On 14 May I travelled to Berlin to organise a conference. From Wednesday to Friday afternoon my life consisted mainly of work, but at 14.30 on Friday I left the venue with my suitcase and begun the second part of my trip, that of a tourist. This was my first time in Berlin and I had much to see and only two half days of time to explore.

I did not stay in Berlin long enough to get a real feel for the city. I mainly visited the typical tourist spots and barely scratched the surface of the real city. What I noticed was the constant mixture of the old and the new and the sad and the joyful.

The Old

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Much of Berlin was destroyed in the 2nd world war but many impressive old buildings remain nestled among the newer ones. Top left is the German Reichstag, with its modern glass dome, and next to it on the right the Gendarmenmarkt. The bottom left shows a piece of the Berlin Cathedral and on the right is a tower on the Oberbaum bridge.

… and the New

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Berlin has a lot of modern architecture, some of it quite remarkable. The most spectacular must be the Sony Center at Potzdamerplatz (top left) about which I will write more in my next post, but the TV tower is also a famous landmark and then there are some controversial buildings such as the new Chancellery building (below right).

The sad

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Berlin has a lot of sad history. It was both the seat of the Nazi government and the East German Government. Remains of these times are everywhere and in addition many memorials have been built to serve as a constant reminder about the atrocities committed. On my last day in Berlin I visited some of the memorials. At the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism (top left and bottom right) the words circling the pond made me feel a deep sadness:

Gaunt face
dead eyes
cold lips
quiet
a broken heart
out of breath
without words
no tears
.

A while later I entered the are of stone blocks that constitute the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (below left). The atmosphere would have been quite solemn were it not for the joyful tourists taking pictures of each others sitting on the stones, and the party music playing nearby…

After leaving the memorial I began walking back to the hotel. On the way I passed the open air Topography of Terror museum. The museum contains a piece of the Berlin wall (below centre) and the empty space that formerly housed the Gestapo and SS headquarters (top right).

… and the joyful

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Despite its sad history Berlin feels like a joyful place. There are terraces everywhere and it is rare not to hear music playing as you walk. On the Gendarmenplatz a man was playing the flute on one side of a fountain while two boys played trumpets on the other side. Even the beggar in the street did not put on a sad face but used some humour in his display.

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