Berlin-based photographer and Matador editor-at-large Paul Sullivan commemorates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall with 20 photos of what he deems “the most inspiring city in Western Europe.”
Church in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin
1. I moved to Berlin almost exactly a year ago. After spending the summer of 2008 working here (on the HG2 Berlin guidebook), I fell head over heels and knew I had to make the move. Given my partner and I had a 9-month-old baby the obvious area to live was Prenzlauerberg -- a former Eastern part of the city whose burgeoning population of young families has prompted the nickname Pram-zlauerberg. One year on and I'm still inspired daily by Pberg's wide, leafy boulevards, multi-layered history, and laid-back vibe. (Image: Zionkirchplatz, Prenzlauerberg)
Playing in a park in the snow, Berlin
2. The relaxed feel of Berlin in general has a lot to do with the fact that there's 'only' 3.7 million people here (urban population). Sounds a lot, but compared with London's 8 million or Paris's 10 million, it pales, Combined with the large vacant spaces created by WW2 the relative lack of people creates a rare and luxurious feeling of space usually missing from other major cities. Add cheap (but rising) prices, a limited local economy, and a significant creative community and you have one of the last truly 'bohemian' capitals in Western Europe.
3. Despite the chilled nature of our 'hood, it's only a stroll (or bike ride, usually since Berlin is very 'geared up' for cycling) into the hustle and bustle of Mitte, the most central area of Berlin. The spiritual heart of Mitte is Alexanderplatz, a former cattle market that now hosts the towering Fernsehturm, the heavily daubed Fountain of Friendship between Peoples, and a wealth of socialist architecture. Modern constructions notwithstanding, it's like a brief trip into the heart of the GDR. Radiating from this central timewarp are some of Berlin's trendiest venues, a dense network of bars, shops, boutiques, cafes, and nightclubs.
4. Despite the ongoing commercialization of Mitte and subsequent bustle, there are still many tranquil areas where you can get a taste of an older, gentler Berlin. The streets around Auguststrasse are full of art galleries and close by is the Scheunenviertel, once home to a thriving Jewish community, now a thriving warren of interesting buildings, shops, and cafes.
New Synagogue, Berlin
5. Oranienburgerstrasse offers the stunning golden dome of the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge), originally built to accompany the growing Jewish population in Berlin. During the famous Nazi pogrom known as 'Kristallnacht', the synagogue was burned, and then heavily bombed in WW2. Rebuilding began when the wall came down in 1989 and it is open once more to the public today mainly as a museum.
Hackescher Markt, Berlin
6. Hackescher Markt hosts a small market on Saturday mornings and is usually pretty busy thanks to the nearby train station, which was known in GDR times as Marx-Engels-Platz. It's worth taking a peek inside the station at the gorgeous interior decoration.
Museum Island, Berlin
7. Around the corner from Hackescher Markt you'll find the winding river Spree and its impressive Museumsinsel -- Museum Island -- a UNESCO World Heritage site that hosts several world-class museums including the Bode (pictured here), New Museum, Old National Gallery, and the Pergamon (see next picture).
8. The Pergamon houses some stunning reconstructed buildings such as the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate, all consisting of parts transported from the original excavation sites. The Pergamon is visited by almost 1 million people per year, making it the most-seen art museum in Germany.
Street food in Berlin
9. Two good things about walking or cycling around Berlin is: a) the lack of steep hills, and b) the abundance of street food. Depending on the season you'll find anything from roasted chestnuts to salty pretzels - and of course wurst, in abundance. Inhaling currywurst as you walk is a popular past-time here in Berlin.
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
10. A walk beneath the lime trees that line the grand boulevard Unter Den Linden is mandatory for most tourists, and with good reason. At one end is the demolished Palast der Republik (from the GDR days); at the other, the world famous Brandenburger Tor, which is especially picturesque at night.
11. Equally impressive by night is the Reichstag, the seat of the German government again since Reunification. A tour up to Sir Norman Foster's glass dome -- built to emphasize the 'transparency' of democratic government -- gives not only insightful views into the German parliament but sweeping views across the city.
12. On the other side of the Brandenburger Tor lies the Holocaust Memorial, a tribute to the "the murdered Jews of Europe." 2,711 concrete blocks of differing height create an "uneasy" sensation as you explore within them. In the distance you can see the glass dome of the Reichstag.
Art sculpture, Kreuzberg
13. Further along the Spree, in Kreuzberg, you can't miss the 100-foot-high Molecule Men by artist Jonathan Borofsky.
Hansa Studios, Berlin
14. Signatures from David Bowie and Iggy Pop at the famed Hansa Studios in Kreuzberg, where seminal albums like "Heroes" and "The Idiot" were recorded (amogst other albums by U2 and Depeche Mode). Kreuzberg has a rich musical heritage. It was the center of Berlin's squat / punk scene, and today its mix of Turkish immigrants, hipsters, and punks continue to create a vibrant culture. The local nightlife remains among the city's best, with veteran alternative / punk venues like SO36 rubbing shoulders with techno spots such as Watergate, Klub der Visionaere, Arena, and many, many more.
Kino International theater
15. Though much of Berlin's turbulent history lives on only as ghosts (there's not much left from the WW2 / Nazi era save for the odd building and bullet-riddled courtyard) there's plenty of evidence of the former Communist era. Perhaps the best place to get a sense of life in the GDR is a walk along the grandiloquent Karl-Marx-Allee, lined either side with classic examples of Soviet structures such as the famous Kino International (as seen in the movie "Goodbye Lenin"), where Communist Party leaders once watched films and puffed cigars in the Honecker Lounge out back.
Church in Charlottenburg, Berlin
16. Though the wall has been down for 20 years, there are still many psychological divisions between East and West. Many Ossies (East-dwellers) rarely cross the city to 'Wessie' areas like Charlottenburg, even though they offer a wealth of history (this was where the swinging '20s were happening, after all), lots of key attractions (like the Kaiser William Memorial Church, pictured), and some very charming areas, such as Savignyplatz.
Shopping on KurfÃ¼rstendamm
17. Charlottenburg is also good for shopping. KurfÃ¼rstendamm, known locally as the Ku'damm, is Berlin's Oxford Street, a wide, long road full of brand stores, car showrooms, hotels, and restaurants. The feeling of upscale wealth around here can be a far cry from other city districts, especially less gentrified areas such as Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.
Mauerpark Flea Market, Berlin
18. On Sundays, the famed Mauerpark Flea Market takes place near the former wall. This haven of old vinyl, clothes, funky furnishings, and general tat draws a hip and generally hungover crowd every week. In summer, the adjacent park sees sunbathers, jugglers, and a highly popular public karaoke session.
Wurst vendor on Bernauer Strasse
19.After the market you can buy a 'wurst' from one of the many vendors. These mobile sausage sellers (pictured) are especially popular and completely unique to Berlin. Remnants of the wall line Bernauer Strasse, and the excellent Berlin Wall Museum (as well as outdoor exhibitions) can be found around here as well.
Cafe in Berlin
20. Nearby Kastanienallee has plenty of funky, independent stores, cheap eateries, and stylish cafes. But I prefer to head back to the ranch, maybe stopping off at my local hangout Wohnzimmer -- "The Living Room" -- to relax on the GDR-style furnishings and read, chat, or raise a nice cold Pilsner to Berlin. Poor, sexy - and effortlessly inspiring.