I fell in love with the old historic centre of the city, located in the former East Berlin. The area around the Hackescher Markt and the Berlin Cathedral became my favourite hangout. Museum Island with its classicist museum buildings impressed me, and in a tour of the Berliner Dom I had a chance to walk all the way around the cupola of this magnificent cathedral.
I spent some time exploring Alexanderplatz, one of the city’s transportation hubs with its phallic symbol, the Berlin TV Tower, and the beautiful Red City Hall building not far way. A few metres farther is the atmospheric Nikolaiviertel where Berlin was founded. The medieval buildings of this area were reconstructed in the 1980s after being destroyed by heavy bombing during the Battle of Berlin in WWII.
Naturally, the Gendarmenmarkt with the attractive Konzerthaus and the nearly identical French and German Cathedrals left me duly impressed. I even got to explore Spandau, a district in the far west of Berlin that features a beautiful old town anchored by the St. Nikolai Church and a medieval citadel where they were just celebrating “Walpurgisnacht”, a witches’ festival.
My goal of learning about history was definitely accomplished. I learned about the power structures of the Nazi Regime in the Topography of Terror, an amazing documentation centre located in the spot of the former SS and Gestapo Headquarters. I visited the Jewish Museum, designed in a stylized Star of David by Polish-American star architect Daniel Liebeskind that introduced me to 2000 years of Jewish history in Germany. On Oranienburgerstrasse I visited the New Synagogue, until WWII the largest synagogue in Berlin. Not far away is the Jewish Cemetery in the Große Hamburger Straße that was in use between 1627 and 1827, but unfortunately desecrated and destroyed by the Gestapo in 1943.
Many memorials commemorate Berlin’s tragic history during WWII. “Stolpersteine” (stones you stumble over) are brass paving stones with inscriptions of names of Jewish families that were deported from their apartments and became victims of the Holocaust. Berlin has many memorials to this dark chapter in history, showing Germany’s willingness to confront itself with its past.