April/May 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 2
There are direct flights from a number of American cities, and lately Lufthansa has had some of the best prices. Once you’re in Berlin, the subways (U-Bahns) and surface commuter trains (S-Bahns) are excellent. The taxis are expensive. (Dubious local folklore, incidentally, has it that many of the drivers are former agents of the East German secret police.) Make sure to carry a map, since Berlin has a lot of tiny streets and the long ones tend to change every few blocks. The best maps are by Falk, the top of the line being the vast and ingeniously folded Berlin Grossraum Megaplan. To be sure of a reservation, book your hotel room at least a month in advance.
Many German pay phones take prepaid phone cards rather than coins, and the cards are worth buying at post offices and shops. Berlin is well supplied with ATMs that dispense euros and with Internet cafés. Petty crime is about as common as in a typical major American city; violent crime is less so.
The city has some of the greatest art museums in the world. The Museum Island (Museumsinsel) alone contains a stunning collection of ancient art in the Pergamon Museum; the Neues Museum; the Galerie der Romantik; the Bodemuseum; and the Alte
Nationalgalerie. Nearby on Potsdamer Platz the Kulturforum’s Gamäldegalerie has one of the greatest collections of European paintings anywhere. The newest major museum, the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind, opened in 2001. It depicts Jewish life in Germany over many centuries and perhaps because of this broad focus is fairly popular and has avoided the controversy that has developed over a proposed Holocaust Memorial.
There are a vast number of books on Berlin. For a recent general history, choose Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin . Berlin-New York: Like and Unlike, Essays on Architecture and Art from 1870 to the Present is an interesting collection that compares Berlin with the city that in some respects most evokes it. Since much of Berlin’s emotional impact derives from its having been the capital first of Prussia and then of the Second and Third Reichs, some familiarity with the history of modern Germany greatly increases the city’s fascination. Two volumes in the Oxford History of Modern Europe , James J. Sheehan’s German History 1770–1866 and Gordon Craig’s Germany 1866–1945 , are excellent introductions to the subject.