BERLIN, January 12, 2013 – The new year has barely awakened and already it is shaping up as a year of festivals and important anniversaries. With the Winter Olympics just a few weeks away plus the FIFA World Cup soccer championships and the Commonwealth Games, there is more than enough to satisfy the passions of international sports fans.
As far as anniversaries are concerned, there is the 100th birthday of the Panama Canal and the 70th commemoration of the D-Day invasion in Normandy in June of 1944.
Another major event, however, is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Difficult as it may be to believe that the wall came crashing to the ground a quarter of a century ago, it is the sort of historical moment that appeals to travelers who enjoy immersing themselves in the living past that had significance during their lifetimes.
If ever there was a destination to capture the collective cultural imaginations of travelers it would have to be Berlin. Here visitors can experience luxurious shopping, vibrant nightlife, eclectic architecture, centuries of history, countless museums and exquisite dining in just a few days or an extended holiday. Either way it is impossible to completely satisfy a curiosity seeker’s appetite.
No other city in the world can claim three prestigious thoroughfares as Berlin does with Unter den Linden, Kurfurstendamm and Friedrichstrasse. Add the River Spree as the primary water route through the city, it is easy to see that Berlin is unique from the very beginning.
The Kurfurstendamm, or Ku’damm as locals call it, has long been one of the great shopping avenues of Europe. The snaggle-toothed steeple of KaiserWilhelmMemorialChurch is a symbol of the city and World War II at the eastern end of the street, while the Rathous Schoneberg where President John F. Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech is located in Tempelhof-Schoneberg.
Unter den Linden, which means “under the lime trees,” was once Berlin’s premier promenade. The long east-west avenue sits in the heart of the historic area of the city, which includes the Brandenburg Gate and the former Berlin Statehouse. It also crosses Friedrichstrasse and the river.
The two-mile north-south route of Friedrichstrasse gained notoriety during the Roaring Twenties, but it was October of 1961 that focused the eyes of the world when American and Soviet tanks faced each other at the dividing line between West and East Berlin known as Checkpoint Charlie. Some observers say that Friedrichstrasse represents the character of Berlin in a nutshell.
For travelers with little time, a tour along these three streets alone will arouse more curiosity and history than can be found in the entirety of many cities.
Visitors to Berlin can spend several days focusing exclusively on World War II and the Cold War and barely scratch the surface of the city’s attractions.
Remnants of Checkpoint Charlie remain in tact to provide at least a semblance of the aura that once existed at that notorious landmark. To round out the visit, spend some time at the nearby CheckpointCharlieMuseum exploring the fascinating photos and the multitude of ingenious ways people created to breach the wall into the West.
At the Brandenburg Gate, President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, in a speech in 1987 honoring the 750th anniversary of Berlin when he boldly said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” A year and a half later the wall did, indeed, come down.
Other remains of the era include the East Side Gallery which, at roughly a mile in length, is said to be the world’s largest outdoor open air gallery. When unveiled in 1990 with depictions from more than 100 artists from around the world, it was hailed as an international memorial to freedom.
Since that time, the “gallery” has been the victim of graffiti and vandalism, but enough has survived as a poignant reminder of the euphoria of the time and humanity’s never-ending desire for freedom.
Just beyond Brandenburg Gate, in East Berlin, is the ReichstagBuilding opened in 1894. It housed the German parliament, or Diet, until it was severely damaged by fire in 1933. The building was renovated following the reunification of Germany and once again is the home of the parliament. During NAZI rule from 1933 to 1945 there were no parliamentary sessions.
As a city that is still undergoing the metamorphosis of reunification, Berlin continues to adapt, fascinate and beckon. Great squares such as Alexanderplatz and the Gendarmenmarkt and Potsdammer Plaz add to its vibrancy. Historic churches abound and MuseumIsland in the center of the River Spree is not to be missed.
For information about tours in Germany and Berlin contact the German National Tourist Office.
And remember, Berlin is a destination unto itself. As the Germans would say it is “Wunderbar!”
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.