I love Berlin. It’s a city of so many different styles, different viewpoints and different important historical events mashed into one hub of 3.5 million people.
The new wife and I went on a short break there after our wedding last week. Having thoroughly enjoyed our last stay in Germany’s capital, we were rather excited to be back.
I thought rather than giving an exhaustive account of our 4 night trip, I’d share a few pictures of some of my favourite buildings in the city.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The building in the picture above is the fantastic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (or Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche). It’s in the centre of the former West Berlin, on one of Berlin’s main shopping streets, the Kurfürstendamm. The story behind the church, as with most buildings of a certain age in Berlin, is an interesting one.
The church was originally built in the 1890s to commemorate the first Kaiser Wilhelm and lay largely unscathed, though development of the shopping districts in the west of the city continued to spring up around it, until the Second World War. The church was heavily bombed by the Allies (as indeed was all of Berlin), hence the incomplete top of the spire in the picture – the spire and a small entrance hall are all that remain of a once magnificent building. Despite efforts to demolish the entire building in the early 1950s, the church still sits in its prominent position in the centre of one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe.
I love this building primarily because it is a physical reminder of the utter futility of war. A church building reduced to a shell of its former self, but the German populace have chosen to allow the shell to remain in place, I think to remind themselves what they lost in World War 2 and to remind themselves not to take a path even resembling National Socialism ever again. The small exhibition in the former entrance hall of the church has among its exhibits a pair of nails from another ecclesiastical victim of World War 2, Coventry Cathedral. Again, displaying the utter futility of war and the common loss war can bring to both sides.
The church has now been supplemented with a 1960s-era bell tower and a place for its congregation. But the remaining spire and entrance hall will hopefully for decades to come act as a physical reminder of why war is, as Baldrick once said, a horrid thing.
East Germany (or the “DDR” as the vast majority of Germans seem to refer to it) was an interesting experiment of a country. A populace under vast surveillance, where you risked death climbing over a wall to escape and had to wait years for a car that did 0-60mph in about 4 minutes and was made of plastic.
One thing they did get right, in a sense anyway, was the Berliner Fernsehturm. The second tallest freestanding structure in the EU sits in the former East Berlin square of Alexanderplatz. It has a rather apologetic pavilion at the bottom of it, but the views from the top are predictably spectacular.
The tower was built at something of a two-fingered (or perhaps one-fingered) gesture to the West – the East can do big things too and do them just as well. One thing the atheistic DDR government didn’t bank on, however, is the fact that when the sun shines on the Fernsehturm, the reflective glass on the upper part of the sphere creates a bit of a cross shape – the “Pope’s Revenge” as the West Berliners soon coined. Predictably, the tower is visible from most points of the city, particularly the central districts, and must have been something of a bizarre sight for West Berliners from the other side of the Wall.
In short, the Fernsehturm is huge, it’s ridiculously out of proportion to the rest of the city and it’s a bit ugly. And that’s why I think it’s generally fantastic.
The Victory Column
The Victory Column (or Siegessäule) was built to commemorate Prussian victories in Denmark and France in the 1860s and 1870s. It stands at the end of 17th of June Street (so called in recognition of the East Berlin uprising on that date in 1953), facing the Brandenburg Gate.
Again, it’s the history of the column that makes it interesting. When the Siegessäule was first constructed, it sat outside the Reichstag. However, when Hitler came to power and employed Albert Speer as his chief architect, they had other ideas. The Victory Column was moved from the Reichstag to its current position in the middle of a roundabout, in the middle of the Tiergarten, in 1936. This was part of the initial preparation work for Hitler’s planned “Welthaupstadt Germania“, which would see the Siegessäule sit on a wide east/west axis, which would intersect with an even wider north/south axis at the Brandenburg Gate.
As it turned out, the Column’s move was one of the few parts of the “Welthaupstadt” vision which were carried out. The move also turned out to be a very luckily positive one for the Siegessäule. While the Reichstag was bombed into submission at the centre of the Battle of Berlin which concluded the European side of World War 2, the Column remained largely unscathed in its new position (other than a few choice pockmarks). It now offers wonderful views of the city back down 17th of June Street – a photo with the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Fernsehturm all in one is quite a pleasure to take.
In all, I hope this has given a wee flavour of Berlin – a city I love for so many different reasons, a few of which have hopefully been captured in this post.