Berlin is a dynamic place, still in the process of self-reinvention 30 years after the collapse of its infamous Wall. Most traces of World War II have been obscured, and although vestiges of Eastern Bloc prefabricated construction (plattenbau) remain, modern economic forces are rapidly remodeling the city. The transition is most evident at Potsdamer Platz — the historic public square laid waste by Allied bombing and neglected during the Cold War — which now boasts buildings designed by some of the world’s leading architects. The Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is the cultural heart of the city, centerpieced by the Pergamonmuseum, which contains an astonishing collection of classical antiquities, including the immense Pergamon Altar and Babylon’s blue-tiled Ishtar Gate (the altar is undergoing restoration and will hopefully reopen to the public in early 2020).
Known for its extraordinary selection of early 20th-century German masterpieces, the Neue Nationalgalerie (Potsdamer Strasse 50) is finally scheduled to reopen in 2020 after a four-year renovation, as is the Pergamon Altar Hall of the Pergamonmuseum (Bodestrasse 1-3).
A World War II Relic Revitalized
Alas, East Germany eventually demolished the Baroque Stadtschloss (City Palace), which was heavily damaged, but not destroyed, in World War II. Now Berlin is nearing completion of a resurrected Stadtschloss on the original site. Once finished, in September of 2020, it will have a façade similar to the original but a modern interior. I look forward to seeing what exhibitions and events the Humboldt Forum will host there.
A Unique Art Venue
Berlin’s most unique venue for contemporary art is the Sammlung Boros (Reinhardtstrasse 20), housed in a 1942 Albert Speer-designed bunker with an unexpected Renaissance palazzo-style exterior. The private collection can be viewed only on guided tours, limited to a maximum of 12 people. Reserve tickets through the collection’s website well in advance.
My favorite film set on location in Berlin is the charming and heartwarming “Good Bye, Lenin!” I also highly recommend the suspenseful “The Lives of Others,” the gleefully frenetic “Run Lola Run,” the meditative “Wings of Desire,” and “Metropolis,” Fritz Lang’s beautiful silent masterpiece.
Private Taxi Tours
Thomas-Dietrich Lehmann, who grew up in West Berlin, runs fascinating private tours focused on the Berlin Wall. In his taxi, he drove us to well-known sections, but we also stopped at more-hidden remnants, including a segment standing near an old railway trestle and an unvisited watchtower glowering impotently on a quiet Mitte side street.
A Craft Beer Renaissance
Berlin arrived late to the craft beer movement, but the city now has several venues serving local beers that are far better than the insubstantial Berliner Kindl Weisse. The atmospheric Brauhaus Lemke am Hackescher Markt (Dircksenstrasse 143) is close to Museum Island, the youthful Pfefferbräu (Schönhauser Allee 176) is in less touristy Prenzlauer Berg and nearby is Leibhaftig (Metzer Strasse 30), which serves “Bavarian tapas” to pair with its beers.
In Potsdam, just outside Berlin, Sanssouci Palace (Maulbeerallee, Potsdam) is Frederick the Great’s answer to Versailles. Timed entry tickets ensure that crowds don’t overwhelm the 12 sumptuous rooms. The vast complex’s other remarkable constructions, notably the New Chambers and the Chinese House, draw inexplicably few visitors.
An Art Nouveau Complex
I love to wander the eight courtyards of the Hackesche Höfe (Rosenthaler Strasse 40-41), an art nouveau complex in the former East with an inviting array of boutiques and cafés. I’m especially fond of the art nouveau tiles sold at Golem in Hof 7.