After breakfast on our first full day in Berlin we decided to walk from our hotel through Alexanderplatz, the focal point of pre-unification East Berlin, down through the famous street of Unter den Linden and to the Brandenburg Gate. This covered a stretch of a couple of miles and should have enabled us to see many of the main historical sights of the City, taking us through East Berlin up to where the Berlin Wall stood.
The first thing that hit us was how surprisingly grey and drab the city was. Partly this was due to the October weather, but more to do with the post-war architecture both on the Eastern and Western parts of the City. The City is very low rise compared with most major Western cities and this made it feel as if the lowering skies were pressing down on you. The other noticeable thing is how much empty space there is, particularly to the West of the Mitte area around Potsdamer Platz and the Reichstag. This is understandable on the basis that building up near the heavily guarded Wall was probably not an appealing or diplomatic prospect for many years, but still a striking feature. It gives a feeling of how long it might take to rebuild cities like those in Libya which have similarly seen large scale warfare on their streets. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
We got to the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz but decided not to go up it as there was too much mist and low cloud to give a worthwhile view of the city at the time. Feeling rather underwhelmed by the charms of the city and having already walked a fair way, we decided to take one of the many bus tours that were being touted near Alexanderplatz. This was a mistake as, being October, the roof was not open. Unlike London or Paris, Berlin does not have a lot of individually architecturally impressive buildings that you can get the measure of from driving past. So, we ended up spending what seemed to be an age driving along without any “oohs” and “aahs”. What demanding tourists! Finally, after going down Unter den Linden and seeing nothing much more than some rather unimpressively small lime trees and a perplexingly large queue for Madame Tussauds we had a quick glimpse of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and a drive round the Tiergarten, ending up at Potsdamer Platz. We decided to ditch the bus trip permanently at this point and do our walk through the city in the opposite direction to the one we had initially intended.
Potsdamer Platz is impressive but as a recently built development, not particularly distinctive. Rather, like in some American cities, it had the feel of being a series of modern buildings which had been built without any particular plan or inter-relationship. Again, given that the Wall had run through the area and prior to reunification it had been a wasteland, this is not surprising or even a criticism. It does show how important it is to read into Berlin to help understand why it is the way it is though – otherwise it risks the response of “hmm, Milton Keynes?”.
The Holocaust is pretty difficult to explain generally. Even more so to a 4 year old without blighting him with nightmares or bowdlerizing out any significance. OMB wanted to try to understand why so many people had been killed for no good reason. Unfortunately, the museum was not open on Mondays so we decided to come back the next day and started to walk back up Unter den Linden. We were disappointed again to find that the Guggenheim was closed pending installation of a new exhibition but as it was starting to clear up a little decided that it would now be worth going up the Fernsehturm.
The Fernsehturm, or TV-Tower was built as a symbol of the East. It might also have been intended to blast out East German TV signals to prevent East Berliners from watching prohibited broadcasts, or at least that is what I remember from learning about it in GCSE German a couple of years before the Wall came down. It is 398m tall and has a viewing platform at around 200m up. Even more excitingly, it has a revolving restaurant above the viewing platform. Unfortunately, the mist and cloud had descended somewhat and the sun had nearly gone down by the time our timed ticket let us go up so the view was not that impressive. However, the novelty of a meal in a revolving restaurant was worth the trip in itself and the TV Tower became one of the highlights for OMB. During the rest of our stay he would always look out for whether he could see it and he’s enjoyed drawing pictures of it.