Scoot To Berlin, Germany’s Fabled Capital
As Singapore’s Scoot Airlines continues to expand its route system beyond Asia, the world’s favourite low-cost carrier now provides the opportunity to visit far-off places for a fraction of the price of a traditional airfare. Scoot’s latest addition to its flight network is Berlin, one of the world’s most exciting cities. The German capital has spent the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall redefining itself as a modern European city while still retaining the cultural edge that made the former West Berlin a unique place in the world. Reunited with the eastern part of the city, the sprawling metropolis offers an array of travel experiences from the most luxurious shopping and dining to the alternative art scenes of up and coming neighbourhoods.
For almost fifty years, West Berlin was a haven for alternate lifestylists of every sort. Their collective creative energy benefited the city, and generous social benefits made available to residents as incentives to live in the Western city within an Eastern country made for a relatively comfortable life for those uncomfortable elsewhere. Berlin is no longer the enigma it once was, but it is still a special place. For culture vultures, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island), one of the world’s highest concentrations of priceless artworks, is a must. Museumsinsel is a unique agglomeration of museums in which all the major buildings are linked by an underground corridor, making the entire island, in effect, one big museum.
Berlin, however, is still a city where art is not merely admired, but also created. A stroll through the gentrifying but still unconventional Prenzlauerberg and Friedrichshain neighbourhoods reveals avant-garde art galleries alongside experimental fashion boutiques and well-patronised cafés.
While the future is enticing, the past is not forgotten. Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the former West Berlin remains unreconstructed as a reminder of wartime destruction. That bit of rubble seems oddly anachronistic when contemplating Potsdamer Platz, the shiny new city centre where 21st-century Germany has come alive. Here, among the cafés and glass skyscrapers, a sense the optimism still lingers from heady days of post-Wall freedom. A thin brick line across the expansive plaza recalls the location of the Berlin Wall, of which captioned pieces are still left as graffitied memorials to the past. Now that the Wall is gone, everyone wants to see it; the city even provides portable devices called Mauer Guides (Wall Guides) that offer images of the Wall so that visitors can see what it looked like at the exact spot where they are standing at any given moment.
Though much of Berlin’s revitalisation has taken place in the Mitte and eastern parts of the city, the area around Kurfürstendamm remains the most exclusive place to shop, dine, and live. Western Berliners still enjoy a bourgeois lifestyle of fine living in the large apartments found here, with great restaurants and the city’s best shopping just down the street. Tauentzienstrasse and its continuation, Kurfürstendamm, remain the centre of consumerism they have always been; as on New York’s Fifth Avenue and the Champs Élysées in Paris, though, the product mix is changing. Headed by Kaufhaus des Westens, the legendary department store better known simply as KaDeWe (kah-day-vay), the avenue is home to numerous shops, some of them now more mass market than before as chic boutiques relocated down nearby sidestreets. This only means that the exuberance of the boulevard has spread throughout the area.
Few people know that Berlin is one of the greenest cities in Europe both literally and figuratively. The enormous Tiergarten at the very heart of the city provides a place for country walks with only the golden statue of the landmark Siegesäule (Victory Column) to indicate there is anything beyond the trees and lawns of the park. To the west of the city centre are the well arboured Wannsee and Spandau districts. Closer in, the grounds of Charlottenburg Palace are also nice to visit, especially in early winter when greenery is replaced with revelry at the outdoor Christmas market, one of several taking place in Berlin during the month of December.
Berlin is very spread out, extending many kilometres in every direction from its centre. Holders of a BerlinWelcome Card have unlimited use of the excellent public transport network, which includes the airport bus to Zoo Station. Conveniently, Berlin Tourism has an office at Tegel Airport, which means a BerlinWelcome Card can be picked up right off the flight from Singapore and used immediately to get into town. The AB card is valid for the Berlin metropolitan area while the ABC version is valid further afield to include Potsdam, one of Germany’s most evocative cities and home to the gloriously over the top Sanssouci Palace.