Although not a particularly large part of the city, there was no part of Berlin better remembered than the Unter den Linden district in the former East. What a change this road had seen since the end of the Cold War. This alleyway had been long prior Berlin's most economically active, and hosts many great Prussian museums and monuments. Alas, under Communist rule, the Unter den Linden fell to virtually complete disrepair. The famous Brandenburg Gate, shown in the first photograph, stood tall at the road's west end, but for twenty-eight years such a photograph was not possible, for the infamous Berlin Wall crossed in front the gate. Pouring salt on the wounds were some horrific urbanization projects that were as thoughtless as they were aesthetically displeasing (see Berlin Gallery for examples).
Tom made three separate trips to the Unter den Linden between 2001 and 2004, and each trip showed how this district was recovering and modernizing to become a showpiece for Germany's newest capital. It was a proud moment for Germany when the Gate was unveiled from its renovation in 2003, the culmination of several long years of careful work.
By the way, while the work was underway the Brandenburg Gate was not covered by plain canvas. That would have been dull. Instead, various billboard art was used that played games with the six-column motif -- such as the soccer-player leg design present in summer 2002 in honor of the German National Soccer Team as it went runner-up in the World Cup. The Berlin Gallery shows this amusing scene.
Pariser Platz was surrounded mostly by new cafés and souvenir shops for the tourist throngs. The Platz gave way to a wide boulevard running for almost a mile directly east. The center of the boulevard was grassy park part way, but turned into parking lot later. The cafés and shops continued along both sides, interrupted by prominent government buildings. These included the impressive Russian embassy with its columned front standing where it did when it was the Soviet embassy to East Germany. The British and American embassies, newly moved from Bonn, were nearby.
After the embassies was a short shopping and eating district. The number of souvenir shops on Unter den Linden had grown steadily over the years, as they had all over Berlin. In our cynical opinion, they primarily specialized in cheap junk at excessively high prices. In 2004, there was an on-going sales fad about postcards and other items that had a 'genuine' piece of the old Berlin Wall attached. Our senses said 'buyer beware'. In the middle of this area was a small one-room stone building that was converted for use as a small memorial of World War II. This memorial is shown in the second photograph and was located in the Neuwache. It was a simple small one-room memorial with a war casualty being embraced by his mourning wife or mother.
As we approached the eastern half of the boulevard, we came across Humboldt University, Berlin's most famous institute of higher learning. The major university building sat on the northern side of the alley, while on the southern side resides the University Square. During Tom's June 2002 visit, the University Square was fully intact, surrounded by massive columned academic buildings. The square itself was muddy, but that didn't deter a large group of students from hosting a huge book selling festival. For a Sunday morning, this festival was very well attended. It was eclectic, with some booths hosted by artsy student-types selling their oldest wares for a Euro apiece, while others were toasting prospective buyers with champagne. Sadly, the whole square was completely dug up during our return trip in 2004 as a new parking garage was being put in. It looked like a good two-year project at least.
But the highlight of that visit was St. Hedwig's Cathedral, shown in the third photograph. Tucked away in the back corner of the University Square, St. Hedwig's was among one of the more unusual Cathedrals we had ever visited. It was round with a single huge dome on top -- only the beautifully decorated facade broke the pattern. The interior was circular, with the pews arranged in concentric fashion toward the altar that is near (but not in) the center. Just before the altar, the floor opens up to an underground memorial to St. Hedwig and a couple of chapels.
The High Mass in St. Hedwig's was among our favorite Catholic experiences in Germany. St. Hedwig's High Mass was always graced by wonderful choir and orchestral music. When I went in June 2002, the High Mass was accompanied by a choir and small orchestra made entirely of fourth-through-eighth grade children. The music was unbelievably beautiful, yet those kids were barely twelve years old. One wondered if they had been practicing all through the school year just to prepare for that one performance.
The Unter den Linden had its share of wonderful museums and sights, even before we reached the Museum Insel covered in the East Berlin chapter. The German National Museum was shown in the fourth photograph, a fabulous Baroque building just off of Humboldt University square. But, we were fooled a bit looking for the entrance in front -- the entrance was actually in a separate building in the rear, and that entrance building looked much more modern.
Soon enough, we were overlooking the Spree River and the Museum Insel. The bridge over the Spree contains several fabulous figurines, all brand new and bright white. The Spree River was very tame around here, almost like the canals of Bruges or Amsterdam. Tour boats, like those shown in the fifth photograph, were available from docks just below the Under den Linden. Following down the west bank towards the front of the Pergamon Museum, one will often come across a flea market that operates on Sundays. Across from the flea market were some wonderful little restaurants that were tucked away, classy but reasonably priced.
The Unter den Linden boulevard was very impressive, sitting right between Berlin's best tourist draws, the Museum Insel and the Brandenburg Gate. A walk down this historic road was certainly worth it.
Trips taken 13-14 April 2001 and 29-30 June 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin