Berlin is definitely one of the more interesting cities that I've visited thus far. Though there are other fascinating things to know about the city, one of the main things that I find interesting is the architecture. Now some of you may be saying, "Wow, Hannah, I didn't know you liked concrete so much." Ordinarily, I am more of a tree hugger than an asphault lover. It's not that I like the lack of green in Berlin - what I mean is that it's fascinating to see how the city has evolved into what it is today. And you can definitely see this evolution throughout the city. Let see if I can try to articulate this idea...
Berlin is definitely not the most beautiful place I've ever visited. When I say "beautiful" here, I am comparing it to the places like the Charles Bridge in Prague and the Hohensalzburg in Salzburg. Such places give me a feeling like I'm looking back on the past. The new Hauptbahnhof is amazing, but you can definitely see the newness in it's style - the arching glass roof and the grand scale are a dead giveaway. At the same time, to me it is a sort of symbol of the choices that have been made in Berlin since the end of World War II and since the reunification of the city and Germany.
Like Berlin, Munich was heavily damaged by the war's end. Something like 80 percent of the buildings in the city were destroyed. But if you visit the old downtown area (ie - Marienplatz and the surrounding area), you will see many buildings have been rebuilt to look as they once did - the people of Munich decided to incorporate the newly rebuilt buildings with the old ones, so as to make the transition less apparent. Berlin went in the opposite direction. Even before the war, a lot of concrete was being used. For example, Hitler ordered one of the most beautiful parks in the city torn up so that a parking lot could be laid down for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Then the war came along - and like Munich most of the city received heavy damage. The differences between post-war reconstruction in the East and West sectors of the city can still be seen today. In what used to be East Berlin, you can see the Soviet influence - push the rubble aside and lay down more concrete. West Berlin still has a lot of concrete, but at least I've noticed a few more classic buildings in that part of town. The biggest difference between the two is in the housing - you can definitely see that difference between communist life and the more commercial end.
What I find most fascinating is the area of town where the two parts of the city come together - around the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie and such. I can see the effort that has been made to bring Berlin into the 21st Century - the new Hauptbahnhof being a prime example. And of course, the Starbucks right across the street from the Russian Embassy (which is still located in the heart of the old East part of the city).
What people have been telling me about Berlin since the beginning of my trip is completely true - you can see that the history of the city is still very important to it's citizens and visitors. I just wish I had more time to explore it (since it is about eight times the size of Paris - this place is huge!). Alas, tomorrow I move on to Rostock, where I'll spend the night then catch the ferry early on Sunday more for Helsinki. I'll check in when I get there.
Oh, and I did finally get my visa this morning. Yay for the Russian government - They managed to process it in less than 24 hours!
Pictures will be up on flickr soon (just in case I'll put the link here again - http://www.flickr.com/photos/hannahefrank)