DESTINATION: BERLIN Going To Potsdamer Platz
For Culture And Business
ERLIN should be on everybodyís touring agenda. The city with 3.4 million inhabitants, nine times bigger than Paris, has completely reinvented itself as a metropolis of the 21st century. The city was the biggest construction site on the continent. What struck is particularly is how green the city is. More than 30 percent consists of parks, woodlands or rivers and lakes. Even the roads are lined with trees.
"We have more 1,500 bridges, more than Venice," says our guide, Markus Muller-Tenckhoff (www.guidesinberlin.de/markus).
We spent a couple of days in Potsdamer Platz, which has been wholly transformed from a wasted no-manís land during the Cold War to a new downtown of high-rise residences, corporate centers, luxury hotels and tourist attractions. Europeís first traffic light went up here. This community is a must-see for any visitor to Berlin.
After 28 years of partition, Berliners got rid of the wall 15 years ago, but you can still see a lonely vestige in the middle of the square. More in abundance is the bear, the cityís heraldic beast, which youíll see everywhere.
Our base was the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton Hotel, opened in January 2004 with 302 guest rooms, commands a panoramic view of the district. Exuding refined elegance, the cheerful staff welcomed us with such warmth and cordiality, they made our stay enjoyable and comfortable. The accommodations were superb: touch screen to control the lighting, satellite television, CD and DVD player, radio alarm clock, in-room safe big enough to hold a laptop, marble bath with separate shower and tub, plush bathrobes and slippers, and all the other amenities you expect from an upscale establishment.
We ventured out to explore the various attractions in this stunning contemporary environment. On one side is the new urban district anchored by DaimlerChrysler. On the other side is Sony Center with its unusual architecture. This is a prime focal point for business, culture and communications. People live and work here.
Sonyís European headquarters is an urban oasis consisting of seven buildings surrounding a colorful plaza. The focal point is The Forum, a flood-lighted public piazza, under a spectacular roof of glass, steel and fabric, where people meet for lunch or dinner in the many enticing eating venues.
Besides bars and cafes, there are CineStar Original with eight screens, IMAX 3D Cinema, Berlin Film Museum with a Marlene Dietrich Collection, the fascinating Sony Style Store with its futuristic atmosphere, a shopping mall, and the countryís largest casino.
The Forum is given over to regular open-air concerts, exhibits and public events. Tom Cruise appeared here in September for the premiere of Collateral. We were here when the International Year of the Child celebrated with a weekend of food and entertainment geared for families and children.
Nearby is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a field of 2,700 charcoal-colored concrete blocks. The slabs, or stelae, are arranged as a somber grid. You can see the wave-like pattern from all four sides. This is a new idea of remembrance. "This field speaks the language of silence," the architect Peter Eisenmann reportedly explained.
After four years of construction and controversy, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will open the memorial on May 10.
On one side of the memorial, a stoneís throw away, is the underground bunker where Hitler died at warís end. On the other side, across the street, is the site of the new U.S. Embassy now under construction.
A short walk further, at Pariser Platz, is the historic Brandenburg Gate, a true symbol of Berlin. It was built under Frederick Wilhelm II between 1788-91, based on the Propylaea in Athens. On top is the Quadriga, the chariot of triumph with the goddess Victoria, which has an interesting history. Napoleon carried it away after his victory in 1806. It was brought back in 1814 after Napoleonís defeat. By the way, donít believe the rumors: the chariot always faced east, toward old Berlin.
A couple blocks further we came to the highly imposing structure that is the Reichstag, seat of Parliament. Across the vast lawn is the Chancellery, Prime Minister Schroederís office.
We made a quick stop at Checkpoint Charlie, the doorway from Communist Berlin to West Berlin. Today tourists pose for pictures and buy souvenirs of the Cold War. Then we proceeded further down the road to check out architect Daniel Libeskindís zinc-clad structure, in the shape of a lightning bolt, adjoining the Jewish Museum (www.jmberlin.de).
The exhibits portray the vibrant past and present of German Jewish life. One interesting path leads outside to the Garden of Exile, an arrangement of 49 tall pillars on the cobblestone ground thatís on an incline. As you wander around the pillars, trying to keep your balance, you feel a sense of insecurity, like refugees in unknown territory.