Berlin’s autumn Festival of Lights is a spectacular 10-day show with creative displays by talented artists from all over the world. During the festival, landmarks and historic buildings are elaborately illuminated from dusk to midnight. It’s an exciting time with vivid visuals and a happy atmosphere!
Every night I’ve checked out light shows in different parts of Berlin. The weather has been clear with unseasonably warm temperatures in the 70s providing ideal viewing conditions. There are 58 different light shows presented in 60 locations (including the US Embassy). Participants include 66 artists from 25 countries!
Light Halo Anyone?
Some of the shows use projection mapping, a “presentation technology becoming increasingly popular in media art and at concerts”. The process involves projecting customized images onto three-dimensional objects. It’s spectacular to watch!
There are many fun ways to view the festival, including by hot air balloon. Saturday night I decided to watch from a different vantage point and boarded a cruise to see the colorful light projections from River Spree. The tour began at 7 pm. from Jannowitzbrücke and floated along the Spree for several hours of fun!
There were 200+ people aboard the double-decker barge-like boat. I enjoyed talking with two fun guys from Australia. According to our tour commentator, the three of us and two Italians were the only non-Germans on board.
“Berlin has more bridges than Venice. Together, the German capital and the surrounding state of Brandenburg comprise Europe’s largest network of inland waterways.”
Boat traffic backed up on a busy Saturday night, so it took us some time (both ways) to pass through Mühlendamm Lock in the canal. The historic Lock is part of a causeway built in the center of the then medieval city during the 1200s.
Boats on River Spree
During the Light Festival or anytime, Berlin is amazing at night! Having experienced the nighttime view from River Spree, I’m looking forward to a daylight tour along the same route.
Brandenburg Gate Festival of Lights
Some of the light shows use projection mapping, a “presentation technology becoming increasingly popular in media art and at concerts”.
A surprising fact about Berlin is that in addition to River Spree it has 6 other rivers and an unbelievable 1,700 bridges! The rivers account for an astonishing 80 kilometers of navigable waterways within Berlin’s city limits:
Passing under the lighted bridges was a giddy treat! Some of them were so low, the Captain asked people on the top deck to remain seated as the boat slipped underneath.
Berlin Cathedral Festival of Lights
“It’s said that Berlin has more waterways than Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Venice COMBINED.”
Berliners participate in the festival by making a charitable donation to Aktion Augenlicht and picking up a “Lekker Lichtbox”. Aktion Augenlicht facilitates shared experiences for blind and visually impaired people. During the light-fixed period (7 pm – 12 am), LED boxes shine in windows throughout the city. Even though my apartment faces a courtyard, I put a small light in the window :o).
Learning to navigate a large city requires patience and perseverance – ha… Berlin’s heated pace is both daunting and exhilarating. I’ve gone from being hopelessly lost to feeling ecstatic while blending with locals and making successful transport connections!
As a point of comparison, Istanbul’s 14+ million population makes Berlin’s 4 million seem small, but to me, Istanbul’s public transit system is easier to learn. Switching between the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train) is confusing. My U-Bahn station is Gneisenaustraße – still trying to pronounce it correctly. During my first subway outing a Berliner helped by providing directions involving a U-Bahn to S-Bahn transfer. There are various transfer options and this one turned out to be complicated (for a tourist), somehow leaving me in the middle of nowhere at night, terrified!
Wilhelminian Style Architecture
When will I learn the lesson about not asking locals for directions – a basic rule that continues to elude my travels? Essential elements of getting around seamlessly and independently in foreign countries include MapsMe or Google Maps and a power charger for your smartphone. In Berlin, speaking German is also helpful…
Gendarmenmarkt – Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom, Berlin Konzerthaus
Berlin Opera House St. Hedwig’s Episcopal Cathedral
I’ve booked some interesting tours and decided to make “dry runs”, to eliminate 11th hour drama reaching the starting point on time. Berlin is a city of striking images, but I haven’t taken many photos – dangerous while still getting your bearings.
Yesterday I joined a six-hour walking tour led by Berlin Like A Local. As with most of these outings, there was too much detailed information provided. The tour lasted most of the day – with a 30-minute lunch break and a few moving caffeine stops. We walked at a fast pace with little time for photos or chit-chat. Since then, I’ve downloaded self-guided tours to my smartphone. The next walking tour will be at my pace, and I can replay the commentary as many times as necessary :o).
Checkpoint Charlie – Getty Images
The group included tourists from Amsterdam, Zürich, London, and New York City. They were in their 20s – 30s and good fun. Most of them were visiting Berlin to experience its vibrant techno nightlife scene. The Londoner shared pointers about Albania – possibly my next stop. One young couple was on their way to Prague.
