Berlin is ugly

The buildings don't have nearly the charm of what you would find in Paris, Rome, or much of London.  There are some nice residential areas, some pretty tree-lined boulevards, some occasional 19th century (or earlier) masterworks, and scattered sleek contemporary successes, such as by Potsdamer Platz.  There is lots of 1950s through 1980s mediocrity.  There are nice river settings, but for the most part the city doesn't use its waterfront especially well.  Many streets or plazas in the East remain huge cavernous monstrosities, devoid of Jane Jacobs-like inspiration.

It's nice enough that you can tell yourself it's not ugly, which perhaps is a sign of its ugliness.

I like that it's ugly, because it keeps the city empty and cheap and it keeps away the non-serious.  There are not many (any?) splashy major sights.  Even the Wall is mostly gone.  The way to see and experience Berlin is to do things.  The ugliness selects for people who want to enjoy the city's musical, theatrical, museum, and literary treasures.

Berlin is evidence that most tourists don't actually care so much about history, culture, and museums, as it is not for most people a major tourist destination, despite having world-class offerings in each of those areas.  Mostly tourists like large, visually spectacular sites, or family activities, combined with the feeling that they are taking in culture or seeing something important.  

There are, however, a fair number of Russian tourists who enjoy the nostalgic feeling they get walking through the eastern part of the city and visiting communist monuments and sites.

If you are in Mexico, and you visit ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate numbers of Germans.


I agree that Berlin isn't pretty in a sort of traditional way that Paris is, for example, but it's certainly aesthetically interesting. I'm not even an amateur architecture student, but I can still appreciate how cool their central train station is, for example. The overall feel of the city is very modern and optimistic, which I find delightful.

I remember going to Berlin in 1997 and being struck by how desolate it felt. To be fair, we arrived on a Sunday.

If you are in Mexico, and you visit ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate numbers of Germans.

I'm confused by how this follows from the rest of the post - Germans like history?

>If you are in Mexico, and you visit ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate numbers of Germans.

And everywhere, where they find some old,leaning and slightly dererelict houses, which we then adore.

I recommend this Volume by the former "Stadtbaudirektor" Hans Stimmann, Berliner Altstadt: Von der DDR-Staatsmitte zur Stadtmitte. Amazon:

If you pass by it (at Dussmanns) just page through the 3 or so maps to get a feeling of how much of the pre-war-Bausubstanz is lost and how much un-denser the city is.

1. everywhere around Mitte&the Wall around Mitte
2. where the Russians feel at home (Alexanderplatz and south-eastwards)
3. the once beautiful Hansaviertel

Berlin is what you get when you turn a barracks into a city -- rather than other great cities which began as trading cities and then became political and military capitals (essential when the government realized it needed to be there), Berlin began as depot for the Prussian Army, became a HQ, and then a capital. Trade and culture came late -- as a result, Berlin is what you get anytime the government controls architecture -- dull, boring, and functional. The best thing about Berlin is Berliners who at least have a sense of humor about their city.

The Russians are most likely nostalgic of their last memorable glory days - WWII. And that's not a good thing for either Russians or Germans.

No. Mexico city is ugly. Berlin is okay.

The Pergamon Museum is spectacular enough, I think.

"If you are in Mexico, and you visit ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate numbers of Germans."

If you are anywhere where there are "ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate number of Germnans" often in groups and with books in hand.

Berlin is good fun, but it is plain (especially when compared with many cities in close proximity). The lack of good use of waterfront is especially jarring if you go to Frankfurt, where they have done the waterfront right.

"a fair number of Russian tourists who enjoy the nostalgic feeling "

Berlin should kidnap one every once in a while. And then beat them. REALLY make them feel at home.

I live in Vienna (Austria) and I can tell you that 99% of the Viennese people who go on holiday to Berlin are, to put it nicely, left-leaning. Since Berlin knows that, it will probably stay as dull as it is.

Steve Sailer is 100% correct. I studied art history in college and was excited to visit the Uffizi. It turned out that simply walking the streets of Florence proved to be a much more memorable experience.

el: Germans also adore the American West (why, I'm not sure).

Around the Grand Canyon, the biggest groups of foreign tourists (which seem to outnumber the Americans!) are Japanese and German.

agnostic: You don't spend a lot of time around normal people, do you? Most of 'em seem to want pretty sights, not "extraordinary experiences". That's why they go take identical pictures of the Leaning Tower in Pisa ("holding it up") - that's not an extraordinary experience, but it's a pretty sight.

(Hell, it seems like a lot of those who profess to want the latter are indulging in signaling behavior more than pure expression of their desires...)

Ugly, yes. But sometimes ugly in a spectacular, arresting way. Some of the U-Bahn stops in the more prosperous western and southwestern districts (Steglitz, Wilmersdorf, Charlottenburg) have to be seen to be believed. I'm not even sure quite how to describe them. 1960s-1970s era brightly colored, patterned tile. Like a trippy elementary school cafeteria.

