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Why Berlin?

Serious question here: I've been thinking of a trip back to Germany, where I've spent a fair bit of time in the south. But I've never seen any reason to visit Berlin, which is somewhat off the beaten track of the more interesting parts. It isn't especially scenic or in a scenic location. It was bombed flat during the war, so unlike most other European capitals, there is no sense of history or place. Everything is new, just another big modern city, which I've no interest in seeing. That's not why I travel all the way to Europe.

So am I missing something? Why would someone want to go there?

Posted by
4878 posts

Many German cities were flattened during World War II. So why would you go to Munich? Or Dresden?

I just got back from Berlin. I didn't care for the city itself that much, but the history is amazing. The Brandenburg Gate is still there. The Reichstag is still there. Even though many of the Nazi-era buildings are now gone, you can still walk the streets where they were, even find the site of Hitler's former bunker where he ended his life at the war's conclusion. Personally, I found all of this chilling.

Some of the Berlin Wall remains - enough that you can get a sense of what it meant as part of Cold War history (giving you a perspective difficult to get without visiting yourself). You can visit the former Checkpoint Charlie - now a big tourist trap, unfortunately - and see where Soviet and American tanks faced off in 1961, in one of several incidents that nearly sparked World War III.

You can do a side trip to Potsdam and see Fredrick the Great's palaces. I saw the palace where the famous Potsdam Conference was held after the war - where Truman, Stalin, and Churchill (and Attlee) decided Europe's post-war borders and helped get the Cold War rolling.

If none of this sounds interesting to you, then don't bother, I guess. No one says you have to spend a week in Berlin, either. If you can include Berlin as part of some other itinerary, I'm not sure why you wouldn't.

Posted by
868 posts

Because of

  • the great museums, not just on Museum Island, but also because of unknown gems like the Charite museum or Köpenick castle
  • the surprises everywhere, like a huge Botanical Garden, one of the biggest Soviet War Memorials, a big car collection which is free to visit, the Commie version of a American hot dog, Thais that barbeque in a park and sell their food for a few €uros etc.
  • the vibe of the city, which is best described by a quote from 1910: "Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being."
  • the best DÖNER KEBAB! :D
  • Potsdam, the summer residence of the Prussian kings, which is a city surrounded by lakes, parks, castles and palaces (exactly what you are looking for, and much more than just Sanssouci)
  • the sights in the surroundings, like Wittenberg (Luther), the Spreewald, Schwerin (fairytale castle) or Leipzig (Bach), which you can see on day trips
  • the many sights in the region, which you could see on a tour starting in Berlin (Germany is much more than just Bavaria)
Posted by
635 posts

"[...] there is no sense of history or place" Nothing could be further from the truth.

As a child of the Cold War, I found Berlin fascinating. It is striking that in this one city could be found the pinnacle of art, music, industry, science, learning -- and of man's inhumanity to man. Art, technology and education, it would appear, don't necessarily improve human nature. It was heartening, though, to see that even after the eighty-year quadruple-whammy of WW1 defeat, economic depression, Nazism and Communism, the city is now pulling itself together so beautifully.

Admire the classic proportions of the Berliner Dom, a souvenir of a more elegant time. Stand in Gendarmenmarkt and imagine the Französischer Dom in rubble, a cylinder of flame shooting up from where the dome used to be, as shellshocked Berliners walked by determined to carry on with their lives. Remember the Cold War humor of Jimmy Cagney's One Two Three as you look at the Brandenburg Gate, now with US and French embassies, luxury hotels -- and a Starbucks -- on the east side of it. See the glint of a cross reflected from the top of the television tower, and imagine the chagrin it caused the East German Communists who built it. At Checkpoint Charlie look past the tacky fast-food joints (under the sign "Snack-Point Charlie") and souvenir shops to imagine the tension that pervaded that street just over two decades ago. World War III could easily have started there at any moment. And visit a Stasi prison, in the company of a tour guide who himself had been a prisoner there ... for the crime of trying to leave the country.

And there is so much more.

Berlin may not be the most beautiful city in Europe, but it is certainly emotional and thought-provoking.

Posted by
12785 posts

Hi,

Berlin is utterly fantastic, historically, culturally; just the ambiance, went there (west Berlin ) for the first time in '71, planned that visit, and the city never loses its attraction. There are tons of tourists in Berlin right now, since I only got back from there a few days ago. In the summer the city is inundated with tourists of all nationalities. I wonder what percentage are Americans.

On "no sense of history or place:" There is great sense of history in Berlin and that's getting better too. Just read the plaques, memorials, signs on buildings, walls, street corners, kiosks, etc.

If one had to pick just three cities to visit in Germany, given time contraints, etc, I would suggest absolutely Berlin as number 1, after that Munich and Frankfurt or Dresden.

Posted by
694 posts

1smithee,

I agree with all of the above. In addition, to understand why certain countries are complaining about their missing antiquities visit the Pergamon Museum and see them for yourself. Visit Bernauer Strasse and allow yourself to be impressed (or depressed as the case may be) by the remnant of the Wall and imagine the way it was for too many years. From everyone's replies I hope you will see "Why would someone want to go there?" Someone, but maybe not you. And that's okay.

Posted by
868 posts

What's a "sense of history" anyway? Old buildings? Which place has a bigger "sense of history", Berlin or Cesky Krumlov? Berlin was almost completely leveled in WW2, but is full of memorials, museums, plagues and things like preserved bullet holes or graffiti of Russian soldiers. Or Cesky Krumlov, which is a picture-perfect Czech town from a fairytale today, but was a German, Catholic town until the original inhabitants were expelled (and killed) after 1945?

