By Antonio Malara
The visit to Berlin is the first part of a more complex journey that led me to visit Prague and Wien on the same tour. Initially this trip was supposed to be the re-edition of the adventure I had with close friends in 2013 when we visited the Czech capital. At that time we were five but in 2015 the number was reduced to two, me and another of my close friends. Since we were a couple, I proposed a longer and more articulated itinerary in which my friend initially did not believe. After setting the plan, I showed it to my travel partner who he approved after a short time. It would have been 11 nights and 12 days, with the first stop in Berlin, the next trip to Prague by plane and during the stay in the Czech capital, the trip by train to Wien for a couple of nights. It seemed complicated but my ability to organize trips made everything flow perfectly. The German capital had been on my wishlist for some time, especially because it reminded me of the childhood linked to the fall of the wall. Even though I was a kid and I didn't understand the political "logic", however that event influenced me a lot so I was curious to see this city and how it had evolved. Obviously the plan also included a part related to night entertainment, because my concept of travel must include “all”. The adventure began in the first week of June 2015, very early from my city by plane to Rome and from there to Berlin Tegel where we arrived around 2:00 PM.
After eating a burger at the airport, we put my plan into action to the smallest detail. In this specific case we bought a pass for public transport and took a bus to the first useful metro station and from there to the stop near our hotel. This was near Alexander Platz and we got there around 3:30 pm, as usual after checking in and storing our bags we left right away. After a few steps we found ourselves in front of the church of St. Marienkirche, a fairly classic building but from the way we come from, it had a 3D effect because it remained across another street and from our view it seemed wedged between two buildings. Just before crossing the street and the tram tracks, it appeared the Fernsehturm (a television tower) which was behind the church but for a strange perspective it could be seen next to it and created a new particular view.
Also in that area, I immediately noticed a strange installation of fuchsia pipes, about three meters high and distributed as if in a path above the sidewalk and also through the streets. Initially I thought they were a modern art installation but then I noticed that the whole area was full of construction sites so they were probably used to transport building materials such as concrete or similar. We were in the square with the Neptune fountain, this place was perfect as a view of the tower, a large space, with a lot of greenery and just the way I like it, without interference from other constructions so that I could admire the tower in its entirety. This structure had a futuristic design, a thin and very high shaft with a large sphere on top. It was definitely a visionary work of science fiction films, however we did not visit it that day but we planned to go up there later. With my friend we took many photos there and despite the presence of numerous construction sites I gave vent to my creativity using fuchsia tubes to create original images.
Leaving the square, we headed to the metro and from there in a couple of stops we arrived on “Unter den Linden”, the road that went straight to the Brandenburg Gate. Shortly after getting off the metro, I noticed a particular building on a side street and immediately headed towards it. This palace was clad in yellow brick but had a triangular blue glass and steel structure sticking out of the center, and a large British flag. Obviously it was the embassy and like all buildings with a particular design it struck me immediately. With my friend, we approached to see it up close and I noticed an additional fuchsia-colored round structure next to the triangular one. I don't know if the building was ancient and they added these installations later during a modernization phase, but I liked the effect. Returning to the main street I realized that Berlin was that way, some old restored building in the midst of many modern designed buildings.
When I arrived in Pariser Platz, I noticed an unpleasant thing. In addition to the various construction site barriers, the square was closed in the central part because inside it was full of installations related to the Champions League final that took place in Berlin that year and saw Barcelona and Juventus compete against each other. I think for this reason, there was also the presence of a lot of police, nevertheless I found a corner where I could take pictures of the Brandenburg Gate and I used the fountains to cover some installations in order to make the photos more natural and not identifying a specific event. To be honest, along the way to get under the Gate, I also took pictures with the installations, then we finally got right under the Gate. The large structure formed by tall columns and the famous horses on the roof, was very beautiful and impressive, although personally I imagined it even bigger. In this regard, we must also consider the fact that we could not look at it from a certain distance because the area was closed and cordoned off, I don't know what effect it would have returned. The structure was still very beautiful, flawlessly restored, I had seen many images of when it was half destroyed along with those that showed during the fall of the wall. I must say that live gave the impression of a “resurrected” rather than restored structure, especially that yellow made it shine.