>Museums: Berlin crushes most American cities, but it
>certainly doesn't crack Europe's top ten.

Whaa? Pergamon Museum? The freaking gates of Babylon are in there, and that's not even close to the greatest attraction. And have you been to the Egyptian museum? I thought I could make it through in three hours, but I was off by almost that many.

I think that London clearly beats Berlin. Paris has better galleries, but not museums (there is a difference). Munich has lots of stuff, the technical museum is amazing, but it's definitely second fiddle to Berlin. Rome is a genuine contender, but not Milan, Florence or Naples. Vienna has its charm, but its museums can't compete with Berlin. But I feel very confident in calling Berlin a top five museum city of Europe.

If you're going somewhere for a relatively short time, you aren't interested in more than a couple museum visits. You can spend the better part of a day in a world-class museum, and you better be darn interested in its contents if you want to spend precious vacation time there. Maybe the second or third visit to a famous city can be spent visiting museums or going to the opera, but the first visit will almost always be to that city's been there, done that places.

So, as a first-time tourist to a famous city, you want visually interesting and different (to you) sites where you can see something famous and take lots of good pictures.

Tyler has *heard* of WW2, right?

God only knows what he'd think of Warsaw.

In general, most everything built from about 1945 to some time around 1980 was pretty ugly or at least boring. Even golf courses from that era partake of the enveloping tedium of Modernism. If you look at American college campuses, the best architecture is typically from the 1920s and the 2000s. College usually stick the art and architecture departments in some god-awful hulk from the 1970s.

To quote Andres, the German exchange student in my 11th grade chemistry class, "We have no old buildings in Germany... because you bombed them all."

Reminds me of the joke about the British airways pilot coming into Frankfurt who doesn't quite understand the controller's instructions:

Controller: What's the problem? Have you never flown to Frankfurt before?

Pilot: Yes. In 1945. But I didn't land.

I think David is right above. But I just looked up on google some lists of best museums of the world. There's not much representation from Berlin (nearly all listed the Louvre, Prado, British Museum, Vatican Galleries, Uffizi, and the Hermitage as the top in Europe).

Of course, I don't think that means much except that Berlin should do a better job promoting their museums.

Sigivald, spare us your tiresome, half-baked cynicism.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the exception that proves the rule -- people want to take pictures of something extraordinary like Notre Dame or the Grand Canyon or the hustle-bustle along the Spanish Steps. It doesn't have to be something on a grand scale or a pretty sight, just something that really grips them as beyond what they're accustomed to.

And given where most people live, even what you call a pretty sight would qualify as extraordinary.

You're trying to trivialize tourists' experiences because you're incapable of feeling taken aback by a spectacle. Sour grapes.

WWII (in particular the allied bombing and the Battle of Berlin) and post-WWII Communism has a lot to do with the paucity of fine architecture. Did you visit Charlottenburg Palace?

I was last in Berlin when the wall was still up. It was one of the most fun cities I ever visited. The clubs and restaurants on the Ku Damm were great and shopping in the East would make anyone feel rich.

Germany in general is better known for it's natural beauty and small town charm than great architecture. The Mainzer Dom and Schloss Neuschwanstein are two examples of fine architecture.

"Germans also adore the American West (why, I'm not sure)."

Who was the favorite childhood author of both Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler? Where were his books set?

If I had to pick the most amazing museum-going experience of my life, it would be my visit to the German History Museum in Berlin. The German story is all there presented in a flat, Sergeant Joe Friday, - the facts nothing but the facts - kind of way.

The films made by the U S after the WW II do a lot to explain the architectural look of present day Berlin.

'...but what you can't do in your home is experience what it's like to stroll down the street in a Florence.'

Where, if my children are to be trusted (class trips in the last couple of years), the number of street vendors doing things like calligraphy is unbelievable - and most of them are African. And my children were really happy with what they, and many of their classmates, bought from those street vendors, especially the banner like paper with their names on it. And yet, not a word from Sailer about how the streets (well, plazas might be more accurate) of Florence are filled with immigrants (some of whom are likely illegal) taking jobs away from native calligraphers. Not one word. Just praise for walking around. Makes one wonder.

50 percent of all the buildings in Berlin were destroyed in WWII and there was no political will to rebuild them afterwards because the city was divided. In East Berlin, the communists intentionally destroyed damaged buildings like the City Palace in order to erase the past and start over. All the cheap stuff they put up to replace the bombed out buildings is what makes Berlin ugly. You can see it on every street; a beautiful old structure standing next to an ugly modern one. Berlin is like a person who's had half their teeth knocked out and replaced by ill-fitting dentures. Just look at old photographs of the city and you'll realize how lovely it once was...

Do hire a bicycle and ride along the Spree and the Landwehrkanal, it is stunning. To the south, go to Treptower Park as well as opposite. Then follow the Landwehrkanal through Kreuzberg, along the Zoo on the south bank or through the Tiergarten on the north bank, up to Schloss Charlottenburg.

