Berlin and Vienna, where culture and music comes alive
by Agnes Chung
Arts and culture thrive in every corner of Berlin and Vienna. From palaces, museums and galleries to concert halls and theatres, the cities’ sights and sounds are a testament to their rich culture, history and heritage.
Berlin Wall to freedom
It was November 9, 1989. Photographer, Mark Power, happened to be in Berlin with his friend, George, the night the Wall came down. “Bang on midnight, the door right in front of us opened. The first East Berliner came through and gave George a big bear hug,” Power told BBC of his unforgettable experience at Checkpoint Charlie.
The historic occasion over 30 years ago paved the road to freedom, the unification of Germany and fall of communism in Europe. It also led to a cultural renaissance in Berlin that continues to evolve to this day.
The 18th century neo-classical Brandenburg Gate is the only remaining city gate representing the separation of East and West during the Cold War. Today, it symbolizes a united Berlin, the City of Freedom. At the East Side Gallery, murals adorned a 4,318 foot long remnant of the Berlin Wall.
Humboldt Forum at Berlin City Palace (Berliner Schloss)
This year, the city spotlights culture with the opening of Berlin’s new cultural centre, the Humboldt Forum, in September 2020. Housed in Berlin City Palace, it will feature more than 20,000 exhibits of world-renowned collections from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania.
The 1,210 room reconstructed City Palace nestled on the bank of the Spree River is the biggest baroque building north of the Alps. Within walking distance from the City Palace is Gendarmenmarkt square, known for its Christmas market; Bebelplatz, site of the Nazi book burning campaign; and the TV tower.
Museumsinsel and Reichstag
Berlin’s Museum Island, Museumsinsel is a UNESCO World Heritage site housing four famous museums, namely: Pergamon, Bode, Neues, Altes; and the Alte Nationalgalerie. They feature impressive art works and artifacts from ancient Egypt, Byzantium and Berlin.
The popular Pergamon Altar at Pergamon Museum’s north wing is closed for restoration and scheduled to reopen in 2025-2026. The south wing remains open. You can walk through the massive replica of the colourful Ishtar Gate and Processional Way of Babylon, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
The Reichstag building with its modern glass dome is one of Berlin’s famous landmarks, and seat of the German parliament, the Bundestag. Other sights include Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and Jewish Museum.
At the Kulturforum at Potsdamer Platz, experience art, music and science at the New National Gallery, the Gemäldegalerie, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Philharmonic, and the State Library.
Cruising on the Spree River from Museum Island to Reichstag is a great way to capture some of the city’s most striking blend of old and modern architecture. Hackesche Markt houses the largest single traditional courtyard complex in Germany. Here you can eat, shop and play in one of Berlin’s trendy neighbourhoods.
Berlin Welcome Card starts at 23 euros. The visitor pass offers unlimited travel on public transit within its city limits, and free, or up to 50 percent off, for admission to over 200 top tourist attractions, cultural events and services.
Vienna lives and breathes music
Austria’s imperial capital, Vienna, with its baroque cityscapes and lavish palaces provides a perfect setting for the city’s artistic and musical masterpieces. The world-renowned Vienna State Opera stages a different program daily, and offers over 60 operas and ballet performances for about 300 days each season.
Renowned composers, including Gluck, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert and Haydn, made Vienna their creative hub. In 2020, the world capital of classical music is celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.
Experience Viennese coffeehouse tradition
You can’t visit Vienna without stopping at a traditional coffeehouse for Viennese coffee and apple strudel. In 2011, UNESCO added Viennese coffee house culture to their list of intangible cultural heritage. Café Sperl is one of the best places to enjoy authentic apple strudel, said Helena Hartlauer from the Vienna Tourist Board.
Among the popular cultural heritage sights are Schloss Schönbrunn, Hofburg (Imperial Palace), Belvedere Palace, Spanish Riding School, Kunsthistorisches Museum and MuseumsQuartier. Vienna rewards you with free access to museums and concerts if you walk, bike or take public transit. It’s the city’s cultural initiative to fight climate change and reduce carbon emission. Details on “Kultur-Token” App at wien.gv.at/kultur-freizeit/kultur-token.html. For inexpensive access to more attractions, purchase a Vienna City Card for 17 euros and get free travel on Vienna’s public transit and discounts to museums and tourist attractions.