US President John F. Kenndy said in his famous 1963 speech in Berlin, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Berlin is free is so many ways. Few cities in the world have anything on Berlin. It really has it all. Berlin has probably been the most important city of the last century with a modern history that no city can possibly touch. From the two World Wars, to the emergence of the Nazi’s to the infamous 1936 Summer Olympics, to the division of a city and in fact a country between east and west to the Berlin Wall to unification. I personally remember like it was yesterday when the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989 and although I was only 10, I remember thinking to myself-this is history! Today, the city is still full of history and as Germany has re-emerged as a unified world power, Berlin is still an amazing place to visit and to be in with an energy and life second to none.
Berlin is gorgeous, its fun, its seedy, its historic, it has great food and most of all-it is cool. You don’t need to know much about the history of Germany to appreciate the vibe you get from Berlin, a once divided city that is now known as the most liberal city in Europe and its party capital. The old monuments are still up and the ones that were destroyed during the war have been rebuilt in grandiose fashion such as the Reichstag with its fabulous dome atop the government monolith overlooking the Brandenburg Gate which is as awesome and powerful as ever.
The old meets new with places like the new Sony Center which will boggle your mind with how modern and cool it is. Move to over the notorious Checkpoint Charlie which at its peak was one of the most well known and symbolic places of the cold war. Today it is a hokey kind of tourist place but the vibe still remains and the museum keeps alive just how devastating the cold war was on Berlin and the old pictures make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Also, the sign still eerily reads, “You are now leaving the American sector” and heading to the east.
It was actually really cool today as we made our way over to Checkpoint Charlie, there was a military set-up with soldiers doing souvenir passport stamps that were identical to the ones you would have received if you crossed from east to west during the walls operation. For only 2 euros I was able to get original stamps from the US, French and British West Berlin occupied territories (see map/picture below), plus the east and west visa stamps plus the Soviet stamp which was just awesome-especially for a stamp collector like myself.
For me, perhaps the poignant memory I will take was the spectacular memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial lies just to the side of the Brandenburg Gate in what was West Berlin. I remember hearing about what a hassle it was to get the idea passed through the German Parliament to get the memorial up and I have to say that the American architect Daniel Libeskind did a wonderful job as there are 2711 differently shaped concrete columns set over two city blocks. The forest of blocks can be seen from all directions with each entrance showing a different perspective on undulating ground. It’s a chilling reminder of what happened but even moreso, it’s a relief that Germany has allowed such a massive scale memorial on their most prized real estate.
We were blessed with amazing weather and there are few places in Europe that take advantage of the great weather like the Berliners do. I feel very fortunate to be able to come back to Berlin and really plan to make more of an effort to get back here more often as this place is wonderful. It’s the kind of place you can easily spend a week in and not get bored.