When I originally planned my trip to Paris, I didn't think I wanted to leave my beloved City of Light during my stay, but several weeks, and several drinks later, I was convinced, though I can't say exactly brow beat, to extend my stay. With additional time on my hands, I thought it was okay to leave my number one for another, and with that I set out to see Berlin.
I couldn't help but compare the two cities in my life. Berlin - well, it didn't have the sweeping beauty of Paris. Where were the beautifully tall, old buildings with elaborate stonework?
Yes, I technically know where they are, or where they went, as there are reminders all across the city.
There were large contrasts in the architecture with older, or recreated buildings and churches, sitting next to newer glass, modern designs.
I don't think of Berlin as a water filled city, but was pleasantly surprised by the network of waterways woven throughout, helmed by the River Spree, cutting the city east to west. This has led to many outdoor cafes, though I'm not sure they're getting their money's worth given the less than stellar year round weather. It's no Amsterdam, but on the beautiful fall days I spent there, the water softened the austere, monochromatic buildings. The gorgeous yellows and reds brought some life to the grey skies.
Berlin can get in the art ring with Paris with their large number of museums across the city. They do after all have a whole Museum Island where I was a big fan of the Pergamon Museum, home to the Pergamon altar, first constructed in the 2nd Century BC in Asia Minor. Through excavation and reconstructions, they were able to display the 115 feet wide, 110 feet deep structure. The Museum had to be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the massive, but important work. Just a few feet from it is the Market Gate of Miletus from the 2nd Century AD that's also a stunning site to behold - especially because it's all been recreated and shown indoors.
Then when your eyes start to glaze from the pillar pale, you get a splash of color with the bright Ishtar Gate from Babylone, 575 BC. OK score one for Berlin on antiquities, though I now have on my list to visit the Palais de Chaillot in Paris for some comparison viewing.
The fairly new Jewish Museum in Berlin (2001) was another good visit, though much more solemn. It's a sad story unto itself how long it took for this museum to be built and the story to be documented and on display.
The building is intriguing in its structure with zig zagging arms that shoot off underground to form a star of David. One of the off shoots contains an empty, white room, called the "Void" to represent the space Jewish people would have taken if not for the Holocaust. And another leads into an eerily quiet, 79 foot tall, cement silo with only a small amount of light coming in from a tiny slit.
On a lighter note, the pretty summer palace of Schloss Charlottenburg was a lovely walk through, complete with gardens modeled after those in France, bien sur.
The East Side Gallery is also an interesting project created in 1990. Artists came together to paint 105 paintings on a mile long remnant of the Berlin Wall.
There's calls for peace, remembrances, political outrage and I'm pretty sure there was a highlight game in one where you had to find hidden shapes.
While Paris may wear its beauty on its sleeve, Berlin requires you to dig a little deeper. Perfect evidence of this was when I ventured out one night with a local. Normally, I would not be intrigued to open a door like this, on a street like this.
The cold, empty, graffiti filled stairwell didn't excite me any further, though I was intrigued.
Then there was the door.
But pushing the door opened revealed a hidden gem, much like how I found the city itself. The beauty isn't always obvious, but if you move past the façade, you are richly rewarded.
While Paris is polished, and one might argue it's become white washed as a recent NY Times article claimed, tough you can correctly assume I don't entirely agree, Berlin is definitely edgier. You can feel the energy and that they're on the precipice of something exciting and new, which I also found in the food scene which will be the subject of it own post.
Luckily Paris did take me back, but I did enjoy flirting with a slightly more dangerous, grittier city. That's one of the many reasons I love being here is that there is a range of diverse experiences, history and cultures within a stones throw, or Easy Jet flight away. For now, I'm happy to return to my steady, but more adventures await.