopping to point at a scrappy patch of grass, trees and car park surrounded by flats. Hitler's bunker, apparently, wiped without trace.

Cycling works well in Berlin. Not only is the city ridiculously flat, but the roads are wide, leaving space on main thoroughfares for a differently-paved strip along the edge of the pavement. Safe cycling doesn't require sponsored blue stripes or expensively segregated bikeways, merely a well integrated system and, yes, like I said, the roads are wide.

In good news for independent travellers, Citymapper's app works in Berlin too. It advised us not to wait for the bus to the Stasi prison because it was Sunday and there wasn't one for half an hour, then delivered us afterwards to the nearest tram stop to meet a dining deadline miles away in good time. So that was good.

Oh, and the bars do Beck's bier in abundance, which kept me very happy. Don't worry, I did err onto the Weißbier on several occasions, but there were also Beck's Green Lemon and Becks Gold variants to sample. Prost!

As you may have gathered, I greatly enjoyed my time in Berlin. The city's varied, fascinating, liberal, historic... and large enough that there's no possible way to explore it in three days flat. In writing up my travels afterwards I've noticed whole chunks of the city centre I never got anywhere near, not to mention the museums I wilfully skipped and the outskirts I didn't even consider. Proper tourists are supposed to do a day in neighbouring Potsdam, apparently, and then there's the Schloss Charlottenberg, and those Geisterbahnhofe, and that peculiar building up that sidestreet, and probably an entire blog's worth to be honest. Später, wieder, sicher.

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