Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Take My Breath Away

Hi again everyone,

Tonight I´m writing from Berlin, which, as those of you who were connossieurs of my e-mails last year will know, is one of my favourite cities (indeed, it will be one of probably only two places I will visit on all three of my Europe trips so far). Nothing has happened to change my already favourable opinion of the city. Actually, visiting here with my brother has proved quite interesting, as I have had to vary what I have done so as to include all the obvious stops that I have already visited so as to give a good starting point for Chris, whilst at the same time finding new stuff to do myself. I hope I´ve managed to do this quite successfully.

Arrival was fun - we came on a night train, which in addition to being a bad way of getting sleep was also a cooker, because it had to board a ferry to get to Germany, and therefore kindly left us on the lorry deck. Thus we had a lot of time to kill on Tuesday morning, which we did by doing a quick-hit tour of most of the major (historical) - winding its way from the Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm past the Deutscher Dom (cathedral) and down the Unter Den Linden to teh Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, before coming back past the Potsdamer Platz and one of the last remaining stretches of wall to finish near Checkpoint Charlie (although admittedly one of the main reasons behind this was to go to the one cafe in Berlin where there is free refills on soft drinks!). The fact that this sort of trip is more than manageable in one morning is testament to the vast array of history that this city has to offer.

After that, much more of my time has been spent going around museums. In particular, this evening I went to the German History Museum, where there was a fantastic exhibition on the First World War - in my opinion very self-critical of the German role in it (although this is perhaps understandable given later history), but it also did a very good job in delineating the pan-European currents of patriotism and nationalism, as well as looking at the effects of the war and the different currents of thought which influenced popular and intellectual reaction. Other museums we visited weren´t as interesting as I´d hoped - referring specifically in this case to the Pergamon museum. Basically a collection of artefacts plundered from the ancient world during the era of Prussian expansionism, the centrepiece exhibits (the Babylonian Gate, the Pergamon Altar and a Roman Market Gate) are quite literally monumental; however, the rest of the collection suffers from a lack of imagination. The curators basically say "these items are historically interesting - look at them" without really placing them in historical context. Where there has been a limited effort to do so, it was somewhat disappointing and overly politically correct I felt. Or worse still, it explained more about the maintenance and transportation of the object than it did about the object itself.

Another place which suffered somewhat from a lack of explanation of displays was the Schloss Charlottenburg - one of the Prussian dynasty´s many palaces. The rooms weren´t really decked out as they would have been when it was actually used as a palace - perhaps understandable as the building is a reconstruction from what was badly damaged during the war. However, the beauty of the rooms themselves, and the wonderful gardens, did make it a very interesting diversion.

Other than that, Chris and I have spent a fair amount of time relaxing. Berlin is full of wonderful squares, in particular the Alexanderplatz, which, although overshadowed by the clearly Communist TV-Tower (built to be visible from all areas in West Berlin) is very pleasant to sit in; and also the Potsdamer Platz, which has some of the most arresting modern architecture I have seen. Talking of modern architecture, another site to visit is the Gedachtnis Kirche - not so much the old building, which is the remains of what stood before WW2, but more the new church next to it, which firstly does not look like a church, but more importantly for me at least is one of the few attempts I have seen to utilise modern architecture in a church building. I imagine opinion would be divided as to how successfully this was carried out, but I enjoyed it very much - at first I hadn´t even picked it out as a church!

The hostel, as it was the last two times I stayed there, has been fantastic, not least because myself and my brother managed to fight off all-comers in the pub quiz (and for those of you hoping to steal me from my current Turf pub quiz team, I would like to point out this will increase my transfer fee...). Again, the tendency for it to turn into a semi-Busman´s holiday struck again; one of our roommates was a Finnish history student who I spent quite a long time with discussing different theories of history and what motivates people to ´take action´ if you will forgive me using such broad and general terms.

We are heading off to Prague - the place my brother is perhaps keenest to visit - tomorrow, with a stopover in Dresden on the way. As ever, please keep in touch, and I hope you await the next instalment with great anticipation!