Crossing the famous Gate and turning to the right we arrived at the Reichstag in a few minutes, along the way I continued to notice how modern architecture made of glass and steel buildings alternated with the classic one. In front of the German parliament, I was really impressed, certainly a more exciting experience than the visit to the Brandenburg Gate. The building was really large and had nothing to do with the images I remembered. Probably being very large on TV they showed only one side or the glass dome which however showed only a very small part live. Looking at it carefully, I could see the parts that had been rebuilt but in general the effect was impressive. I was advised to visit the palace inside and climb the dome, but that day with my friend we decided to reschedule the visit. Unfortunately later, more for an oversight than for lack of time, we skipped this experience and subsequently I strongly regretted it. To head towards the next destination, we took a stretch of road inside the park in front of the Reichstag rather than walking on the sidewalk, spending time inside the large green areas of large cities is an experience that gratifies me a lot.
The next destination was the Memorial in honor of the murdered Jews in Europe. The impact with the place was strong but for a mix of reasons. I have to be honest here; if on the one hand I recognized what it represented, on the other my rationality looked above all to the design. Had it been a simple square, I would have appreciated it without a sense of guilt, but in this specific case there was a little bit of it because I instinctively pretended to play with the opera. In fact, the memorial was made up of gray concrete blocks of different heights, they were scattered over a very large area, which also had a difference in height. Probably some of these blocks symbolized concrete coffins but in general they were a thing that broke the urban continuity in a clear way, even there I had the feeling of an alien and enigmatic thing, a work like a painting by De Chirico or Dalí. When I then started to turn inside it, I also appreciated the fun of the labyrinth, in fact, in the uphill stretch, the blocks were very high and I could get lost inside the area. I would like to clarify that mine was not lack of respect but spontaneity, that desire to travel like a child and to merge with places beyond their meaning. I liked the memorial very much but unfortunately it did not remind me of the dramatic events of that people.
That day there was also a night out and this led us to have dinner in advance. My friend had discovered a chain of restaurants called Vapiano, this place had an original format where the staff cooked on sight and in real time, immediately after ordering. In Berlin there were several Vapiano and that evening we opted for the restaurant located in Friedrichstraße. The experience that also included a form of electronic check-in was positive and since then when I travel I choose this place, especially for lunch.
As I said at the beginning of the post, our visit to Berlin was also based on night life including adult entertainment. That night we went to a club called Mirage, I don't remember how we found out. In the night after turning in the middle of deserted streets, with the help of Google Maps we managed to get to the front door. Once inside, the place was quite dark with few soft lights, it had a mysterious atmosphere. On the stools of the long tables of the bar there were many girls seated who looked at us in a strange rather than inviting way. Then when a woman approached us to explain a little about how it worked there. After that, we limited ourselves to taking drinks and leaving the girls of mediocre beauty there alone at the bar. It was a place with an air of scam, what they offered was simply ridiculous, also given the tiredness due to the long day, we left after the drink.
Precisely because we hadn't been very late the night before, we woke up at about 09:00 AM in the morning. After having breakfast in a nice bar near our hotel, we took the metro to reach the Funkturm, a steel observation tower of about 150 meters high similar to the Eiffel Tower but much slimmer. I had known the existence of this tower thanks to Helmut Newton, I had read that this building had inspired him when he was little so I wanted to see it too. I purposely chose a stop north of the tower so we would pass a square first and could see the tower from a distance. My idea was good, a long avenue led us to the tower that from small became large as we got closer. However, a concrete structure (which surrounded the whole tower) covered the lower part of the Funkturm. I took photos from inside a parking lot and tried to enjoy the tower in the best possible way, probably we could also go up but having a busy schedule, we had only planned the external visit, a mistake that unfortunately I make too often. Live the Funkturm was bigger than I imagined it and like all the structures that I consider original, I loved it instantly. Its design seemed to me that of the structures that still need to be completed, because in fact the tower was a steel skeleton except for the first floor where there was a two-story structure and the top with another structure from the same design but smaller. It gave the impression of a building on which panels still had to be installed to complete the design, however I liked that style. We left after about 15 minutes and returned to the metro we headed to the Tiergarten park where the Siegessäule statue was located.
Also in this case I chose a stop a bit far in order to see the statue in a better way. However, this time I exaggerated because the road to get to the place was a bit long but we still appreciated the effect of the statue that grew larger as we advanced. The statue was a cylindrical tower at the top of which there was a gold-colored angel holding a sort of crown, it was a memorial to the victory in the Prussian-Danish war. Moreover, it could be visited by climbing up to the top through the narrow and infinite steps. The work was located in the middle of a large roundabout and once we crossed the road we were right under the monument. This was even more majestic than the previous tower (probably because we were closer) and offered multiple photographic ideas. Up close, the all-marble base was very large, on the side wall there were relief scenes from the war and right there, cut into the marble, was the entrance door. We went up the spiral staircase and stopped on the first floor from where honestly there was only a view of the road intersections and nothing more. We reached the top after about 10 minutes and we were right under the angel, from there the view was much better and have an idea of the city. The large park, the television tower, the Reichstag, the palaces were beginning to be distinguished. The bad thing was that there were protections so the sense of "cage", to photograph I had to do it through a wire mesh. To create more original effects on the panorama, I pushed the zoom of the camera to the maximum.
