In October, I traveled to Berlin for five days. It started as a class field trip for Saturday and Sunday, but I decided to spend a few days before and an extra day after since I had never been. This was seriously one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever decided to do.
In the past when I’ve traveled, as soon as my flight landed it was go go go until my flight landed back home. I left for Berlin with a few extra things I wanted to do and see, but no real plan of when I was going to do what. I’m a planner and usually try to plan every minute of my time to maximize my visit, but this trip was different. I felt like I was going to Berlin for many reasons. The first, was class of course, but second was that a few weeks prior my great grandmother passed away and I really hadn’t had any time to myself to process. Living in this dorm style housing has been an immense blessing for me because I have constantly been surrounded by people who supported and loved me during this hard time, but I needed some time alone. Being that my Oma was German, I felt this trip was a sort of homage to her. Eventually I hope to visit her town that she grew up in near Munich, but this was a good starting place for me. So I left Mendrisio where fall was just starting and arrived at my Airbnb in Berlin where fall was in full swing and the ground was covered in leaves!
This Airbnb was seriously the CUTEST. I loved how bright it was and the light was streaming through my window. In my Postwar Architecture class we talk about the difference in the plan of Berlin with that of NY. Berlin blocks are much more square than the long narrow NY blocks. This allows for Berlin housing to have these really nice courtyards within. Seriously. I was in love.
After taking a few minutes to unpack and settle in, I went to explore! I have to say, I love the scale of this part of Berlin. The side walks were quite wide which allowed for lots of light to fill the streets and for community to talk place on the side walks, but watch out— these side walks aren’t wide for no reason! In Berlin, bikes are used on the sidewalks, not the street!
As I was wandering around, I stumbled upon one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.
What’s one of the best things about Berlin? The diversity. Seriously. I thought I would be stepping into this super-German city and get to experience so much of my family’s culture that I hadn’t actually been a part of, but actually that was the farthest thing from what I experienced. Berlin, as I was told multiple times while I was there, is a place where you can be anything and anyone you want to be and no one will even look at you differently. You can wear clothes you wouldn’t normally wear, try out an edgy hairstyle, or even just go out in no makeup because people literally don’t care what you look like— you are celebrated as you are here. I seriously thought this was one of the most beautiful things to experience in a place so known for it’s troubled past that lacked acceptance of “different” people.
So, my first meal in Berlin was SUSHI! I kept asking shop owners where to eat and not a single one recommended “German food.” They rattled off one international cuisine after another until I finally realized that to them, this was “German food.”
After dinner, I went back to the Airbnb and had an early night. The next morning, I was up early and went for a walk in the opposite direction I had previously gone. I found this super cute little pastry shop with the best chocolate croissants I’ve ever had and for only €1! Right next to the shop was a portion of the long line Berlin Wall Memorial.
Not so fun fact: At first, I thought these giant plain walls of the buildings were made as part of the memorial so murals could be painted on the side, but that’s actually totally wrong. These plain walls were the result of the wall itself. East Berlin required all windows that faced West Berlin to be completely erased and filled with concrete. The murals were painted simply an after thought, but honestly works so well.
These photos show just how much this memorial has become part of the city. It’s not closed to the public and there’s no charge for admission, how could there be? The line that divided East and West Berlin has almost erased completely.
Finally, I decided to make my way toward the most bustling part of Berlin, but not the “city center.” As it turns out, there is no traditional city center of Berlin because the city is actually the result of a few settlements merging as they grew. Any how, the most tourist-y area is the area that holds the TV tower, the Berlin Cathedral, and is about the gain another massive CASTLE (Stadtschloss). Literally some architecture firm convinced the city to rebuild the castle, which is now on its way into existence, but here’s the catch— the city still doesn’t know what in the world to do with this massive thing since they have no need for a castle. It may host museums (even though there is a massive complex nearby known as “Museum Island”), there’s talk in the architecture community of trying to convince a University to occupy part of it, but in reality… these people are in hot water because they started building without the money to finish and still don’t know what to do with it when it eventually is.
In the city center I found the TV tower and immediately went to purchase a ticket to go to the top! The tickets to go to the top were $25! OR if you wanted to make a reservation to have dinner at the top, the ticket was only $15. So, since I didn’t have any plans for dinner and there were times still available, I decided to get a ticket to go up for dinner that evening and see other things in the area until then. I found the Berlin Cathedral and it was so beautiful in the morning light!
Directly across from the cathedral was the Alte National Gallery so I decided to see that before going into the cathedral.
After this, I walked to the other side of the cathedral where the main entrance was. The entrance was grand and full of ornament, but this modern sign stood out amongst the rest. “HATE HARMS THE SOUL.” Once again, it’s so encouraging to see the church standing up to hate in a city with a rich history of hate.
