Berlin

Text by Alessandra Mattanza

For many, Berlin has become the architectural capital of the world. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall it has been an immense, continual, open construction site, substituting rubble and empty spaces with adventurous, futuristic constructions of glass and steel and other whimsical experiments, with the old historic buildings safely guarded under cover of glass. Walking through Berlin is an exciting experience because it has become a completely “new” city. The areas that were not visible during the years of division or that were devastated by war, destroyed or semi-abandoned, have come back to life, transforming the city into a mecca for architects from all over the world who almost seem to be competing with each other in their irrepressible desire to amaze.

Among the newest monuments is the spectacular Potsdamer Platz which features the Sony Center, the Arkaden by Renzo Piano and the many skyscrapers destined for office buildings, shopping centers and housing. More recent is the monument to the Holocaust in the Brandenburger Tor neighborhood, a forest of square columns (over 2,700) that cover a clearing of 204,440 square feet. The Hauptbahnhof, which is the former Lehrter Bahnhof and future central train station, will be inaugurated on May 27 at Washington Square. It is poised to become Europe’s most important rail center. Then there is the brand new Akademie der Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) at Pariser Platz, while the government is impressively represented by the Reichstag, which has regained its former splendor thanks to both the glass cupola by Norman Foster which covers the Parliament hall, and the Kanzleramt (the new Chancery).

Standing out among the most “colorful” buildings are the houses by Aldo Rossi between the Springer Building and Checkpoint Charlie ­– one of the most original being Frank Gehry’s DG Bank, the contours of which resemble a whale – and the entire new neighborhood of the embassies. Each has its own nationally distinct style: the Mexican embassy boasts its terraced landscape of jungle vegetation; the outlines of the English building break every architectural convention; those of the Nordic countries are dominated by the color green; the Indian embassy suggests The Thousand and One Nights; and the Kuwaiti embassy epitomizes luxury.

From a cultural perspective, Berlin is in full ferment as well. It is no accident that on November 2, 2005, it was elected the world’s City of Design by UNESCO. Modern design is found not only in chic specialty shops ­– of which there is an ever-growing number in the Mitte neighborhood – and in nightclubs, but in hotels as well. The beautiful Hyatt (Marlene Dietrich Platz), the new Concorde (Ausburgerstr. 41), the 101 Kurfürstendamm and the Q! (Knesebeckstr. 67), which recently won Travel & Leisure’s Design Award, stand out for their minimalist style.
Berlin’s still-reasonable cost of living, which is evident in the low rent and in the numerous Wohngemeinschaft communities, has always been a magnet for artists and creatives. In recent times, its been chosen by big Hollywood productions as the set for many films, and in February the cinematic tradition is carried on by the Berlin International Film Festival, the largest festival of cinema in the world.

For more rarefied cultural tastes, temporary and permanent exhibits are held in the 175 museums that span all genres. They range from the classic Neue and Alte Nationalgalleries, the grandiose Pergamon and the curious Film Museum at Potsdamer Platz, to the most architecturally interesting of all, the new Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind.

Trendy neighborhoods abound. The Prenzlauer Berg, with its totally rebuilt neo-Renaissance, neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque facades has the power to allure those drawn to an aestheticly rich enviroment. The Hackesche Hofe’s complex of courtyards and the pretty little shops of Kastanienallee and Kathe Kollwitz Platz make for appealing shopping hotspots. And lastly, Kreuzberg is developing the Köpenickerstrasse with extravagant clubs along the Spree River that have opened their beaches in the summer for sunbathing.

If daytime Berlin represents travels along the Unter den Linden boulevard and around the magnificent Cathedral, the night belongs to the discos, clubs and restaurants that dot the city. Joining the ever-present transgressive soul of Marlene Dietrich is an air of avant cool. At the moment, the most fashionable restaurants are Spindler & Klatt (spindlerklatt.com) and Pan Asia (panasia.de). The hottest bar on the scene is the Riva Bar (riva-berlin.de) in Greenwich, as are clubs like Solar (solarberlin.com), 40 Seconds (40seconds.de) and 90 Grad (90grad.com). The most “in” place to be is Shiro I Shiro (shiroishiro.com), where celebrities hang out and where the party never seems to end.

THE SPRING ISSUE


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