Monday, October 3, 2011

Barcelona: Day 39 : Berlin Unwrapped .

After waking up pretty early in order to get out on the streets of Berlin early, we headed first to the Berlin Philharmonic. This consists of 2 buildings, which house 2 concert halls, with the main one being actually quite a bit bigger than the second one. These are connected by a lobby/foyer, and even though we came in some weird back entrance, the resulting view of the inside was pretty striking.

The lobby connects everything, and everything is asymmetrical. In some ways there is a sort of line of symmetry within the actual concert hall, but the architect ensured that this line would be broken and that things would eventually become lopsided. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of symmetry, this building is absolutely amazing.

One of the things that I noticed first about the inside is the number of staircases. This place is a legit maze. There are seriously stairs everywhere though. It's probably a handicapped person's absolute worst nightmare... They were in all directions, all shapes and sizes, and I couldn't even come close to capturing them all in one shot, so here's the best I could do.

The interior of the large concert hall is shaped like a giant pentagon, and since the orchestra would play in the middle, everyone has a great view of the band no matter where they are sitting. Also, it should be noted that this place sounds acoustically incredible -- I suppose I could say that I have a pretty good ear for things, given that I've been a musician for a good amount of time. But this just about blew my mind, and it was just some people practicing there and warming up. Hopefully we'll be able to go to an orchestral concert there before we leave Berlin.
Next we moved on to the New National Gallery which was designed by Mies van der Rohe. Originally it was designed to house international art from the 20th century. It was opened in 1968, and is a widely known example of modern architecture. It's really similar to the other Mies designs, but I guess that's part of what makes him him. The glass facades are intended to make the interior and exterior seamless, which I suppose it does. Upon walking inside, we found a few exhibition spaces, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn't too partial to the space. That's okay though, because there are plenty of other things to see!
From here we briefly stepped inside the Staatsbibliothek, whose WWII collection of books was originally all over Europe. It was moved back and forth between east and west Berlin, and since luckily a lot of the books escaped things like the Nazi book burnings, it houses the leftovers of that collection. This library is the biggest library in Germany... and was designed by a well known architect (whose name I forget of course...). Supposedly the library has amazing study spaces and reading rooms, but we did not have time to visit these things, nor the security clearance.

The next stop was my site to talk about, which is Potsdamer Platz. I was actually really glad to have this space, and was really excited upon looking up information about it before presenting. It's one of the largest traffic squares/plazas in Germany, and it is right near the Brandenburg Gate as well as the Reichstag. It actually marks the point where the old road to Potsdam passed through Berlin.

The square has been built and destroyed and rebuilt several times -- but the most recent renovation has left it as a truly intensely bustling and interesting area. Today 20,000 cars and 83,000 travleres pass through the platz. And to think it originally started out as old rough country roads! Look how it is now:
Honestly, this picture doesn't really do it justice. I would really recommend checking out their website ( because it's totally worth it. It also has some great stories about architecture and the surrounding buildings, as well as the overall renovation efforts. In the interest of time (after midnight already here and I'm struggling to stay awake) I'm going to just talk about a few things about the Platz. The first, is that there seems to be a great influence from New York. Apparently the Berlin sentiment is sort of split on this. Some love it, and others absolutely hate it. You can definitely see the resemblance in some of the buildings though...

My two favorite buildings were the Sony Bluemax Theatre and Potsdamer Platz 11. The first is just a sweet building, curved, and encircling an ovular area that is a great place to hang out (or, at least had the illusion of it). Offices line the oval, and you can see that this area is just a super ritzy area for businessmen. It's interesting to look at places now, because where there are now people everywhere, they could very well disappear with the warm weather that we have now.
Potsdamer Platz 11 (note the double glass facade)

NYC style

Sony Bluemax Theatre
Everything in Potsdamer Platz has some sort of super energy efficient system or special way of heating and cooling. You can tell that these modern architects have spent a lot of time and money on ensuring that these buildings will not only stand, but stay somewhat green as well. Over time it has really begun to become viewed as a milestone of sustainable living. I really can't say enough good things about Potsdamer Platz; I think I might go back on our free day on Tuesday...

Next stop was the Holocaust Memorial that resides in Berlin for the Jewish people. It was officially opened in 2005, though the idea for construction arose in 1989 when the Berlin wall was taken down. The repetitive concrete blocks vary in height, but all have the same length and width. This repetitive nature really gives a special feeling to the walk in between them. The designer also had in mind creating these two waves; one from the natural topography of the ground and another from the heights of the blocks themselves. The block heights mimic this very non-traditional ideology because they are not all perfect -- they lean; they are crooked, they are indeed not perfect.

It was certainly an experience walking through here because you really felt alone. You could see shadows of people crossing aisles near you, you could hear footsteps, but you rarely saw someone. If you did it was only for a fleeting moment. It was the desire of the architect that the memorial would stand silent, and you were the one who had to talk. I started walking on top of the stones, and it really created an unsettling feeling as you passed over the chasms that were the walkways in between the stones... It was just as bad as walking through them; it was that inescapable feeling of fear and solidarity.

Underground underneath the memorial was a museum that had stories of survivors, letters found of those deceased, and other really deep things. For me it was not only a window into the past, but a it really made you think -- the darkness allowed you to get lost in your thoughts and really become fully involved of the stories of those people.
Our next stop was the Brandenburg Gate, which is a huge stately structure. It is based on the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens, the Propylaea. On top is the Roman god of victory. Like many other things in Germany, it was damaged during WWII, but was restored fully in 2000. The Gate leads you into the Pariser Platz, which has a lot of other neat buildings. This is more of the typical style of plaza, unlike the Potsdamer Platz. Various embassies of various countries stood here in this area (boy, it was great to see an American flag!) which all have a ridiculous amount of security. Perhaps though, that was because of the festivals going on due to the German holiday on Monday. In addition there is the DZ Bank headquarters, which we weren't able to get into, but were able to peek through the windows and it was awesome. There is also the Hotel Adlon, and the Academy of Arts. The Academy was another building that was destroyed partially in WWII -- the reconstruction added a large glass façade which allowed them to keep what was left intact, but also to close off the building to the point where it was functional. This sort of idea is all over Germany, because so much was destroyed in WWII. In many ways, Berlin is one of the most modern cities I have been to.
several embassies are on the left, the DZ Bank, Hotel Adlon, and Academy of Arts are to the right, in addition to the American Embassy

The Brandenburg Gate
Our last stop of the day was the area surrounding the Reichstag, as well as the building itself. This is Germany's equivalent to Parliament. Right near the Reichstag stands the home of the Chancellor. This would be the equivalent of the White House, though it is 8x the size of the White House (incredible, right?) It has also been called the washing machine because when you come out of the U-Bahn from one angle it looks like a huge circle that resembles the door of a washing machine.

this is just a small part of the Chancellor's house

the Reichstag

view from the cupola of the Reichstag -- beautiful!
We went up into the Reichstag around the ramps into the new glass cupola designed by Norman Foster, and it provided amazing views of the sunset that surrounded us. All of these governmental buildings in the area have lots of glass, showing people how open and transparent the government system is.

We finished out the night with some quick dinner and headed back to watch some Clemson football (so stoked we won!) and then to sleep.

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