Berlin, world capital and the site of myriad momentous historical events, started out as a humble market town in the early 13th century. In the company of a local docent, we’ll explore the origins of the city, chronicle its increasing political importance under the noble Hohenzollern family (which ruled here from 1417-1918), through to the traumas and repercussions of more recent times.
Over the course of the walk, we’ll take in a broad but comprehensive sense of the city in all of its many incarnations, including its present incarnation as the most vibrant, exciting city in Europe. In particular, we will look for what one architectural historian has called the "ghosts of Berlin," the way that centuries of (often tumultuous) history are layered and sedimented in the cityscape of the capital, making it possible to see in a single street or building traces of communist rule, Nazi terror, imperial ambition, and Enlightenment rationalism all at the same time.
Our walks begins at Pariser Platz in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, originally erected in the 1730s as a small gate in the city’s customs wall but subsequently transformed between 1788 and 1791 into the monument that still serves as one of the main symbols of Berlin. Looking at this magnificent structure, based on the design of the Propylaea (the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens) and surmounted by Johann Gottfried Schadow’s neo-classical Quadriga, we will have an opportunity to discuss the city’s imperial past as well as the many divergent uses to which the city’s monuments have been put over the centuries. Clearly, this gate meant something very different to the Electors and Kings of Brandenburg and Prussia than it did to Adolf Hitler or the Communist leaders of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And of course it has an altogether new symbolism today, standing as it does at the heart of a reunified Berlin and a reunified Germany.
From Pariser Platz we continue through Berlin’s historic center. As we contextualize this rich visible landscape within the city’s history and culture, however, we will also pay special attention to everything that can’t be seen. Relentlessly bombed by British and Americans planes during the Second World War and largely neglected by the GDR during the years of the Berlin Wall, much of this area has only recently been reconstructed and revivified in the years following unification in 1990. The modern center of Berlin, therefore, is as much defined by the structures, history and geography that you can’t see as it is by the Baroque, neo-classical and modern monuments that you can.
At the end of our time together, we’ll be better able to "see" the invisible layers of this most remarkable city and discuss what may be in store for Berlin in the 21st century. Thereafter, you will be able to continue your exploration of the city on your own, either visiting the numerous world-class museums just around the corner, strolling to the nearby Hackesche Höfe for a good German meal or beer, or hopping on an S- or U-Bahn to visit another exciting part of the capital.