Things to see and do - Berlin
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Berlin, eternal Bauhaus :
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Berlin, eternal Bauhaus
Berlin, eternal Bauhaus
More than fifteen years after the fall of the Wall, Berlin is still constantly changing. While classic heritage, such as the Reichstag, has been given a new lease of life in many cases, the very best architects from the world over are coming here to give free rein to their creativity. Berlin, the eternal Bauhaus, is waiting to be (re)explored. If you have only two or three days, here is a selection of must-see places.See map of Berlin
Although Berlin has hardly any architectural homogeneity, it draws tremendous energy and creativity from its contrasts, which have for a long time been embodied by the alternative Kreuzberg district. Accordingly, the city's appeal lies as much in its collections of ancient art as in its futuristic skyscrapers, and in its historical monuments as much as in its old squats converted into galleries.
The Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin and of a divided and subsequently reunified Germany, majestically opens the avenue like a modern Athenian Acropolis. It is crowned by a spirited Quadriga (by Johann Gottfried Schadow) symbolising Victory, and looking towards the city in the guise of peace. Hitler, an expert at misappropriating symbols, had turned it towards the West so that no one could fail to be aware of his plans to conquer.
At the foot of the gate, Pariser Platz celebrates the taking of Paris by the armies that had joined forces against Napoleon. Since the fall of the Wall, this square - formerly considered as Berlin's "diplomatic lounge" - has been subject to an intense reconstruction campaign, which is notably evident in the new French Embassy (2002), built by Christian de Portzamparc on the historic site of the old neo-Classical palace destroyed in 1945.
Next door is an eye-catching glass construction, the Akademie der Künste by Gunther Behnisch, built to replace the old academy, which was set in an 18th century palace built by Ernst von Ihne.
Then allow yourself to be swept along by the stream of tourists and Berliners in a hurry, who are going to shop at Quartier 207, the glass Galeries Lafayette building designed by Jean Nouvel, Quartier 206, whose numerous protrusions on the façade were designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, or Quartier 205, built by the O.M. Ungers firm of architects based in Cologne. It is brilliant, stylish and dramatic, but not earth-shattering. One receptionist suggests that we return at night, when the façades are transformed by lighting effects.
Nevertheless, call into the Mauermuseum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a small private museum created by an association, containing a jumble of enlightening documents, notably on the extraordinary means used to flee to the West: you won't regret it. It provides an insight into the extent to which the Wall tragically governed the life of Berlin's inhabitants.
Around the square, the Alte Bibliothek occupies the spot intended for the academy: its curved profile has earned it the nickname of "commode" among the Berliners. As for St-Hedwigs-Kathedrale, it was modelled on the Pantheon in Rome and dedicated to the Catholic community. On 11th May 1933, Bebelplatz was the scene of the book-burning by the Nazis, during which 20,000 "non-German" books were burned. A memorial representing a sunken library with empty shelves immortalises this sinister episode.
Now cross Unter den Linden without falling into a works trench to admire the Zeughaus (Arsenal), Berlin's most beautiful Baroque monument, with its very Italian-style pale pink coat. The collections of the Deutsches Historisches Museum currently undergoing renovation - are usually on display here. People also come here to admire the modernist constructions of architect I.M. Pei, whose annex a spiral glass column is definitely worth the trip. The building also houses a large café with a very pleasant terrace on the banks of the Spree, where you can enjoy a snack at all hours.
In spite of this, be prepared for one of the biggest shocks of your art-loving life at the Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum), with its full-scale presentations of ancient times. Life-size reconstructions of the Altar of Pergamon (a Greek town in Asia Minor) and the gateway to the Milet market (a Roman trading post) are set in monumental rooms! Hollywood and Brad Pitt might as well give up and go home; no digital effects will ever equal the majesty of ancient architecture when it reaches such a monumental degree. The rest of the collections is in keeping with this (notably the gate of Ishtar from Babylon), and the museum also houses the Museum of Near Eastern Antiquities and the sumptuous collections of the Museum of Islamic Art.
If you can manage it (these visits are very time-consuming), you should complete your exploration of Museum Island with a trip to the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Alte Nationalgalerie (which is holding a Goya retrospective) and lastly the Bodemuseum (Bode Museum). Exhausted and on your last legs, you will reach the Berliner Dom (cathedral) to be amazed by the exuberant interior decoration, and to gather your thoughts in the Hohenzollern crypt.
DaimlerCity (1998) is the fruit of the collaboration between Renzo Piano himself (one of the architects of the Centre Pompidou in Paris), Rafael Moneo (the man behind the Kursaal in San Sebastián) and Arata Isozaki. The complex includes the DaimlerChrylser Contemporary, a gallery of abstract art, a water feature, a vast shopping centre and the Weinhaus Huth (1912), the only original building to have survived!
Designed by Helmut Jahn (who created the City Spire in New York), an American architect of German extraction, the Sony Center, European headquarters of the famous firm, is the most spectacular of the new creations: a circular space, surrounded by transparent buildings and covered by a gigantic roof of glass, with pieces of canvas stretched by metal girders arranged in the shape of bicycle wheels. Restaurants, shops, Filmmuseum (multiplex cinema) and cafés with vast terraces attract a large crowd.
The last project, the Beisheim Center, is not yet finished. A friend from Berlin assures us that although Berliners have tended to stay away from the district, finding it a little cold, it is beginning to liven up in the evening.
In 2003, the architect Daniel Libeskind (chosen to rebuild the World Trade Center) handed over the keys to the Jüdisches Museum, which was immediately nicknamed Blitz (flash of lightning) by the Berliners. Flash of lightning, but also a zigzag or scar, this long building covered with zinc and slashed with loopholes is an example of expressionist architecture and can be read as a metaphor for the harrowing history of the Jewish people.
Lastly, on 10th May this year, between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamerplatz, a few dozen metres from Hitler's personal bunker, the HolocaustMemorial was inaugurated after 15 years of lengthy debate. This is the first time that a nation has acknowledged the greatest of its crimes by a monument right in the middle of its capital. Peter Eisenman has laid out 2,711 charcoal grey concrete slabs through which people can wander freely, day and night. Even though the architect rejects the comparison with a cemetery, this is what is bound to spring to mind...