After getting off the tower, we took the subway very calmly to reach a new destination, Potsdamer Platz. There was another Vapiano restaurant and the area was worth a visit because it was basically a modern part of Berlin. After lunch, which was nothing more than a simple plate of spaghetti, we set out to explore. As I said, the area was modern, and in the middle of the steel and glass buildings, where even the metro stop was a huge window, there was an installation of parts of the Berlin Wall. With large captions, these monoliths were there to remind history and at the same time break the continuity of ultramodern design. Just a few steps from the station was one of the most original buildings I've ever seen, the Sony Center. This place was a sort of open-air shopping mall but with a circular roof that in design resembled that of a circus. This was much larger and had a series of "sails" from which the light filtered. The structure seemed to be made of metal but honestly I didn't quite understand what it was. It was a very particular urban space, where there were also trees and plants as well as modern design shops and a large fountain in the center. Walking in the Sony Center was unique because initially I had the impression of entering a closed place but then the sun's rays filtered in the center and there was a lot of light. A very special and original place, one of those new ideas that I like. Inside there was also the Legoland store and to advertise it, in a corner near one of the exits, there was a life-size giraffe built with the famous bricks. Obviously it was everyone's attraction, especially the children, but I must say that we were not outdone, patiently waiting for our turn to take the picture under the giraffe. We continued in that completely modern neighborhood until we reached a pond that featured a modern work of art made entirely of steel. After the photos we left the area and on the way back I noticed how the place was also full of restaurants and green spaces, everything gave a feeling of tranquility, I liked it.
My concept of a "relaxing" holiday always includes a break after lunch and so we did, after a rest in the hotel we went out again around 4:30 PM to visit the Cathedral area, which was on the island of museums and within walking distance of our hotel. The large green area was very beautiful, even here many people relaxing on the grass or tourists exploring. The difference from Potsdamer Platz was that the view there was not modern, with a view of buildings with a classic design such as the Altes Museum and the Cathedral. This building was very beautiful and reminded me of those of Latin America, a large central dome and two lateral ones, and then part of the yellow stone that had darkened and gave a very unique aged effect. Going around that area was very stimulating also due to the many bridges that crossed the canals, an exploration that I did not expect. Between construction site areas and pipes for transporting materials, which this time were blue, we set out in search of the statue of Marx and Hegel. After a brief search, my friend found it, we practically passed by without even realizing it. We took a few photos with the two philosophers and then headed to the subway because it was time to go and see a place I'd dreamed of seeing for at least thirty years.
The East Side Gallery is the name by which the part of Berlin that still retains part of the old wall is called. The painted murals today have an added value and it really seems to walk next to an outdoor art exhibition. As a person who loves photography and bright colors, I could not help but adore this place, clearly on that wall there were stories of many types that I personally have not stopped to see carefully. But walking along the wall you realize what it represented only when you get to the open parts. That is, those parts where the wall has been removed in order to go to the side of the river. In fact, if you think that that line of the wall was uninterrupted until the end of the eighties, there is a bit of a sense of claustrophobia and anguish. The images of people climbing and parts of the wall being knocked down come to mind. Surely after a long time I saw the wall more from an aesthetic point of view, but all of this still retains a dramatic part, which can be seen by going to visit it with a less holiday mood than I did. However, I was more happy than excited because I had achieved another goal, yet another goal of me as a kid because it was actually that version of me who wanted to see it. Probably, on an unconscious level, the visit to the East Side Gallery helped me to exorcise the images I saw as a kid, especially the sense of lack of freedom that they transmitted to me. That was the last visit of the day but there was still the night that would have been a memorable one.
I recently read Helmut Newton's autobiography and discovered that the famous view he describes of the Funkturm was that of the metro stop we used to reach the Artemis night club. Today the buildings cover a large part of the tower but above all we were there to go to a very famous place in Europe but that nobody talks about. Defined as the temple of adult entertainment, Artemis is indeed a place that deserves to be visited. I'm not going to tell you the details of the place, the style and how you behave in there, but I can say that that year was frequented by beautiful girls. That night I met a 24 year old Kazakh girl who was just perfect, 178 cm tall, green eyes with light brown hair and smooth skin. Other than that, she had incredible sweetness but at the same time she was very good in bed. If a girl like her also knew how to cook the things I love, I could seriously think about getting married one day. Despite the hundreds of adventures I've had, to this day I consider that girl the most beautiful I've ever had sex with.
