There's So Much to See in Berlin; Trevor Peake Takes in the Sights and History of Germany's Capital

Article excerpt

Byline: Trevor Peake

WITH a dark past and a bright future Berlin is the most fascinating of cities and although sprawling it's also flat, so easily explored by bike for those fit enough - by far the best way of seeing a city.

Needless to say there are numerous guided bikes tours available to meander along the side of the River Spree that twists and winds through the centre, or through the many large parks that grace the home of Germany's government.

The Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, just months after my good friend Alex had managed to escape from the east where he had spent the first 18 years of his life.

In most of the 20 odd years since, he has lived in the district of Kreuzberg, a cosmopolitan mix of pavements cafes and bars along the tree-lined streets, which were at their best on a glorious late summer weekend when I made my long-awaited visit.

Alex, who works on one of the many barges that plough the extensive river and canal system in and around Berlin, was a perfect guide and his understandably emotional personal tale of 'escaping to the west' through Hungary, Austria and Switzerland added a touch of realism to the story of the wall.

First stop had to be the wall, or what remains of it, near where Gunter Litfin became the first person to be killed trying to escape from the east to the west on August 24, 1961, just days after the first stages of the wall had been erected.

The wall, which eventually measured 96 miles, encircling West Berlin, included guard towers placed at intervals along large concrete walls topped with barbed wire, a wide area, which became known as the death strip, trenches and in some places canals, all floodlit throughout the long nights and dark days in Germany's benighted history.

When the wall came down Gunter Litfin's brother bought one of the towers to ensure that all traces of the harsh privations suffered by the people of East Berlin would not be destroyed and he now runs it as a small museum.

There are plenty of reminders of Berlin's dark past.

On Opernplatz, a plain glass panel in the flagstones looks down on to empty shelves in what looks like a small underground library. Inside, there''s space for each of the 33,000 books - by the likes of Hemingway and Freud--that were torched on the orders of Goebbels in 1933.

Nearby is architect Peter Eisenman''s stark Holocaust Memorial, a grid of 2,711 grey slab tombstones, one for each page of the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious law.

The Jewish Museum is housed in a futuristic building where personal documents, photographs and mementoes provide an insight into the persecution Jews suffered in Germany down the centuries.

The latest stage of the city''s exposure of its dark past is Topography Of Terror. …