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Some of the world’s most famous architects have helped shape Berlin’s bold, edgy aesthetic. Take in their works at these impressive museums and monuments.
While Hamburg’s futuristic skyline may glitter with edifices by the likes of Zaha Hadid and Munich’s stately downtown boasts more than a few baroque flourishes, few cities can match Berlin’s daring aesthetic style. The ravages of war in the 20th century left many of the capital’s neighborhoods in ruins, offering a blank canvas to architects and designers. Over the decades that followed, local creatives and international starchitects sought to leave their mark on the city. The result is a rare mix of old and new, of classic Bauhaus and street-art bedecked concrete and dazzling modernist buildings all jumbled together. The overall effect is certainly compelling, if not always cohesive.
The following places celebrate both the historic and the contemporary sides of Berlin. Visitors can take in in undulating ceilings, gleaming glass domes, and pieces of prewar grandeur, sometimes even in the same structure.
No mention of Berlin’s architectural scene would be complete without this ode to its most enduring movement. Behind this institution’s alabaster façade, visitors will find all sorts of exhibitions dedicated to the 20th-century Bauhaus school.
Both the shattered remnants of this historic Protestant cathedral and its much more recent post-war addition offer visitors a haunting glimpse of the city’s turbulent past. Stained glass by Gabriel Loire bathes the new chapel in cobalt-coloured light and lends it an otherworldly ambiance.
Although wartime bombings once reduced this cultural landmark to a near ruin, architect David Chipperfield helped to restore it to its lost glory. The new design highlights elements of the old, including pieces of destroyed frescoes, to create a somber juxtaposition.
Hans Scharoun is responsible for this concert hall awash with golden light. The paneled ceiling produces superb acoustics that highlight the expertise of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Undulating seating terraces manage to feel modern, but not ostentatious, and the overall effect is of a bright, airy space that soars with the sounds of the city’s finest musicians.
While this recent addition to the local cultural landscape boasts an impressive array of Southeast Asian art, the brutalist interior comes close to eclipsing its contents. John Pawson transformed a former World War II telecommunications bunker in Kreuzberg into a stark showcase for both contemporary and ancient works.
The glass-encased crown to the German Reichstag building owes its modernist flair to Norman Foster’s 1999 revamp. The eco-oriented design manages to feel futuristic, while blending seamlessly with the building’s historic sections. Visitors can admire the jaw-dropping interior and one of the best views of the city from the dome. Admission is free, but be sure to reserve well in advance.
The jarring design of this complex is very much intentional; Daniel Libeskind’s building sports a titanium-zinc exterior and a deliberately disorienting labyrinth of irregular angles and concrete “voids” bereft of climate control in order to make visitors experience physical discomfort. Just outside the building, the unsettling Garden of Exile grows Russian olive bushes on elevated stelae high above the ground.