Photo: James Guppy
Island in a sea of angst
“For us, Berlin was crazy, debauched, metropolitan, anonymous, gargantuan, futuristic … In short: an infernal cesspool and paradise in one,” Hans Flesch von Brunningen, quoted in What I Saw, by Joseph Roth.
The thing I like most about Berlin is that you are never more than a few metres away from history. Hitler’s suicide in his bunker, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of communism - it all happened here. Despite the crazy amount of building that has gone on since reunification, the past is everywhere. I still get a frisson on my way to work when I walk past the bullet holes.
For visitors Berlin has a fantastic amount to offer: world-class museums, a marvellous public transport network, and wonderful lakes and forests. And then there is the amazing architecture. Over the past decade or so, the city has been transformed - with the glittering Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz, the new modernist British Embassy and the Reichstag’s bravura glass dome, designed by Sir Norman Foster.
And the city continues to change shape: every morning I take the train past Berlin’s new central railway station, an enthralling temple of glass and steel due to open next year. Unlike London, meanwhile, Berlin is still affordable. You can eat well, drink well and sleep well far more cheaply than in most other European capitals. Berlin, it has been said, is not really part of Germany, or even Europe. Even though the Berlin Wall has vanished, this is still true, with the city immune to the collective gloom that has overtaken the rest of Germany, an island twinkling in a sea of German Angst.
Carolyn Fry adds ...
Divided for almost three decades, Berlin became the capital of reunified Germany in 1990. Since then, Europe's biggest post-war construction project has transformed the no-man's land that once separated East from West into the Potsdamer Platz, a vibrant heartland of shops, offices, flats, eateries, bars and cinemas. And all that is left of the wall that the East German government built in 1961, to stop its citizens from escaping to the west, are a few graffitied remnants.
As this shiny new centre has risen from a forest of cranes, so the crumbling buildings of historical East Berlin have slowly been restored. The result is a city where grand public buildings, museums and theatres rub shoulders with buzzing beer halls, style bars and pumping Latino nightclubs.