Berlin may be my most bypassed city. In the old days I would either take bus or train the Oslo-Göteborg-Malmö-Sassnitz-Berlin-Dresden-Prague route. Apart from train change I rarely spent much time in Berlin, and the bus wisely took a huge circle around it. So it is now when I’m mostly flying over the city that I seek it out, and this time I did it the old-fashioned way, taking the Budapest-Hamburg train from Prague. The web site had warned me the train was running 18 minutes late so I could leave later than I otherwise would have to. The 350km train ride might have costed more than the 900km airfare from Oslo but that is fair since the ride lasted more than twice as long, passing through the pretty but depressed landscape of the Czech-German hinterlands.
Maybe more than any other European city Berlin symbolises transition, in particular the reunion of the four occupation zones, and the restoration of Berlin as Hauptstadt Deutschlands, in many respects a geographical Hauptstadt Europa. I was getting off the train at Zoo, a station in the former British zone, an area I hadn’t visited in fifteen years. The Zoo was the terminal station at the time of the West-Berlin enclave, a train station I remember with fondness as having the rudest train information staff in the known universe (usually the customers yell at the staff, not the other way around). I hadn’t time to check if it still had the old spunk, as I hadn’t reserved accomodations for the night and there was a film festival going on.
The centerpiece of my visit was The Pergamon Museum. The result of true cultural imperialism a century or two ago when architecture was taken wholesale back to Berlin, Paris, or London from the countries of origin. But apart from making the artifacts available to the public this has let them more protected than they would be where they came from. For the Pergamon Museum this hasn’t been entirely true, it was ravaged by the end of WWII, but most of the pieces were saved. In particular for the Ishtar Gate and the collection of Babylonian, Sumerian, and Assyrian artifacts Berlin is the place to go as visiting Babylon is not currently an option.