Free walks in Berlin

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January, 2005

A largely rebuilt city due to the destruction rendered during the second World War, Berlin is a sprawling, ever-expanding capital city. Lacking a real city center, Berlin continues to multiply and grow in size with new modern construction. Simultaneously, sections of the city serve as staunch reminders of the old Berlin that was mired in the throes of Communism and the Cold War.

Being such as large city with such a storied history, the best way that I have found to explore modern Berlin and gain a fantastic historical insight at the same time is with the famous Free Walking Tour offered in the city. While I am not a fan of tour group activities, this one is well worth the afternoon spent hoofing it around town. Plus, the price fits any budget. Well-trained Berlin Wallguides provide evocative insight into many of Berlin’s famous sights, including places such as the Brandenburg Gate,¬† the site of Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall. Highly recommended to anyone visiting the city.

Just south of the Brandenburg Gate is Potsdamer Platz, the hopping downtown district that holds  mega-significance for this war ravaged city. Once the center of Berlin, the area was relentlessly bombed in WWII, ripped in half by the Berlin Wall, and then triumphantly rebuilt upon as a showing of the strength of modern Europe. Stoically situated in the center of the plaza are sections of the Berlin Wall that serve as a constant reminder of the harsh division that once gripped this now teeming downtown district. Fabulous bars, shops, restaurants and brewhauses are cluttered all around this area.

Another Berlin site that really piqued my interest was the site of Berlin’s Parliament, the Reichstag What fascinated me about the building was that the center chamber was a huge spiral leading up to a large glass dome at the top, and the meeting areas for members of Germany’s parliament–or Bundestag–are on the bottom floor at the base of the cylinder. The reasoning for this apparently, is to serve as a constant physical reminder Reichstagthat they are in fact looking up at those who they serve, as opposed to the other way around of placing themselves on a pedestal in a position of power. I feel the world could use more buildings constructed like the Reichstag.

After such a long day of cruising around the city on foot, we meandered back to our hostel on the outskirts of town, The Happy Bed Hostel. While located outside of the downtown area, it is easily accessible by the U-bahn metro system, and is my recommendation for a budget place to sleep in this sprawling German capital.

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