'To put it bluntly, no one cares about the street vendors.'

Well, several classes of school children did, and considering how hectoring Sailer is on the subject of 'all those people' ruining whatever it is they are ruining, and wherever it is they are ruining it, this seemed reasonable to point out. In a way Sailer didn't, when describing the charming public spaces - which have a large number of immigrants (a number likely illegal) actually in them, trying to make a living. From those very same tourists that are looking around, one might add. Which would lead to the logical conclusion that if a city like Florence would simply ban foreigners, regardless of race or status, they wouldn't have any problem with immigrants, including immigrants who are undoubtedly illegal.

But then Sailer, a foreigner, wouldn't be allowed to visit, and that would be a horrible result, particularly as in this case, he didn't care about those immigrants sharing the same streets he was walking through.

Strange how that works, isn't it?

I think QWERTY (and some others) nailed it -- I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you *aren't* really a jackass, but the post sure makes you sound like you are.

To the extent your dislike of Berlin is a function of your dislike of big public squares, discounting of what you concede are some very pretty areas, and preference for Disneyesque Major Cultural Location aesthetic, it's a matter of taste; to the extent that you're overlooking the moderately important effects of the end of WWII and the poverty of the DDR, it's a matter of shocking ungenerosity; what's left isn't much.

Needless to say, I'm disappointed. I expect better of your writing.

Berlin has surpassed Rome in terms of visitor numbers and is the only European city that showed major increases in tourism last year (even from the US). With about 175 museums, three opera houses, over 400 galleries and a thriving art/design scene, I think Berlin qualifies as a major city of culture. Architecture: all the great names in contemporary architecture contributed to designing the "new Berlin" after the fall of the Wall, and architecture scholars and visitors from around the world come to see it. And for the river front: have you been to a beach bar? There are about 30 of it. For me, Berlin is the most exciting city in Europe, maybe even the world. I think you should go and take another look. Oh yes, and the nightlife is spectacular!

Given this discussion about Berlin, I'd be very curious about Tyler's opinions of Dresden.

'f you have a high school student who thought one of the great cultural experiences of Europe...'
Nope - they were 7th graders, and they didn't think it was a great cultural experience, they just thought it was neat - and something you never see in Germany - or at least, any part of Germany we have ever experienced. (We did have the Peruvian piper fad a few years ago, but they seem to have moved on.)

'wasted your money by financing a European trip'
It was less than a day by bus. They live in Europe - but I can promise, we won't waste any money sending them to Disney/Apple/Nike Square in NYC - there are worse things than street vendors, including their total removal from a city where even the sidewalks in certain areas apparently are a corporate asset not to be besmirched by those who happen to actually live in the city.

'it would have changed his whole outlook'
Sailer's own attachment to his outlook seems to be unassailable - at his best, he is at least bringing up valid points, which should be discussed. At his worst? Well, his worst is really, really bad - and his defense that he is just 'misunderstood' or revealing the 'truth' simply sickening at those times.

If you are in Mexico, and you visit ruins of any kind, prepare to see disproportionate numbers of Germans.

I have visited many ruins in central Mexico and in Yucatan over the course of several years. I also speak German and notice German tourists. There were very few German tourists on evidence at any of the sites I visited - only Tulum as I recall. This is a silly assertion.

The Pergamon is truly world class, even better than the Museum of Archaeology in Istanbul. But the claim that Berlin is one of the top five cities for museums strikes me as absurd. It does not have any seriously strong museum for just plain old art such as painting. Places like Munich and Dresden easily beat it in Germany, and many cities in Italy beat it, starting with Florence and Rome and moving on through Venice and even a few others. And then there are Paris and London, and even New York and Washington and Chicago, and shall we drag in Madrid, Amsterdam, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Zurich, and on and on?


I spent a week in Berlin; most of it I was sick in bed, and it was still a fantastic week. While Berlin doesn't have the huge, famous tourist attractions, it sure is a wonderful city to visit as a poor twenty-something. During the cold war it was free of the laws requiring mandatory military service, while after the fall of the Wall, it was empty and poor enough that just about anybody can find a place to live, often for free. The combination means that Berlin is the hippie city of Germany, with a vibrant street culture and crazy graffiti, interesting recent history, big parks. Additionally, the museums are great, and much cheaper than in the US.

I think the conclusion is that people go to visit places for different reasons. Going to see a famous place is fun, too; people do get a thrill from seeing something in person that seeing pictures doesn't cover. But just visiting interesting places is good. To call either of these signalling is kind of ridiculous.

I walked along the Spree today from the museum island to the hauptbahnhof and was heartbroken. I saw five young ducks looking for their mother, peeping away and dodging the endless tourist boats churning up the brown oily water. The edges of the river are either made inaccessible by iron palisades or cement so they have little chance of surviving without her. Near the bundestag under the bridge I saw two drowned rats, three drowned birds and about twenty dead fish - it was horrible. Does no one care about the river? Where are the friends of the Spree? Come on Berliners reclaim the living artery of your city!

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