Berliner Dome During the Festival of Lights – Shutterstock
Our Australian guide from Melbourne has lived in Berlin for over 4 years while attending university. He majored in subjects which make him an expert on European history and a powerhouse of information. His commentary was funny at times, e.g., he told us “you can take a dog or a beer anywhere in Berlin”…
Attractions and Landmarks
Some of the sites we saw are listed below – more for my benefit than readers of this blog post. Each site has its own unique history and compelling story. We began in the east near River Spree at the Tränenpalast Museum (Tears Palace) and ended at Brandenburg Gate in the west.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The stark Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenman is graphic and impressive. It consists of 2,711 cuboid concrete stelae (slabs) and encompasses an entire block near Brandenburg Gate. We walked respectfully through the controversial memorial. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of isolation and helplessness as the concrete blocks grow taller and a slanted pavement adds to the disorientation. Eisenman’s brilliant work gets your attention and makes its brutal point.
Unter den Linden Boulevard – 123RF
We took a break on top of Hitler’s underground air-raid bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide. It’s now blended with the landscaping of a modern apartment complex. Another interesting spot was the exterior of Angela Merkel’s flat in Prenzlauer Berg where she no longer stays. Trendy Prenzlauer Berg has old Wilhelminian-style buildings and fashionable cafés and shops. The apartment rents for € 65 per night.
During the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought extreme euphoria, wild partying, and a “chaotic, anarchistic mood”. Since then, Berlin has experienced major change! This was a cursory tour. Over the next few months I will look deeper and gain a better understanding of Berlin’s fascinating past and bright future. Although not always immediately obvious, Berlin’s dark past and present intertwine.
Clear autumn weather in the 70s is to continue this week. I’m besotted with Berlin and the adventures so far. Happy to be staying in the Kreuzberg / Neukölln area, a vibrant community rich in diversity and character.
The massive Carr Fire near the California / Oregon border created terrifying “fire tornadoes“. They occur when a fire acquires “vertical vorticity and forms a whirl”. Fire tornadoes can “grow to gargantuan size with winds of over 90 mph”.
The Carr Fire ignited in late July. A month later, after “torching more than 200,000 acres,” it’s about 90 percent contained! Smoke from fires in Oregon, California, Washington, and nearby Colorado and Canada creates a surreal aura, bringing an eerie atmospheric haze, poor air quality, and vivid sunrises and sunsets.
Next Long Trip
I’ve started getting into the specifics of my next travel adventure. No matter what, this time I’m traveling with one piece of luggage!
Like in 2017, I’ll begin in Europe and eventually make my way back to South Africa. I decided to start in Berlin – a new city for me. I’ve studied Berlin’s East and West boroughs and have a few leads for rental apartments in well-located areas near attractions and transportation – Mitte, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, and Neukölln. Rents are reasonable, and the apartments look comfortable.
Thankfully Day Zero in Cape Town’s drought is now pushed out beyond 2019, but the government’s move toward land expropriation without compensation is a concern. More than two decades after the end of apartheid, land ownership remains a “highly emotive” subject for South Africans – that may be an understatement. According to the ruling ANC government, white people own 72 percent of private land, black people 4 percent, and other ethnic groups 24 percent.
Land expropriation is said to be “the most pressing social issue in the country”. However, some think high crime, corruption, and the “triple-time-bomb of poverty, unemployment, and inequality” are the real issues keeping South Africans awake at night.
Kayelitsha Township Outside Cape Town – Dan Kitwood Getty Images
Julius Sello Malema Leader Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – blouinnews.com
South Africa’s EFF – founded in 2013 and led by outspoken Julius Sello Malema – is a self-proclaimed “radical leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement that draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition”.
My extended South African visa expires in 2020 – a regular entry (tourist) visa issued at the airport is good for 90 days. I haven’t decided whether to pursue the rigorous renewal process. The “retirement visa” has allowed me to make long trips (up to five years) to explore and better understand South Africa. I especially enjoy the Western Cape, hiking Table Mountain, volunteer work with young children, and vibrant Cape Town – a special and dear place to me. South Africa is a strikingly beautiful but complex and sometimes difficult country that can’t possibly be understood without spending extended time there.
During this period of rapid change, the National Development Plan (NDP) is the country’s detailed proposal addressing key issues for uniting South Africans.The lofty NDP goals to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality are to be implemented by 2030. What little I know of the NDP, it seems overwhelming, but I’m digressing – back to Berlin…
Clouds Over Table Mountain from Signal Hill Cape Town – Erik Pronske Getty Images
The NDP’s goal is to “unite South Africans, unleash the energies of its citizens, grow an inclusive economy, build capabilities, and enable the state and leaders to work together to solve complex problems”…
Berlin State Opera Staatsoper Unter den Linden – Wikipedia
Berlin This Fall
I plan to arrive in Berlin in September. Their fall weather is much like Oregon’s with cool but mild temperatures. When winter comes and it starts getting really cold, I’ll move south – not sure where yet. I’m considering exploring new places versus returning to more familiar areas. New countries of interest include Romania and Albania, but Italy and Spain also have moderate winter climates.
I’m looking for a three-month rental apartment in the Berlin-Mitte borough, the central section of former East Berlin. “Before the war and division of the city, Mitte was the center of Berlin. It’s regained its former pre-eminence to such an extent that many visitors never see the western side of the city.”
Mitte is the oldest and most historic part of Berlin with many cultural attractions and “ever-expanding restaurant, club, and arts scenes”.