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Berlin as It Was

Where to Find a Sense of the Old Berlin

Our pleasantest memories of visiting Berlin over the last 40 years are the result of discovering and returning to those places that retain a sense of Berlin as it was.

Berlin: New National Gallery
New National Gallery

In an age of internationalized menus, we savor the kneipen, old-fashioned pubs. The friendly Dicke Wirtin (Carmerstrasse 9, Savignyplatz subway) serves German beer or wine for only $2.50. Four delicious daily eintofs (stews) are each under $3.

The 1910 avant-garde "die Brucke" (the Bridge) artists have their own museum located in suburban Dahlem (Bussardsteig 9, 115 bus). The Brucke-Museum features the work of such expressionists as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Erich Heckel.

The recently opened Film Museum (Potsdamer Platz Sony Building, Potsdamer Platz subway) traces German cinema from the pioneers and divas of 1900 to the present. Film clips, interactive exhibits, and an English audio guide made it hard to leave. Berlin born and raised Marlene Dietrich has her own room filled with costumes and fascinating memorabilia. A photograph from Mae West is inscribed: "The admiration is mutual."

The years of Nazi rule (1933-45) are searchingly examined at more than a dozen museums. The newly opened Judisches (Jewish) Museum (Linden-strasse 9-14, Hallesches subway) was designed by a team of Berlin-based architects led by Daniel Libeskind, an American of Jewish descent. Exhibits focus on Jewish history and art, especially in Berlin.

In the 26-room Museum of German Resistance to Fascism (Stauffenbergstrasse 13-14, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park subway) 5,000 photographs honor the religious and labor leaders, homosexuals, military officers, and others who opposed the National Socialists. The museum is located in the former military headquarters where officers who planned the unsuccessful July 20, 1944 assassination and coup attempt against Hitler were summarily executed in the courtyard when it failed.

After a day of museum going, we often join Berliners at a show. Music theater has always been popular. Frederick the Great personally helped design the 1742 Staatsoper (Unter den Linden 5-7, Franzosische Strasse subway). With plenty of tickets and relatively low prices ($15 to $70), this is a chance to see not only the Staatsoper but also Deutsche Oper (Bismarck Strasse 35, Deutsche Oper subway) and Komische Oper (Behren Strasse 55, Unter den Linden subway). Tip: the WelcomeCard which comes with the 3-day subway pass includes 25 percent discount coupons for all three opera houses.

The two small theaters at the Neukollner Oper present everything from 18th century Baroque fantasies to contemporary satires. With tickets from $6 to $17, this proud survivor of the "East Berlin" arts scene draws young audiences. Critics correctly call Neukollner "the best in music entertainment." (Karl-Marx-Strasse 131-133, Karl-Marx-Strasse subway).

The musical reviews at Theater des Westen (Kant Strasse 12, Am Zoo subway) offer entertainment in a more traditionally commercial vein. The theater's beautiful 1896 art deco lobby is worth the price of admission.

Our final tip: take a boat ride. The Spree river runs through the center of town. Berlin is also filled with lakes and canals: a metropolis one-third green. This side of Berlin is best seen from the deck of a modern tourist boat-sipping a local beer.

For More Information

The Berlin Tourist Office website lists events and links to other sites: www.berlin-info.de.

The English edition of their Berlin Das Magazin/The Magazine (helpful articles and calendars) appears three times a year and is $2 at their Berlin information booths and some newsstands. Their excellent city and subway map is 50 cents. Both are free in the U.S. from the German National Tourist Office at 122 E. 42nd St., 52nd Fl., New York, N.Y. 10168-0072; 212-661-7200, fax 212-661-7174.

Details on current exhibitions and interesting graphics can be found on the museum websites: art and film www.kaethe-kollwitz.de, www.bruecke-museum.de, and www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/en, as well as the Jewish Museum www.jmberlin.de, and German Resistance to Fascism Museum www.gdw-berlin.de.

The music theater websites have calendars of performances: www.neukoellneroper.de. The sites for the major opera companies in addition sell tickets online using major credit cards: www.staatsoper-berlin.org. Pick up the tickets at the box office or have them mailed to your home.

Operating from April to October from several locations, the boat companies advertise in Berlin Das Magazine/The Magazine and give discounts with the WelcomeCard.

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