On my last day in this incredible central European capital, I took advice from yesterday’s guide and ascended the Reichstag. For free entry it’s one of the best views of the centre of town – the dome was shut that morning but normally one can walk right to the top.
The city is known for it’s museums – the World Heritage-listed island full of them in the middle of town was my next stop, but waiting in the queue for the Pergamon, the one full of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, I realised that after Ludwig’s magnificent palaces and indeed most of Munich and Berlin, I’d seen enough imagery of antiquity for a while, and hopped the U-Bahn south to my plan B, the Jewish Museum.
Quite a recent addition to the city’s historical collection, it’s harsh, angular, metallic exterior houses a building of sloping walkways and empty concrete shafts spanning from basement to ceiling. An enduring motif here is emptiness, not only a reflection of Jewish history in this country, but also a stylistic feature of architect Daniel Liebeskind, in that the features of the building are left open to interpretation.
After a bilingual history of the Jews in Germany and various periods ranging between social acceptance and indiscriminate slaughter, the circuit ended with the Garden of Exile, similar to the memorial at the Tiergarten but set at a steeper slope, the vertical concrete blocks much closer together, more constrictive, unsettling.
Upon leaving, that larger question for me remained, of why such a learned, cultured people have been subject to endless persecution across the globe since ancient times. Some light was shed on various myths surrounding the Jews; for example, under the Holy Roman Empire, one of the only occupations through the Middle Ages allowed to Jews was money lending, creating a certain historical reputation. But that larger question still remained, for me, unanswered.
Before the late flight, I went back to Bergmanstrasse for my last meal. After a couple of miserable days, summer opened the skies back up again, inviting a quick scout around the neighbouring streets, some perfectly preserved in the style I’d seen in the north in Prenzlauer.
I learnt only later that in the West Berlin days, Kreuzberg was the hang of visiting rockers and artisans, an area worth checking on my next visit.