Kölner Dom, Cologne
As promised, here is the third and final installment of my report on the recent two-week trip to Germany, which included a week in Cologne and a couple of days in both Dresden and Berlin, plus a quick visit to Bonn. I have created a new album in my Gallery specifically for Germany
, although this trip wasn’t amazing in terms of photography.
For years I’ve had some strange antipathies towards Germany, perhaps going back to being lost in a boring industrial town, Bremen, in pouring rain, about to run out of petrol, trying desperately to find a petrol station. I’ve never been a fan of the language either. Anyway, after this trip, most of my antipathies are gone, as I quite enjoyed all three cities. The trip started from Cologne, which is the 4th largest city in Germany. It appears to be just appropriately sized: small enough so that you can walk to most places, but big enough to have some life and a decent selection of restaurants, bars and culture. I only really had one day for tourist activities, but I saw a fair bit of the city as I went running on most mornings. In fact, Cologne was pretty good for running, as you can run on the bank of Rhine for at least 10k on a nice, flat, spacious and traffic free tarmac — indeed, I enjoyed running there so much that I managed to pull off a 36k run in just under three hours on my last day in Cologne. I don’t think I would mind living in Cologne, it has most things that one might hope for.
Ludwig museum with the Dom in the background, Cologne
Dresden is a rather smaller city, but certainly not lacking in cultural offerings. The problem is that the centre is quite touristy and a little bit expensive. It is beautiful, but it has a strange character due to the fact that the city was bombed to ashes in WWII, and the historic buildings were reconstructed. They’re all very clean and modern-looking, while at the same time made as replicas of the historic buildings, which makes the centre look like a film setting with facades rather than real buildings. Well, there are some more authentic areas on the other side of Elbe, in the so called Neustadt. There’s also a very nice beer garden on that side of the river, with great views of the historic centre.
Berlin would require much more than a couple of days to take in, but I already got a fairly good idea about what it has to offer. I was lucky to arrive just when the yearly Karnival der Kulturen was on, and I spent the first night at the associated street party with a nice bunch of Brazilians. I did fit in a few touristy things as well, but there’s so much to see that I decided to opt for just walking around some of the districts and getting an idea of the city. A very useful thing for that is the good metro system: you can ride the metro all day for about 6 euros. So I walked around trendy areas such as Kreutzberg and Prenzlauer Berg — I was impressed by the excellent selection of restaurants and bars in the latter district. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Berlin though is how cheap it is: you can easily have a nice meal and a drink for some five euros. The rents are apparently very low as well, although they are increasing in the trendy districts. One up and coming district appears to be Neukölln, where a Finnish mate of mine lives; he showed me some of the local minimalist bars which are quite atmospheric. I could certainly imagine living in Berlin.
Finally, a list of some of the sights I visitied in each city, with brief comments:
Looking towards the old town across Elbe from Neustadt, Dresden
- Kölner Dom
Officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria. The obvious sight, and it is certainly worth seeing. Even bigger than the Durham cathedral I think. Work on it began in 1248 but it was fully completed only in 1880. You can get in for free, although climbing the tower costs extra. Unfortunately I neglected to climb the tower, since I couldn’t find the entrance! The crowds can be a bit off-putting. There are some more photos of the Dom in my Gallery.
- Museum Ludwig
Quite a nice gallery, with some good modern art, especially Picassos. Warhol’s Brillo boxes are here as well. They had some special event going on when I visited, which meant that I got in for free. A special exhibition of Russian avant-garde was also on, but that was a bit hit and miss.
The obvious thing to see: the reconstructred ‘Church of Our Lady’ in the historic centre. The original one was built in the 18th century, the reconstructed one opened just in 2005. You can get in for free, although once again getting in the tower costs, and it costs a lot, which is why I didn’t go. The church is not so very impressive, but it’s a nice example of a Lutheran church, and in fact there is a statue of Martin Luther in front of it. Beware of the crowds.
There is a lot to see in this old palace, but I picked just one thing: the Old Masters. Even a fairly speedy overview of them took me about three hours, after which I was pretty exhausted. The big attraction here is Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, but there’s a lot of good stuff here, from Rubens and Titian to Rembrandt and Vermeer. The problem is that there’s so much of it… Definitely worth seeing though.
- The Dali Museum
Being a huge fan of Dali, I always start from any exhibitions of his work. This is certainly not one of Berlin’s biggest sights, but many of the most popular ones, such as Reichstag or the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, are a little bit too popular: you have to queue for hours just to get in. I was in no mood for that, and the weather was not so good either, so I opted for the Dali. I really enjoy Dali, and I did so again, but, as I should’ve expected, the Berlin collection is mostly just litographs, such as the excellent Dante’s Inferno collection. The thing is that I’ve seen most of these before, many of them at the Dali Universe in London. Still, it’s a nice collection, and there are some fascinating sculptures as well.
- The Jewish Museum
I wasn’t planning on going here, but it is a popular museum and I happened to walk past it and thought why not. Well, I expected to be done pretty quickly, but the collection is actually quite massive. There are some silly symbolistic exhibits, like the ‘Holocaust Tower’, which is just an empty space (incidentally, I also visited the outdoor Holocaust Memorial, which is also symbolistic, but rather more interesting, and more photogenic!) — I wasn’t thrilled by those. There’s also a lot of person-centred stuff, basically life stories of people you have never heard of, or have no interest in. I would’ve hoped for a rather more fact-based approach, but fortunately there is quite a lot of that as well, and also detailed history of the Jewish culture. Nothing amazing, but it’s very cheap and perhaps worth a visit if you’re nearby.
Brandenburger Tor, Berlin
A great beer garden on the banks of Elbe on the Neustadt side, Dresden
That concludes my report. This time I’m actually looking forward to visiting Germany again, lots of stuff to see still!