Traveling Through History in Berlin

When it comes to time travel, they say everybody kills Hitler on their first trip. And why shouldn’t we? That guy ruined a lot of things, to put it simply. But time is a river, and a river always corrects its course. Going back in time to unmake a great wrong only opens up the great paradox of how one could unmake said wrong if said wrong no longer occurred. Events are unchangeable, I once heard in a movie, destined to unfold the way it will no matter how often you feed your DeLorean glowing popsicles. And let’s not create any new dimensional realities; those are messy.

But I digress.

So now you’re floating violently through time, sans your primary directive and not feeling up for the gravitas of meeting Jesus just yet. You might as well stay in Berlin and do some sightseeing. From the Cold War to the permanent collections in the National Museums in Berlin, the capital city of Germany (besides being crazy historic itself) houses a wealth of artifacts stretching well back in time.

It’s odd to see the O2 World arena (opened in September 2008) sitting across the street from the East Side Gallery (established in 1990) of the Berlin Wall. The former, a testament to modern entertainment and construction technology, seems a strange pairing to the now-dilapidated wall that once split Soviet Berlin from the West (1961 to 1989). The famous painting, My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, a depiction of the “fraternal kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker (1979, event and original photo) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic, still stands despite being destroyed in 2009.

O2 World Berlin

Berlin Wall Memorial Graffiti


Moving through the Soviet era, we arrive at Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin. It was here that the Soviets and Americans engaged in a tense standoff, tank to tank, during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. (Talk about literally being at the crossing point of war.)

Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Sign

Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Museum

But we move even further back in time, escaping the Soviet age to a more historic structure that now serves the modern German government. The Reichstag Building (opened in 1894) features a giant lawn on which tourists and students can picnic while contemplating what the modern Bundestag (German parliament) means to them, probably because why not, or perhaps the grandiose architecture of the building that was fully restored in 1999.

Reichstagsgebäude (Reichstag Building) in Berlin of the German Bundestag

Arriving at the Brandenburg Gate (built in the late 1780s), we find ourselves confronted with a German male with a red mane, poised and ready to gracefully pounce upon unsuspecting tourists. This most famous of Berlin city gates was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia and built by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans. Today it serves also as the stage for Berlin’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Moving on to the end of the 17th century, we find the baroque and rococo stylings of the Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace in Berlin. The expansive garden is a popular tourist attraction, restored in the baroque style after the grounds were heavily damaged during World War II. Because what wasn’t?

Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) - Largest palace in Berlin

Perhaps the easiest way to experience time travel in Berlin would be at one of five internationally renowned museums of the Berlin State Museums, all located in the area known as Museum Island. (For a dash of modernity, we can see, from one of the museum courtyards, the Berlin TV Tower, the tallest structure in Berlin, built at Alexanderplatz in the latter half of the 1960s.) We visit the Pergamon Museum (constructed in 1930) to see artifacts from classical antiquity.

Courtyard at the National Museums in Berlin

Berliner Fernsehturm - Berlin TV Tower

Upon entering the Pergamon Museum, we are regaled with the Ishtar Gate, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World (until it was dethroned by the Lighthouse of Alexandria). The eighth gate of Babylon, the Ishtar Gate was constructed around 575 BC under King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Mosaics in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Ishtar Gate in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Ishtar Gate in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Walking through the Ishtar Gate, we arrive at the Market Gate of Miletus, built during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. The structure served as a market entrance in the ancient city of Miletus (now Turkey). The marble monument, like much of Berlin, was damaged in World War II and required extensive restoration. See, also, ancient floor tiles and old reliefs preserved in the museum.

Market Gate of Miletus in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Floor tiles in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Ancient reliefs in Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Finally, we come to our furthest point back in time: the Pergamon Altar, for which the museum is named after (so you know it’s important). Built during the 2nd century BC during the rule of King Eumenes II, king of the ancient city of Pergamon, the altar was excavated by German engineer Carl Humann in 1878. Italian restorers reassembled the frieze panels from thousands of recovered fragments, making perhaps the most tiring of Sunday puzzle nights…

This concludes our trip back in time in Berlin. When you see Jesus, please tell him I said hello.

Relief on Pergamon Altar at Berlin's Pergamon Museum

Pergamon Altar in the Pergamon Museum of the National Museums in Berlin