Berlin Before & After the Wall

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Anyone who has followed history over the last half of the 20th century will be enthralled with Berlin.

Last November marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the last two decades, Berlin has become one of the world’s most energized cultural flashpoints, with a juggernaut-like zeitgeist for the world to follow. No one is forgetting the past, however.

For example, in the 1800s, Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV envisioned an “Acropolis” of culture on an island in the heart of Berlin. The collection of five grand museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island) was finished in 1930, but bombed to rubble by the Allies a decade later. Rebuilding began after the fall of the Wall in the 1990s, with each successive opening helping to restore the faith of a country.

In October, the Neues Museum was the final museum to open after a $255 million rebuild that put all the pieces back together again. The end result is considered one of Europe’s finest new public spaces marrying modernist architecture to a historic shell, bomb scars included. The New York Times calls it “…the world’s biggest-ever Humpty Dumpty project,” which now houses Germany’s renowned collection of Egyptian artifacts, headlined by the priceless bust of Queen Nefertiti.

“The buzz around its reopening in October just proves how important the completion of this project is,” says Ricarda Lindner, regional manager of the U.S.-based German National Tourist Office. “What museum in the world had thousands of people lining up, just to see its architecture? The design by architect David Chipperfield is truly breathtaking and just shows Berlin’s approach of connecting culture, history and cutting-edge modernity.”

But is the Wall something Berliners try to exorcise from their memories? Anything but. “The Berlin Wall will always be a part of Berlin—in a truly positive understanding,” says Lindner. “It is amazing how this city grew together over the last 20 years and how it continues to transform, merge and change. The Wall, as a symbol of divide and unification, is a vital part of this, not only for Berlin but worldwide.”

While bus tours along the Wall continue to be popular, Lindner recommends the many bike tours available that traverse the former dividing line past old fortifications. Guided tours descend into the Berlin Underground to visit old bunkers and tunnels from the GDR regime, and other places where citizens attempted to dig their way out. For self-guided tours, clients can rent hand-held GPS guides like a museum-goer, with a recording device detailing the history of what they’re seeing. There are also a series of museums detailing life in East Berlin behind the Wall, including the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing and GDR Museum.

art + design city The biggest cultural event for 2010 is the largest retrospective of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work ever presented. From April 30 to Aug. 9, over 120 of her original paintings and drawings will be on display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, one of Germany’s greatest halls for temporary art shows. Built in 1881, it too was destroyed in WWII, but reconstructed later.

The celebration of art, history and modern design have become synonymous with Berlin culture. For example, the Design Hotels portfolio consisting of high-concept, style-conscious properties in over 40 countries, is based in Berlin.

“Our hotels, by the nature of their design and the people behind them, are often the meeting point of ideas, creativity and cutting-edge culture,” says Claus Sendlinger, CEO and founder. “Lux 11 (72 suites), for example, is located in Mitte, an area that has attracted artists and creative types from all over the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Mitte is the historical heart of the city, including within its borders Museum Island, The Reichstag parliament building and The Brandenburg Gate.

“Designers, artists, students, musicians—the energy of the city is incomparable and it changes rapidly, so there is something new to discover whenever you go,” explains Lindner.

classic vacations For bookings at Berlin’s grand properties such as Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Concorde Berlin and Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome, book through Classic Vacations. The company’s Berlin City Tour by Mercedes includes a private car and personal driver who also acts as a guide. Or, you can book a driver and a guide.

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