Esse

Our first real day in Berlin was hampered by the ever-present threat of rain. The clouds, indecisive, hung in the air but didn't seem to want to break. When they did, it was in a gust of wind and slanted sleet that cleared Alexanderplatz in seconds and sent us scurrying indoors. Sam was having a rough day already - he'd found out his credit card had been compromised and someone had stolen a lot of his money. It explained why he had been unable to withdraw anything the night before.

The necessary international phone calls to banks and the like wrote off the morning and early afternoon. When everything was sorted on the banking end and with some lunch in us, we emerged into glare and blue skies. The plaza had filled up again with shoppers, buskers playing reggae, and some sort of shirtless dance/acrobatics crew. Even in poor weather, Berlin has a uniquely addictive energy.

We trotted off to the Pergamon Museum, a huge complex dedicated to a holistic examination of Pergamon, an ancient Greek city, and various other ancient cultures. There was a unique installation built in a large cylindrical building. You climb up four storeys of cargo crates and emerge onto a platform with a 360? panoramic view of Pergamon. The walls of the cylinder are covered in a detailed picture, and with the changing light and sound effects it is a truly unique opportunity to feel like you're experiencing history in full scale - a recurring theme of the museum.

The major standouts of the permanent exhibition were the huge halls filled with life size reconstructions of ancient structures from the city. It's one thing to see shards or fragments of something in a display case, but it's quite another to see them tower above you as you climb up steep marble steps into the Great Altar. There were four huge pieces - the aforementioned altar, with its large frieze depicting the battle of Olympian Gods against the Giants; the market gate of Miletus, an impressive two storey entryway; the Ishtar gate and processional way, a stunning blue glazed brick gate to Babylon constructed by Nebuchadnezzar; and the Mshatta Facade, the decorative exterior of an eighth century Jordan castle.

Walking amongst these in a large scale is something special. More than any other exhibition I've been to, the Pergamon gave a truly all-encompassing feel for a city. You got to see it from afar on the panorama. You got to see all the artefacts up close and marvel at the 2200 year-old artistry. And you got a sense of the experience of being there, on the ground, amidst these amazing buildings. You could imagine coming up a hill and seeing the walls of Pergamon in the distance, and how impressive it would be.

When we exited, the rain was back for another try. The temptation of a quick cr?pe was too much to resist, so we pushed back our dinner reservation later. That reservation was for Indian, and I was able to have a fantastically spicy madras to kick up a sweat and get the endorphins flowing. Sam was less impressed, being unable to stomach the cuisine, but a cake and tea afterwards made him happy. Walking back to our hostel, the night was clear. It's remarkable how, despite it being darker and later than any time we spent in Prague, Berlin feels safer. You have to wonder if, two thousand years from now, people will have any better grasp of how this city feels on the ground than I do of Pergamon.

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