After three flights and over a full day of traveling, we made it to Berlin! From the airport, we took the U-Bahn to our apartment to drop off our luggage. The U-Bahn is the main subway system used in Berlin. It’s extremely efficient and clean. Public transportation in Berlin in general is a very well-developed system. Even without a bike or a car, it’s extremely easy to navigate the city. Speaking of bikes, I knew bikes were widely used in Germany before coming here, but I was still shocked by the number of people who use bikes for daily transportation. I’ve always known to look both ways for cars when crossing the street, but looking for bikes as well has definitely been an adjustment.
Our apartments are located just a minute away from a U-Bahn station, which is extremely convenient! The apartments are really cool- they have kitchens (which we’ve already put to use to make a few quick meals), laundry machines (thank goodness!), and a beautiful courtyard for everyone in the apartment complex to use.
After dropping off our luggage, we met up with the rest of our group in Alexanderplatz, which is a large public square in Berlin that is often used as a meeting point, and is also considered a transit hub. We then walked along the River Spree to a restaurant on the water for our first meal in Germany. It was delicious! I tried a dessert called a berry stew, which sounded a little confusing at first, but turned out to be very good.
We started out our first full day in Germany with a trip to the Berlin Wall Memorial. The Berlin Wall Memorial was created in 1998, seven years after the wall was torn down. It manages to maintain the feeling and concept of the wall by using sections of the actual wall to recreate segments of it from different stages of its development. It also uses copper poles spaced intermittently along the edge of the memorial to create an abstracted version of the wall that still gives the sense of a barrier while allowing visitors to look into and out of the memorial. Inside the memorial space, there was information about the history of the Berlin Wall, pictures of those who were killed near the wall, and more. It was really interesting but also saddening to hear about everything that happened during the existence of the Berlin Wall. One thing I found really interesting about the construction of the wall was that when it was created, the government claimed that its purpose was to protect the citizens inside the wall from the people outside, especially if they decided to attack using tanks. However, due to the way the wall was constructed, a tank could easily tear down the wall from the outside, but from the inside, it was a lot more difficult. This showed that the wall was truly created to keep the people inside the wall.
We made many stops throughout the day, at places including historic sites, government buildings, and the River Spree, but one of my favorite stops was at the Konzerthaus Berlin, or the Berlin Concert House. The concert house itself was beautiful, and the steps outside were used by many visitors as a place to sit and relax. There were musicians playing outside the concert hall, which made the experience even better. I am always really fascinated by how people use places as seating areas even if they are not created to be seating areas, and this location was a great example of that.
We ended the day with a stop along the river with fascinating views of the city. I like how, in Berlin, you can look in almost any direction and see a combination of traditional and modern architecture. It makes for a fascinating cityscape.
Day 3 started with a walk through the Karl Marx Allee, which is a boulevard in Berlin named after Karl Marx. It mainly consists of apartment buildings that were in fairly poor quality during Stalin’s rule, but have since then been renovated into luxury apartments. At the end of the Allee are two tall towers that mirror each other. Here, we were asked to draw a street section of the Allee, which showed us a lot about the symmetry of the boulevard in regards to the towers and the apartments. Most of the apartments on the boulevard are done in similar styles with slight modifications. It was interesting to see how a theme could be maintained in the architecture without the apartments being exact copies of each other. There was also a beautiful public garden on the Allee that we stopped by at. It had a beautiful variety of plant species, but most importantly, it gave the people living on the Allee a green space to escape to.
Next, we made our way to a section of Berlin that is considered to be suburbia. The architectural style and layout differed greatly from the part of Berlin we are staying at. The residential area consisted mainly of high-rise apartments, but the styles were all very unique and beautiful. One thing I really like about German architecture, especially for residential areas, is the balconies! Most apartments have cute balconies with umbrellas and several plants, which creates a charming quality. We ended the day with hot dogs for dinner, which is necessary during a trip to Germany.
Most of day 4 was spent at Grunewald, the largest forest in Berlin. Grunewald is home to many plant and animal species, and plays a huge role in offsetting the pollution created in the city of Berlin. It also is very important for filtering the water that people in Berlin drink. There is currently an exhibit in Grunewald called Wald, Berlin, Klima. This translates to Forest, Berlin, Climate. The purpose of the exhibit is essentially to make the public aware of the importance of Grunewald. I learned a lot from this exhibit. The exhibits were relatively minimalistic, but still got their points across. For example, one part of the exhibit had several dozen trees in the forest painted blue. This represented the number of trees needed to filter the carbon dioxide produced by one person. Seeing the sheer amount of trees that were blue really helped me understand how much carbon dioxide I produce. Another part of the exhibit had a tap with drinking water that has been filtered by the forest. This helped us understand just how important the forest is in terms of providing enough drinking water for the city of Berlin.
After walking through the exhibit and sketching parts of it we found interesting, we walked to the top of Grunewaldturm, a historic tower on the edge of Grunewald. The several flights of stairs after a hike through the forest was very tiring, but it was definitely worth it for the view at the top of the tower. We were able to see different parts of Berlin in every direction. which was absolutely breathtaking.
We ended the day with a trip to part of the Berlin Wall that had not only been left in the city, but had also been spraypainted by various artists. I really enjoyed this visit because all of the artwork was really captivating and beautiful, but it also contained several political messages that made the wall segment even more powerful than it already is.
In the morning, we made our way to Sudgelande. Sudgelande is kind of like the Highline of Berlin, as it is a park that was created on a stretch of abandoned railroad. The difference is that Sudgelande is a lot more natural and less manicured than the Highline. We received a guided tour from a few Berlin students of Sudgelande. It was really interesting to learn about the common tree species in the park. Two common American natives, black locust and black cherry, are highly invasive in Germany. It was fascinating to see how something so harmless for us can be such a big threat in a different place, and vice versa.
After touring Sudgelande, we went to Tempelhofer Field. Tempelhofer Field is a giant field that was considered the first airport in Berlin. It was used mainly by Nazis as a training and flight zone for aircraft. After World War 2, the field was abandoned, and slowly became a huge recreational area for the people of Berlin. Later, when the government was deciding what to do with the field, the people of Berlin voted to leave it as it is, as a public space for walkers, bikers, and more. It is also currently used as a refugee camp. I think it is amazing that a space once used for something considered such a negative part of German history can now be used to help out those in need.
We had lunch and were supposed to visit a few other places that day, but we were hit with an intense rainstorm and ended the day early.
The day started off with a trip to the Markisches Museum. The museum, has, among other things, several scale models of Berlin. As someone who is really fascinated by scale models, I really enjoyed this museum. The models were incredibly precise, and even included the exact locations of the trees in the heart of Berlin. They were amazing; I can’t even begin to imagine how much time, effort, and planning went into creating those models.
Next, we visited a residential community that had been designed in a way that made it more sustainable than most. The community has about 2,500 residents, and has several residential buildings, as well as a handful of shops and other buildings. The roads and driveways are made of pervious material that prevents stormwater from accumulating, and all water drains into a man-made lake on the property that helps properly manage the water and prevent it from causing flooding issues. It was a great example of mid-size planning, and showed us that sustainable design is possible with ample amounts of preparation and planning.
We ended the day with a visit to an outdoor museum about the history of Berlin, focusing specifically on World War 2 and the Berlin War. I had never been to an outdoor museum before, so it was interesting to experience that for the first time. The museum included several letters between officers during the war, propaganda examples, and more. Learning facts about the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall is always a difficult experience, but it is important to remind ourselves of the hardships people have faced throughout history and learn from these events.