The morning of the third day was when we woke up later than usual, around 10 AM. After having breakfast we headed to the famous Berlin Zoological Park, where we arrived at approximately 11:20 am. There I noticed something unusual for advanced countries, that is, there was a queue at the ticket office, however we didn't wait long to enter. This zoo is one of the largest in Germany and has a huge variety of animals. The visit was actually a way to relax after the wild night spent at the Artemis and that was a place where you didn't have to pay much attention because, in any case, the oddities to see immediately caught your eye. The area where the zoo was located was quite modern, there were also two other places of interest to visit, one I had forgotten that it was nearby and we visited it the next day, the other was the Newton foundation that I only discovered years later. The park was immensely large and we understood it immediately by looking at a map at the entrance, it took us about three hours to visit it. However, time has passed in a carefree way, there were many animal species there and it was also a pleasure to photograph them, unfortunately I did not have a sufficiently zoom lens otherwise I would have enjoyed it even more. The journey started from the elephants to move on to the giraffes, this type of animal had very large spaces where they could turn and there were no high safety nets, probably those animals were peaceful. This gave way to appreciate this species in a natural way, in close contact. Subsequently, however, the part dedicated to the monkeys was a whole high and totally closed enclosure, also in this case the space that the animals had was quite large. Of this species, in the specific case the baboons, they gave us laughs because it was easy to see them mate and it was fun to see the very short times with which they carried out this pleasure activity. The orangutan was certainly one of the most original with that red "cloak", however most of them were static and the very tight mesh cage did not allow for a good view. Besides looking at the animals, it was really nice to walk in the park which also had green areas. The last singular thing we saw was the one in the gorilla area. First of all, I had never seen this animal live and then at some point there was one that seems to understand that people photographed him and began to make complacent facial expressions, as if he were posing.
We left the zoo around 2:30 PM and headed to Friedrichstraße, had lunch there at Vapiano and then walked all the way to the shops until we reached the next destination, which was Checkpoint Charlie. The street was very beautiful and elegant and respected what we had seen in Berlin up to that moment, that is old buildings alternating with modern ones. Checkpoint Charlie was a roadblock that divided the Russian and US sectors. Today it is represented by a rectangular white sentry box with extras dressed as soldiers. The place gave the idea of a small playground both for colorful buildings all around and for the people lining up to take pictures with the soldiers in front of the sentry box. The only thing that reminded the drama of the place was a white sign, perhaps original, where it said in many languages: "You are leaving the American sector" and on the other side it said the opposite: "You are entering the American sector", with the various rules to be respected. In general, the place smelled of celebration, not drama, however in the first block to the right of the checkpoint there was an outdoor exhibition regarding the place. There, in addition to parts of the wall, there was also a map of the divided city and photos of the checkpoint when it was actually in operation. That exhibition was certainly more interesting than the sentry box itself, the photos there really conveyed the drama. The division of the city was very visible and touching and there were photos showing people locking themselves inside the trunk of their cars hoping for freedom. We got back on the metro at 5 PM and went back to the hotel and after a short break we went to spend some time at Alexander Platz, right in the area around the Tower. Although our hotel was nearby, we had not yet visited that square. Soon after we went to have dinner and then got ready for the night.
That night we went to the Matrix Club a disco that was located right in the East Side Gallery. I was very excited to go to a Berlin nightclub, I had read about great night time entertainment where anything could happen. We got there very early and we lost some time to understand the situation. In short, the club had two evenings, one for minors, which started early and ended at about 11 PM and the other for adults. We understood this by seeing kids leave and by the presence of an ambulance taking away those who were not well. This distinction was promising! When we entered the club, it was completely empty and we thought about a flop, then slowly it filled up… and what people! I live in a seaside city that has always had a culture for clubbing and fun, even if today all this is in decline, however, I have always been used to a more refined type of club. The Matrix was quite the opposite! People dressed badly, that after half an hour were already drunk and bothered each other. The place was like a brewery with music in the background. The club itself was nice but the type of party was not. I had a slim outfit with shirt, jeans and elegant shoe, compared to them I looked like an alien and I didn't feel embarrassed just because of my personality. I don't remember what time we left but I cursed my idea of going there rather than doing "round two" at Artemis!
