The trip started out in Potsdamer Platz, which, if you could say there is really any identifiable center in this sprawling city, would be the “downtown.” The Potsdamer Platz Bahnof lands you right in the center of the governmental sector and high-rise financial district, a few minutes walk to both the Reichstag (the federal Parliamentary building) and the Deutsche Bahn offices (the German Train company).
Potsdamer Platz Train Station
Deutsche Bahn Tower
Blue skies and a high rise
We walked from here to Checkpoint Charlie, named because it was the third and final entry (Station C) to enter the GDR. They now have a faux military guard prowling the place and costumed GDR men who will stamp your passport with old East German visa stamps (not sure if it’s worth the 2 Euros, but it’s certainly unique).
The irony of the McDonald's is not lost on me.
Old signs marking the different occupied sectors; once legitimate markers of international territory, now tourist attractions.
The Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie
Then we walked on to the Reichstag, where we were given a tour of the building by an SPD (Social Party of Deutschland, roughly translated) deputee. The façade is intimidating--towering stone pillars, elaborate sculptures etched into the molding, “to the German Nation” scripted above the front staircase--but the interior is almost an entirely different building. It was renovated after Reunification, when Germany’s capital moved back to Berlin. It has been through the days of the Weimar Republic, the Nazi Regime, Soviet occupation, and the World Wars in between, leaving it in poor condition for any future use. After holding an architectural competition they finally decided on the design, opting for a minimalist, yet grandiose (and highly reflective, I must add) interior. They also added a beautiful glass dome, with a sweeping spiral ramp that winds around the interior in an inverted funnel, leading you gradually to the top for a view of the entire city. Inside the dome they also have a tornado-looking structure of mirrors; the play of lights and shadows within the dome was incredible.
Outside the Reichstag
A closer look
"To the German Nation," or "To the German People"
Inside the Reichstag
A committee room
A box for every deputee who has ever served in Parliament; Adolf Hitler's box has been kicked in however.
An elevator, stunning
A chamber specifically for the SPD party members serving in Parliament
Parliamentary chambers, as seen from above following a session
Inside the dome
Views from the top
Beautiful blue skies
Soviet graffiti from when it was occupied after German surrender at the end of WWII. They have left all of the graffiti throughout the building as well.
On the roof, outside the dome
We then split up. Katherine, Nat, Brandon, Valerie, and I opted to stay longer in Berlin, so we walked over to Alexanderplatz (the Manhattan of Berlin, so to speak) to find a cheap hostel (Berlin, because of its uneven growth and still-unmet population expectations, is an extremely cheap place to stay, and one of the least expensive “big cities” in Europe). Some sights we saw along the way:
The ever-famous "beer bike"
We had dinner in Friedrichshain the first night (a student-dominated neighborhood on the East side with a wide variety of eateries/bars/clubs) and spent some time dancing at a club in Kreuzberg (also a younger neighborhood, known as the Turkish neighborhood for its large Turkish population and incredible Döner’s). Saturday afternoon was spent in Potsdam (well, about an hour was, the rest was spent figuring out the trains to and from), where we rambled through a beautiful park littered with palaces. Here are some shots:
Arrival outside of Sans Souci Park
View from the front steps of the palace at dusk
Palace Sans Souci
Katherine wandering around the palace gardens
Duck pond, frozen over
Katherine and I stuck around for another night so that we could see the Flea Markets on Sunday. Sounds odd perhaps, but Berlin is known for several of its larger markets, the biggest being Mauermarkt (located in Mauer Park, or “Wall Park,” named for its remaining section of the Berlin Wall). We were told this market was “the mother of all flea markets,” and I must say I was pretty impressed. A tad more expensive (and craftier) than your typical flea market, with delicious baked goods along the way. I couldn’t even fit a third of it in a frame from a neighboring hill, but here are a few shots nonetheless.
One of the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall
Maybe one-third of the flea market, from a distance
Rupert's Kitchen Orchestra, a band that put on an impromptu performance for flea market spectators
The second-time-around was definitely worth it. The Berlin we experienced this time was unforgettable, and I hope to return again soon.
And of course, a group shot outside the Brandenburg Gate: