SNAPSHOT OF BERLIN
by Ben Harvey, photographer
Berlin is a city best discovered by simply walking around, experiencing the colourful street life and getting to know the unique personalities of the different areas. The city has an effective mixture of breathtaking traditional architecture and boundary-pushing contemporary structures, asking the visitor to juxtapose Berlin’s powerful history with its status today as Europe’s leading capital city. Wander around and you’ll find the cobbled streets are not only lined with trees but also adorned with the famous pink pipes; historic monuments such as the impressive Reichstag building, once destroyed by air raids and fire, are now restored and improved for the 21st Century Berliner. Berlin is looking to the future but never forgets its past. The exciting clash of old and new was summed up for me in the difficulty I found in photographing a lot of the tourist attractions without including a crane in the shot – there is so much development happening right now!
The day in Berlin starts quietly and the city comes alive around 10am, when the streets hum with locals and tourists alike. Berlin maps don’t include all of the road names but you soon learn how to navigate your way around. German people are friendly and very helpful; although I took a translator, 95% of the people that I met spoke conversational English and I used my basic German to converse with the few that did not.
Germany’s capital is very much designed for tourism, particularly educating visitors about the country’s past. A lot of the sightseeing focuses around the World Wars and the Berlin Wall; emotionally-heavy subjects that require sombre contemplation but I found it all incredibly interesting. Aside from the obvious tourist spots, local life can be best appreciated in the cafes, restaurants and shops of Mitte, the centre of the city. These range from the urban and chic to very high-end, echoing the vibes of similar areas found in London, Paris, Milan and New York.
Below are some of the sights I made it round on my short trip photographing this mesmerising city.
The Berlin Wall
I was fortunate enough to visit this iconic landmark the week of the 25th anniversary after the fall. For those who are unfamiliar with Germany’s history, the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) was a barrier that split the city into factions of East Germany and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic of the east, the Wall prevented emigration and defection from the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on 3rd October 1990. To commemorate the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, a recent installation called the ‘Border of Lights’ lined where the wall once stood with illuminated white balloons. The legacy of the wall lives on and sections can be found around the city in cafes and museums, as a symbolic reminder of the conflict and eventual reconciliation of Berlin.
Potsdamer Platz acquired an iconic status in the 1920s and 1930s as the busiest traffic centre in Europe and the heart of Berlin's nightlife, comparable to Piccadilly Circus in London or Times Square in New York. The story goes that the first traffic lights in continental Europe were installed here and a replica stands there today. Potsdamer Platz is now the site of major redevelopment projects, home to big names such as Sony, Deutsche Bank and Daimler, while the Panoramapunkt holds the record for the fastest lift in Europe, going up 24 floors in 20 seconds!
Museums and Monuments
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust memorial, is a large grid of concrete structures on a sloping field. The varying height of the concrete slabs creates a disorientating effect as you lose and find people within the space. Across town, The Jewish Museum consists of two buildings – the old Baroque Kollegienhaus and a new deconstructivist-style zig-zag structure designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. The two contrasting buildings have no connection above ground and the latter can only be accessed through the older building via an underground passage. Aside from the Jewish Museum, Berlin boasts a Museum Island with collections ranging from The Bode Museum’s sculptures to The Neues Museum’s notable Egyptian artefacts.
The Brandenburg Gate, commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in 1788 was once isolated and inaccessible by the Berlin Wall. Now, the Brandenburg gate is considered a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, as well as European unity and peace. One of the city’s top tourist locations, the gate leads on to the Victory Column and the beautifully green Grosser Tiergarten park.
A historical edifice completed in 1894, the building was originally constructed to house the Reichstag (parliament) of the German Empire. Damaged by a 1933 fire and later by air raids, the building fell into disuse during the War and Partition period. Visitors can still see Soviet graffiti on smoky walls and on part of the roof, preserved during the reconstructions after reunification. A glass dome has been added, designed by architect Norman Foster, offering scenic vistas of the cityscape.
Berlin’s impressive cathedral boasts history dating back to a 1454 consecration, though it was badly damaged during the Second World War.
Fernsehturm Berlin (TV Tower)
The Berlin TV tower is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Berlin, with around 1.2million visitors each year. The tower was constructed in the 1960s and is easily visible in the central and even some suburban districts of Berlin. Fernsehturm Berlin is the tallest structure in Germany, standing at 368 metres. You can look out over the city from 203 and 207 metres high.
The Alexanderplatz square, located in the centre of Berlin, is a transport hub and a large public space known to locals simply as ‘Alex.’ Once on the side of East Germany, the square also has historical significance as the host of the large demonstrations during the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. Since German reunification, Alexanderplatz has undergone a transformation with the reconstruction of the tram lines and surrounding building renovation. The space has also managed to retain its character, housing a decorated ‘Fountain of Friendship between Peoples’ and a World Time Clock installation.
The Kaufhaus des Westens, oftened abbreviated to KaDeWe, is a huge luxury shopping complex with eight floors of designer names. The top floor claims a gourmet food court the size of two football fields. The curiously shaped Galeries Lafayette, designed by the award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, extends along Friedrichstrasse and features a glass roof-light with a model Eiffel Tower. A branch of the iconic Parisian boutique chain, Galeries Lafayette is Berlin’s answer to Harrods and is as much an experience to walk around as it is to shop there.
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