On the morning of the last day we lived in total relaxation, we woke up late and reached the center after 11 AM. We went up Friedrichstraße to do some shopping, this time we went past Checkpoint Charlie to the end of the street. On the way back we stopped for lunch at the usual Vapiano. The important destination of that day was a visit to the Pergamon Museum which was located a few steps from our hotel. We went there in the afternoon and again we had enough time to do things calmly. The Pergamon Museum is one of the most important archaeological museums not only in Germany but in the world. This created great expectations in me and what I found inside was far superior to what I expected. The first thing we saw was the Ishtar Gate, one of the gates of the city of Babylon. It was clear that at Pergamon there were no small objects to see, but life-size beauties. We were in front of a real full-scale structure, whose blue color with yellow decorations did nothing but increase the visual impact. The structure itself was already majestic but a model present there in one of the corridors made me understand how much bigger the context in which it was located was. In other words, the door was just a small part of a much more mammoth structure.
The second structure seen was "The door of the market of Miletus". At first glance I had a strange feeling, a sort of deja-vu but more mysterious, that two-level structure made up of many columns reminded me of something. It was not just the impact of an entire facade made of stone in a different context such as the interior of a museum, there was something that I could not explain. After careful observation and reflection, I realized that that structure resembled the Library of Celsus seen a few months earlier in Ephesus. What I had was a sort of deception in the imagination, for a few seconds I had processed the Library as if it were a memory and I had superimposed it on the image of the door of the Miletus market. Also in this case, turning around we found a model inside which I could understand where the door was located, seeing those reconstructions made me want to go back in time and stroll through those fantastic cities.
Walking around the various rooms there were many statues and objects but what struck me most were the partial reconstructions of stone walls. Unfortunately, the Pergamon Altar, the work from which the museum takes its name and one of the most famous buildings of Hellenistic art, could not be visited. Also for this reason, our visit lasted about an hour, however thanks also to the sunny day we stayed in the external courtyard of the museum and near the river because it was very relaxing to walk in that context full of greenery and people moving around but without any rush. That afternoon we went back to the zoo or rather, just nearby to go to see the Gedächtniskirche or the church of memory. This building was built at the end of the 19th century and then severely destroyed during the Second World War. Today there remains a part of the church on which two more modern celebratory structures have been built. The place is certainly original and above all the church has a facade that seems intact only to then walk around it and see practically the inside because it is really devoid of walls.
The afternoon wasn't over yet and we had time to go to a new neighborhood where another entertainment place was located. Even if I don't particularly like the type of cold place that doesn't allow me to interact for long with the girls, I found it interesting both to walk around the neighborhood and to be entertained with a German girl. If it weren't for that place, I wouldn't have seen a residential area in Berlin. There I could see the houses different from those in the center, the small shops and the markets together with the people who had a more confidential attitude outside the commercial establishments.
After the calories burned and a sense of relaxation, we went for dinner around 8:30 PM, for that evening we wanted to taste the famous German sausages and luckily we found a place where they cooked some types that were huge. The last day in Berlin seemed over and fulfilling but we still had one goal, to go on top of the television tower. We managed to take the last lift which, if I'm not mistaken, left at 11:00 PM and in a few minutes we were at the top dominating Berlin. While it was fun to reach the goal at the last minute and even though I did find some nice design elements like a staircase leading to an upper restaurant, this tower suffers from a problem that was not related to it but to the city. I went up in many towers but the beauty is always given by what the city offers. In the case of Berlin, like many other cities, there are no other bright structures to see, so the view is not as satisfying as it can be for example when going on top of the Empire State Building. However, there remains the experience of height and, albeit minimal, the view of the city from above. The visit to Berlin was really over, the next day a slender Arab girl accompanied us to the Tegel airport at 8 AM, the most original taxi driver I have ever seen, she personally wanted to put the luggage in the hood of the car but I, as a gentleman, I didn't let her do it.
Berlin in a certain way was the journey of maturity, both from an organizational point of view and in the awareness of what we were going to do. The details with which I organized the movements and the things to see, the fact that I already knew how the entertainment clubs worked and ready to face it. From an aesthetic point of view, however, I found a city that was half a construction site with the presence of overhead pipes that still had their own design and cranes that were a bit everywhere. At the same time, the curiosity arose in me to understand how the places would change once the work was finished and for this reason, while I was shooting I thought that I would have to return to Berlin after some time. In general the city has given me more than what I expected and in a different way. I have not seen that night entertainment described while instead I found one of another type certainly more satisfying. Probably some of the things I have described may seem macho but it must be said that my experiences were made as a "single" individual while in some places there are people who leave partners at home. In addition to this, the "work in progress" side of Berlin has always left me the stimulus, even today I’m curious to return with the hope of finding an even more new and modern city, not only from the point of view of design but also on the side of night entertainment.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800