My final day in Berlin before catching the train back to the Netherlands started early, with a walk through the Tiergarten bathed in early morning sun. The peace and quiet was only occasionally interrupted by a cyclist or dog walker. I was making my way to ‘museum island’, which sits in the River Spree and is home to a number of (you guessed it) internationally acclaimed museums. First though, I stopped at perhaps Berlin’s most sombre sight, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The site sits at the end of the Tiergarten, close to Brandenburg Tor and the Reichstag. Its 2,711 dark grey concrete slabs are designed almost like a maze, but when you walk through them the ground undulates like a wave creating an odd sense of uncertainty. It was built to commemorate those murdered in the holocaust, and occupies an area that was once part of the ‘death strip’ of the Berlin Wall. In the quiet of the early morning, it was a sobering and emotional experience.
Such a huge and centrally located memorial is testimony to Germany’s recognition of the horrors committed in the 1930s and 1940s, but that legacy is now under attack. A leader of the far-right AfD party, Alexander Gauland, who recently caused a storm of protest by calling the Nazi era a “speck of birds shit” on German history, criticised this memorial, saying “Germans are the only people who plant a monument of shame in the capital”. Revisionist history seems to be growing in popularity everywhere in Europe.
I made my way to the famous boulevard, Unter den Linden, past Humboldt University, and across the Spree to visit the epic Pergamonmuseum. There are so many excellent museums to choose from in this small area, but the Pergamon is exceptional. It houses monumental buildings from antiquity, including the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate. The latter, constructed on the orders of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, is utterly magnificent. The rest of the museum is filled with a mind-boggling array of priceless artefacts.
I left the museum uplifted, and spent a hour wandering the pleasant area around the vast, domineering Berliner Dom. In the park outside people were having barbecues and musicians entertained the crowds. I headed over the river into the area of Mitte filled with good cafes and restaurants to find somewhere for lunch. I passed a memorial to a Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis (here, there’s always something to remind you of that period) before finding a nice cafe close to the Sophienkirche.
Time was passing and I would have to leave early the next day, so I went back through Alexanderplatz (always an interesting place to be) to visit the oldest church in the city, the 800-year old Nikolaikirche. This iconic twin-towered church overlooks the river and is at the centre of the historic heart of Berlin, parts of which were faithfully rebuilt after the war. It’s a bit touristy, and the restored historic buildings rub shoulders with modern concrete structures, but there are several traditional german pubs serving good food and even better beer.
I had one last place I needed to visit to complete my trip down memory lane, the Prater Beer Garden. I was introduced to this traditional beer garden by a friend when visiting Berlin for work, we had such a good time on a warm summer evening the memory of it has stayed with me. Late afternoon on a hot day, the place was packed. I joined a mixed table of Germans and Americans to enjoy a beer and giant pretzel in the sun, safe in the knowledge that I’d be returning soon.