Once inside, I decided to pay for the audio tour (€5 for the entry and another €4 for the audio tour). I think it was well worth it though, especially if you’re interested in the architecture!
An artist had recently done an installation above the alter that was again, so modern in contrast to the rest of the building. It was so beautiful honestly.
The tour took me up a winding, extremely narrow, spiral staircase to the top of the dome. From here, you could walk around the entire dome and see a panoramic view of the city! This was unexpected, but the first of many times I would go to the top of buildings in Berlin!
Following the cathedral, I quickly visited the Anne Frank Museum of Berlin and made a stop in Lush Cosmetics to buy some solid versions of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and face wash so that I don’t have to every worry about packing liquids in my carry-on again! Finally, I made it to dinner! The elevator ride to the top of the TV Tower was pretty fast and then I arrived to my table for ONE! The entire restaurant was slowly spinning so that it rotated one complete time over the course of an hour— giving you a full panoramic view without moving from your table!
This was really the first time I’d ever been to a nice dinner alone. Of course I got a few strange looks from the people around me, I’m assuming they were wondering why I was all alone, but it didn’t bother me! I was having the time of my life and guys this is revolutionary… when you go to dinner alone, you get the entire bread basket and there’s no one there to judge you for it!! LOL!!
After two days of independent travel, it finally was time to meet my class in Berlin! To start, it should be said that my class is titled “Postwar Architecture in Italy & Germany,” so many of the buildings were were seeing dealt with the reconstruction, memorialization, and identity of Berlin following the WWII era.
We weren’t set to begin until 9am, (not early by my standards) so I decided to stop by a ruin that I had on my bucket list on the way to the meeting point! I’m so glad I stopped, this easily became one of my favorite stops! This is the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche founded in 1250, but now is a permanent ruin of the city thanks to the bombing of WWII. The radiator sculpture inside is a temporary installation.
Directly across the street from the ruin you have this view. On the left, buildings that were damaged in the war and then repaired. On the right, modern buildings that replaced buildings destroyed in the war. Berlin is a city that blends the old and the new. There are layers upon layers of history to be seen in this city without ever entering a museum, BUT the museums can be even more amazing because of the history contained inside of them.
My trip was made all the more special because of my amazing professors! Featured below is a magazine clipping saved by my Professor Hildebrand (she’s german) from years ago discussing what should be done with the ruins of Berlin. Should had to have brought at least fifty article clippings spanning thirty years or more discussing post-war Berlin.
This view brought me back to my childhood, reminiscing about the days of hiding in piles of leaves with my cousins. I mentioned how nice it was to see these leaves and Professor Hildebrand says, “Don’t get used to it, in Switzerland they’re cleaned up before they even hit the ground!” LOL. It’s so true, they sweep the streets and side walks every single morning in Switzerland, even in the smallest towns!
These two photos are so interesting! Above is a library we stood in front of and the below image is a glass floor looking into a room below. I was standing in the same place when both photos were taken. Of course, we all rushed to see this weird little glass floor and see what was inside, but we were so confused to see empty shelves! My professor explained that this was a memorial to symbolize the empty bookshelves when the books were taken from the library (above) and burned in the Nazi period. I just thought this was a really interesting memorial. No explanation was given, a simple confusing view makes the visitor wonder why such a thing would exist. (Emily Hess, if you’re reading this, I thought of you when I was here!)
Another moment where Professor Hildebrand shared a newspaper article with us about the Brandenburg Gate pictured above. I really can’t express how wonderful it was to have this as a part of my trip to Berlin!
Finally we made it to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Architect Peter Eisenman. I was really interested to be in this memorial because in the architecture community there is a lot of discussion about how well it functions as a memorial. To my professors, not well at all. It was a “cool” place, but was not in the slightest a place for reflection or contemplation of mass murder. It was a place were community members and tourists spilled in by the hundreds, snapped selfies and had a picnic. Some of our group thought it was nice because it allowed a place for the community to meet and children to run around and play hide and seek, while others thought of it as an insult to the jewish community. I tried to get photos without people in them, but it took a lot of patience! It was so interesting for me to see these parents letting their children play tag in a memorial to more than 6 million murders… I think it spoke volumes about how oblivious the people of Germany were to the murdering, yet it was all around them in plain sight.
Next stop, the Reichstag Building. Aka the German parliament building! Note: you do have to make reservations to visit this place and bring your passport with you to enter even though it’s free, it’s a security measure! We specially came to see the glass dome done by Architect Norman Foster— another highly contested project! It’s interesting because you wouldn’t think it, but the dome is actually open air with a completely open oculus at the top. It’s almost an entirely separate building.
