Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Culture Vulture's Berlin

For fans of classical music, opera, historic buildings and museums, few cities in the world can equal Berlin. About a decade ago I travelled there with a friend, Lila, who had never visited the city, for a week of touring and concert going.
We stayed at the Forum Hotel on Alexanderplatz in the city's former Eastern sector. This hotel is now known as the Park Inn ( and room rates are advertised for as low as 64 euros, or about $85 per night. I think it was about the same when we were there, and the rate included an enormous and delicious breakfast buffet, with many different breads. This is not a cozy hotel--it towers 40 storeys in the best Soviet tradition, but it is very well located.
My friend insisted on buying tickets in advance for the Staatsoper ( and for the Philharmonie (,) and this proved to be a good idea, since last minute tickets would have been hard to find. The Staatsoper is not in the theatre we visited, and its main productions are now in the Schiller Theatre. Tickets start at 20 euros for the opera, 19 euros for the Philharmonie in its beautiful modern theatre in the round. Sir Neville Marriner, many of whose recordings I had heard on the CBC, was conducting the night we were at the symphony.
We visited many museums, including the wonderful Pergamon, the Egyptian Museum, the Bauhaus Archiv and the Brohan Museum of Art Nouveau (known as Jugendstil in German) and Art Deco. All were worthwhile, but if you have time for just one among Berlin's 180 museums make it the Pergamon, to see the Pergamon altar from the Hellenic period and the Ishtar gate from ancient Babylon.
One day we took a bus tour to Potsdam, which proved to be a good idea because the attractions in Potsdam are very spread out and it would be hard to see them without a car. We were there is December, so tourists were blessedly few. San Souci, the villa of Frederick the Great, is the main attraction, but there are many more including the palace where the Potsdam Conference was held after World War II, the secret city of the KGB (I'm not sure this is still there,) and the small downtown with its different architectural styles (Dutch, French, Russian) for the different groups of early settlers.
Berlin is a great walking city, and we enjoyed looking for the Nikolai Viertel, showplace of the former East Berlin, and for remnants of the Wall. Best of all was a brunch followed by a walking tour with two friends of my friend Pat, Bill and Doris, who regaled us with tales of being in Berlin at the time the Wall came down.


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