A vivid tale be­hind ev­ery his­toric layer

Ger­many’s cap­i­tal is a fas­ci­nat­ing city with mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties that all scream out to be ex­plored, writes Mitchell Toy

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

THE spot where Hitler died is now a carpark.

The­most cred­i­ble the­ory says the dic­ta­tor and his sweet­heart Eva Braun shot them­selves in their Ber­lin bunker when the Rus­sians were nearly at the door­bell in 1945.

Their bod­ies were later taken out­side and burned in a hole.

The events in that bunker marked the end of a hor­rific war and the start of ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and the West that would even­tu­ally see a wall built down the mid­dle of the city.

More than 1000 Ber­lin­ers would be killed try­ing to es­cape the com­mu­nist east.

Now the area above the bunker is treated with ir­rev­er­ence. Bi­cy­cles pass lazily and Audis are sprawled over the shady gravel.

The wall is gone, too, and its former po­si­tion is re­mem­bered with a dou­ble brick line cut­ting through the pave­ment across the city.

The ghosts of past hor­rors scream to com­pete with trams and con­struc­tion sites as fresh, chic of­fice blocks pop up, and life in Ber­lin is rein­vented, again.

‘‘ It’s still a poor city,’’ says Hen­rik, our flam­boy­ant Swedish guide who took up res­i­dence in Ber­lin half a decade ago and stayed for the nightlife.

‘‘ When you get a flat here you fur­nish it with things you find on the street – things other peo­ple are throw­ing out.

‘‘ Every­thing gets re-used and you have to be creative about how you dec­o­rate.

‘‘ We’re poor but we’re sexy.’’

Be­ing poor and sexy also in­volves stay­ing out un­til at least 9am on booze and con­tra­band, Hen­rik ex­plains with a fling of his wrist.

In fact, you’re un­cool if you go out be­fore 3am and if a stranger in­vites you to an aban­doned fac­tory rave you should def­i­nitely go, if you’re poor and sexy enough to get in.

But that’s young Ber­lin. Just one face of a city with mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties. As the trance mu­sic afi­ciona­dos sleep like bats in a cave af­ter sun­rise, cul­ture thrives in the day­light. The area known as Mu­seum Is­land – a patch of land in the mid­dle of the Spree River – is home to the heavy art stuff.

It boasts five ma­jor cul­tural cen­tres in­clud­ing the Old­mu­seum, the New Mu­seum (‘‘new’’ be­cause it was built in 1859), the Old National Gallery and the Bode Mu­seum dis­play­ing sculp­ture and Byzan­tine art.

There’s also the Perg­a­mon Mu­seum which houses the an­cient gates of Baby­lon and other things that make you say ‘‘ wow’’. Guides will tell you how hard the mu­se­ums have bar­gained to get rare arte­facts like the Egyp­tian bust of Ne­fer­titi at the New Mu­seum, where en­try is ($A13).

The price­less pieces are al­lowed to re­turn to their places of ori­gin only tem­po­rar­ily and al­ways with a trade-off. Armed guards around the place are a re­minder that Ger­man mu­se­ums play for keeps.

If you’re keen on more re­cent his­tory, a trip to the Stasi Mu­seum at Rusches­trasse in East Ber­lin will tickle your para­noia. Set amid a jun­gle of pre-fab So­viet ar­chi­tec­ture, the unas­sum­ing of­fice com­plex is the former head­quar­ters of one of the most no­to­ri­ous se­cret po­lice ser­vices of the 20th cen­tury.

Brief­cases with cam­eras, hand­bags with mi­cro­phones and even scent sam­ples taken from chairs are part of an eerie cat­a­logue of me­men­tos.

Fol­low­ing the fall of the wall, Ber­lin res­i­dents have been able to ap­ply to see files about them kept by the Stasi. They of­ten find sur­veil­lance pho­tos, tran­scripts of phone calls and ob­ser­va­tion notes. One dis­si­dent found three fil­ing cabi­nets just for him.

En­try to the mu­seum col­lec­tion over two lev­els is just

The Bun­destag, for­merly the chief Nazi govern­ment build­ing and now the national par­lia­ment, is open for

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