Posted by
24 posts

"What's a "sense of history" anyway? Old buildings?

Precisely. Old buildings, old neighborhoods, etc. That's what makes Europe different from North America.

"Which place has a bigger "sense of history", Berlin or Cesky Krumlov? Berlin was almost completely leveled in WW2, but is full of memorials, museums, plagues and things like preserved bullet holes or graffiti of Russian soldiers

Museums and memorials are not history. They are not sense of place. A museum is just buildings full of stuff taken from its natural setting. I might be willing to travel to Hisarlik but I'm not going to travel to Berlin just to see Agammenon's mask. Memorials are boring. Just plain boring. Gushing, maudlin monuments to victimhood. Never seen one I'd walk cross the street for.

"the vibe of the city, which is best described by a quote from 1910: "Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being."

That city no longer exists. It was bombed flat.

"the best DÖNER KEBAB!"

That certainly is good enough reason to travel several thousand miles.

"Potsdam, the summer residence of the Prussian kings, which is a city surrounded by lakes, parks, castles and palaces (exactly what you are looking for, and much more than just Sanssouci) the sights in the surroundings, like Wittenberg (Luther), the Spreewald, Schwerin (fairytale castle) or Leipzig (Bach), which you can see on day trips the many sights in the region, which you could see on a tour starting in Berlin (Germany is much more than just Bavaria)"

No you're talking. This sounds much better. I'll check them out.

Posted by
12785 posts

If Berlin doesn't exist, still there are tons of tourists going there from all over the world, just listen to the myriad of foreign languages at the sights and on the streets, maybe in the hotel where you're staying.

See that Wannsee villa or the Bendlerblock or Plötzensee Memorial and the horrific events connected with those places....they absolutely give you a sense of history,. I've been to the second one where the Resistance Museum is located. That very building is history itself. Look above to see the dates emphasized, ie esp 1813. Museums show history through their exhibitions, whether the special one or the permanent, whether slanted, biased, or from a different perspective. It all depends on the museum and your careful reading of the displays, and what is being displayed.

Take the regional train from central station or the S-3 to Berlin-Karlshorst, the museum is located in the same building where the Soviets received the German surrender. Read the explanations for the displays...that's the history, as well as the primary evidence themselves, such as political campaign or propoganda posters, or newpaper headlines.

You want more esoteric history of the city...go out to Berlin-Pankow or Berlin-Köpenick (I like that one )

Posted by
5668 posts

Wow, if you only go to Europe to see quaint old villages you are really missing out. Don't get me wrong, I loved Cesky Krumlov, but I was done after a day. Berlin is a city that you can explore and enjoy. The quote about the city vibe may have been from 1910, but what you don't seem to understand is that vibe lived on through WWII and then through the 50's and Berlin Airlift, then the building of the Wall. And, it's there today. They moved the capital of Germany to Berlin.

Have you never read any WWII spy stories??? The best were set in Berlin. Then if you want to read about some intense history, pick up the A Woman in Berlin, which is the story of how a woman survived the arrival of the Russians in May 1945 until September 1945. Read German Boy about a boy who escapes the Dresden Fire Storm to Berlin and how he and his mother eventually make their way to the west. Walk the East side and see the stumbling blocks that tell you were Jewish Houses once were. See the bullet holes from WWII.

And then after all the WWII and Cold War History take a walk in the Zoo. Go to the night clubs. See that this new Berlin that is one of the important capitals of the world today. Here's what the NY Times suggests for 36 Hours.

Posted by
10 posts

You could not be more wrong. There is an extreme amount of history in Berlin and it has it's own unique culture. There is some of the best night life in Europe. I do not even know where to begin. What are you interested in seeing? There's really something for everyone in Berlin.

Posted by
12040 posts

It's probably worth reminding that Berlin's history didn't suddenly begin in 1933, and quite a bit of evidence of it's much longer Prussian past remains. Probably considerably more than the period from 1933-1945.

Germany- it's so much more than Bavarian Gemütlichkeit and National Socialism...

Posted by
12785 posts

Much as I like going to Munich on every trip, at the very least having some transfer time at the Hbf., Munich does represents Bavarian Gemütlichkeit, as Tom correctly points out, and also the extremes in German history of antidemocratic forces.....Nazism and Soviet Communism.

Posted by
5668 posts

Of course, you're right Tom. The history doesn't start in 1933, but the OP seems to want visible history...which tends to push one toward the 20th century unless you go to Potsdam. German history is hard as it wasn't a nation until so much later then some of the other European countries. There's a wonderful series of alternate fiction by Eric Flint that starts in the middle of the 30 years war in Thuringia. I recommend it to anyone who is inclined to enjoy history and science fiction. I love the twists and turns that the authors put into the series while introducing the major players of the time from Habsburgs to Richelieu to Cromwell. It can be a fun read and it can help you see how different German of the 17th century was from even the 19th century.

Pam

Posted by
2081 posts

1smithee ,

I don't see Berlin as "out of the way" since I'm still making my way around places and such. My trip this Sept will bring me into Munich and when i go back next year, i will probably put in Berlin along with some little town for Octoberfest. I may also try to fit in a boat ride along the Rhine too.

Even with Berlin having suffered a lot of bombardment, there is still stuff to see for me.

Happy trails.

Posted by
2828 posts

One (among many) very good reason to visit Berlin is that it is the most dynamic big capital city of Europe these days.

Other reason would be the fact it has an excellent array of museums that, after renovations/expansions, are among the best in the World in their categories.

I disagree with the "out of the way" label the OP stuck in Berlin. Makes no sense whatsoever. Out of the way could be places like Trømso, small villages in Sicily, Azores...