BERLIN: Encountering the Past & Present of an Historic City
Berlin has risen from the ashes of World War II and thirty years as a divided city in a divided Germany to reclaim its places as a world capital, a magnet for artists, musicians, writers and visitors from all over the world. It is a city of great contrasts – grand old buildings, some of them scarred by bullet holes, next to sleek modern structures, all steel and glass; a city with dozens of memorials to the victims of the Holocaust and is now home to a resurgent Jewish community including tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Its magnificent museums have been – or are being – restored, its concert halls and opera houses are constantly filled with music and its galleries are showplaces for contemporary, cutting edge art.
Day 1 *Morning arrival in Berlin at Tegel Airport and taxi ride to the city followed by a walking tour of the area around the Brandenburg Gate, just a few blocks from our Hotel which will include: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (by American architect Peter Eisenman) and the small but very powerful exhibit beneath the memorial; the Soviet War Memorial; new government buildings constructed since the capital returned to Berlin in 1999; visit to the Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament with the new dome by British architect Sir Norman Foster.
Day 2 *Breakfast in the hotel followed by a city bus tour ending on Unter den Linden and beginning a walking tour on that great tree lined avenue through old East Berlin with a stop at the Bebelplatz Book Burning Monument, which commemorates events of May 1933 when over 25,000 books were destroyed on the grounds that they were “un German”. The walk will also include the National Memorial, site of the old Berlin castle and the recently dismantled East German Parliament.
*A short walk across Museum Island to the historical Jewish neighborhood in Mitte will take us to lunch (paid on site) at the Hackesche Höfe, a early 20th century complex of eight interconnected courtyards, designed in the Art Nouveau style and now home to an array of fascinating shops.
*The walking tour continues in the neighborhood along Oranienburgerstrasse and Grosse Hamburgerstrasse featuring the magnificent Neue Synagogue and its rebuilt golden dome, other historic sites, memorials and the latest art galleries, including those in a former Jewish girls’ school.
*We’ll ride to Alexander Platz, the center of East Berlin during the GDR with its TV tower visible throughout the city and the nearby St. Mary’s Church (first mentioned in German chronicles in1292) that provides one of the most dramatic historical and aesthetic contrasts imaginable. The Rathaus (Town Hall) and the beautiful Neptune Fountain are also near to Alexander Platz. *You'll have the option of attending the Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Neue Synagogue, inaugurated in 1866 in the presence of Count Otto von Bismarck, then Prime Minister of Prussia. Services are held in a sanctuary in the dome overlooking the city that had been at the center of the effort to end Jewish life in Europe. We will celebrate Shabbat at a kiddush following services and meet members of the congregation.
Day 3 *A morning at leisure or a visit to synagogue for the Saturday morning service. *After lunch visit the Topography of Terror, one of Berlin’s most interesting Holocaust memorials, established on the site of Gestapo headquarters. During the 1960’s when the city government was demolishing war damaged buildings and planned to remove all traces of this building (formerly a hotel), public protests led to the site being preserved and subsequently transformed to a memorial and museum.
Day 4 *Following breakfast we will walk a few blocks down Unter den Linden, the stately tree lined Fifth Avenue of East Berlin to Museum Island in the Spree River that boasts some of the world’s most extraordinary museums. Each survived the war albeit with extensive damage that has been the focus of ongoing restoration since reunification. You will be able to visit (using your museum pass): the Pergamon Museum with its archaeological treasures from the Ancient Near East; the recently re-opened Neues Museum with beautifully displayed treasures including the magnificent bust of Nefertiti, wife of Pharaoh Akhnaten. The Bode Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie are also on the island. Just “off island” on Unter den Linden, there is the state-of-the-art German Historical Museum, recently re-opened after years of renovation and updating.
*We’ll gather together for lunch and proceed to the renowned Jewish Museum, designed by American architect Daniel Liebeskind. Other options in the Western part of the city include the Gemaldegalerie, home to one of the world's finest collections of European art from the 13th to 18th century including the works of van Eyck, Bruegel, Dürer, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Vermeer and Rembrandt and just a few hundred yards - and centuries - away is the Neue Nationalgalerie, the modern art museum with a focus on the early 20th century. Berlin offers museums for every preference!
*Dinner is your choice; paid on site. With an evening at leisure you may want to attend a concert, opera or dance performance that abound in this amazingly culture rich city. Let us know early in the trip and we’ll help you book your tickets!
Day 5 *After breakfast at the hotel we will depart on our bus to Potsdam, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the beautifully restored former royal seat of Prussia. The city has a number of magnificent parks and historic buildings, including palaces such as Sanssouci, the summer residence of King Frederick II and the famous Dutch Quarter which will be part of our walking tour. On our return trip from Potsdam we'll stop at the Track 17 memorial in Gruenwald on the outskirts of Berlin which commemorates the deportation of Berlin's Jews along the same tracks which carried the railway cars used in the deportations.
Day 6 *After breakfast at the hotel we will travel to the completely rebuilt Potsdamer Platz (only one small house survives from the pre-World War II era), one of the busiest squares in Weimar Germany. The entire area was destroyed by Allied bombs, became a “No Man’s Land” during the division of the city and has been completely rebuilt since 1989. Potsdamer Platz presents a huge array of modern architecture and is once again a very busy Berlin intersection.
*From this new center of Berlin we will visit the western part of the city which is its commercial hub. Shopping opportunities abound in the unique boutiques and in the legendary KaDeWe on West Berlin’s Fifth Avenue – the Kufurstendam (aka the “Kudam”). The largest department store in Continental Europe, the KaDeWe is especially known for its incomparable 7,000 square meter sixth floor Food Hall, a good place to have lunch (paid on site). Another site of the dramatic contrasts found all over Berlin is the “Burned Out Church” on the Kudam quite near to the KaDeWe that is a constant reminder of the destruction that was wreaked on Europe by the Nazis.
*After lunch we’ll visit Kreuzberg to learn the story of immigration to Germany as well as the alternative scene of the 1980’s.
Day 7 *After breakfast we’ll visit the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse where the largest intact section of the wall has been preserved. We’ll also visit the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km-long section of the wall covered with approximately 106 paintings by artists from all over the world.
*A walk through Prenzlauer Berg, the newest and trendiest part of the city will include a visit to the Jewish cemetery that reflects the strong Jewish presence in Berlin going back at least to the 1800’s. The visit will end with dinner at the Gugelhof restaurant in this lovely part of Berlin, reminiscent of New York's West Village.
Day 8 *Breakfast at the hotel followed by return to the US.