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
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