A quick train ride and we arrived at the Berlin Wall Memorial.
We climbed this tower in order to see part of the wall memorial from the viewing platform.
We arrived at the sweetest little chapel (shown in the top left of the photo above). I fell in love with this chapel, but it was actually closed! I was only able to get a few photos by sticking my camera between the slats! This is definitely a must see when I go back!
Lastly for this day, we visited the natural history museum. We weren’t actually interesting in the natural history lol. We came for restoration of the facade! It was SO interesting. Seriously, look at the photos below. Notice the grey area vs. the brick. No, this is not grey brick, but cast concrete to replace the area that was bombed. The glass was not replaced, but simply.
The next morning we took a one hour bus ride to the Plötzensee Memorial Place. I had no idea what I was in for, honestly. I didn’t have a heavy breakfast and I’m thankful for it. I ended up feeling extremely nauseous in this space because of the weight of the events that happened here. This was the execution room of a prison on the outskirts of Berlin. The area in the photos functions as a memorial, but just over the wall, the prison is still in use. Nearly two thousand people were hung in the room we walked into. This was an execution room for a prison, not to be confused with a concentration camp. The people that were murdered here were arrested for opposing the Nazi government. Some were arrested while plotting the assassination of Hitler while others were arrested for refusing to join the military siting their christian beliefs as the reason. Others were arrested for transmitting information to the Allied Forces during the war. All in all, I think this hit me harder because these were people who resisted the Nazi government. I think people in my generation (especially in the US) think “how could anyone stand by while these atrocities happened?” Well, here’s your answer.
Transitioning from this space was difficult, but we made our way back to the city and passed a really nice housing project on the way! I loved this and had to stop and take some photos. It’s not a well-known project, but I think it should be!
Just around the corner from here sits the Jewish Museum of Berlin by Daniel Libeskind, an American-Polish architect. Even though the exterior was nice, this museum was probably my least favorite place we visited on the inside.
Keep this little slit in mind for later!
This was the best part of the museum in my opinion. The Holocaust Tower. That little slit I told you to remember earlier looks into this room. It’s an open-air room, all concrete room, with no additional light. This space gives lots of room for contemplation and reflection. It leaves it open to allow the inhabiter to ponder what it means to hope.
The last stop for our class trip was the Neues Museum restored by David Chipperfield. This was easily one of the top three most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in, in my entire life. This is a MUST see for anyone, but especially architecture people!
After this, our group split up into smaller pods since some were heading back immediately after the Neues Museum. The rest of us decided to visit Potsdamer Platz where there were a few notable buildings as well as a historic square.
The next morning I embarked on one final day of travel by myself before an early morning flight the next day. First stop, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This church was also bombed during the war, but was preserved as a ruin and then a new church was rebuilt where the bombing was most intense.
The photos below are inside the new church on the site. I think it’s such a beautiful thing that the church decided to build almost entirely of glass, the thing that was completely taken from the previous building.
I made my way to the Victory Column (people there’s an underground entrance, do not walk around for half an hour trying to find a cross-walk like I did) and climbed the narrow staircase to the top. Seriously, this climb is not for everyone.. I kid you not when I say I passed at least four benches on THE STAIRCASE for people to take a break from climbing. You can really burn off the calories from the curry-worst (Berlin’s most famous dish) here!
My last meal in Berlin was HOT POT!!! Lol. It was freezing cold and I had been outside all day and I kept thinking to myself, “I want really really really warm food” and then it donned on me! HOT POT! This was one of my favorite foods I had when I visited China a few years ago and I hadn’t had it since I was in NY. Berlin was the perfect place to have a good hot pot meal and I managed to find this sweet spot that had all you can eat hot pot for €14. This is mad cheap. In NY, you can expect to pay upwards of $50 per person even when you come as a group (which is always cheaper)!
After my meal I walked around the city a bit just taking it all in before I left and stumbled upon this.. gentrification at its finest! Both of these buildings were being inhabited! How crazy is that?
I found a sweet little coffee shop and had a cappuccino and a slice of cheesecake for dinner just before I found my new favorite jeans in a second hand shop called Paul’s Boutique!
I liked my new jeans so much I wore them to the airport.. something I would never have done in any other jeans! See you soon, Berlin!
Last photo, but I had to include it! I got to see the sun rise from my airplane window. Yep, I’ll be taking early morning flights from now on.
Thanks for reading, I hope you can visit Berlin soon!
Como is a small city near the Swiss border of Italy at one end of Lake Como. I love visiting this little town to get groceries because it is so much cheaper than Switzerland, but still much more expensive than the rest of Italy! The town hugs the lake's edge with a walking path lined with little Italian restaurants and shops. There's even a funicular to go to the top of the mountain to have a view of the lake!