Re: Berlin and other cities


Michael Rosenbaum

The cramped walls in the alleys of Regensburg are made even more cramped by their age, as they bow into the streets.

Michael Rosenbaum, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Midway through the German term abroad is a week of travel, which is the most vacation-like part of the term and a much-needed reprieve from daily language classes. It also offers an opportunity to see other sites in Germany besides Berlin and to compare them. This week has offered travel to Munich and Regensburg, both in Bavaria, a southern German state. 

To begin with, both cities we’ve traveled to this week are smaller than Berlin, both in terms of population and landmass. In particular, the old town of Regensburg, which is famous for its almost intact medieval city, was a walled city and had to deal with the space constraints that came with that. As such, the old town, which contains many of the city’s heritage sites, is two kilometers wide, which means one can walk through it in half an hour. The streets in Regensburg are not centrally planned, and buildings and streets are pushed together in a maze of narrow alleys and cobblestone paths. It’s not entirely clear where one is allowed to drive within the old town. Some roads are asphalt and have signage and road markings, but other places have cars where there really shouldn’t be any. On Ludwig street, one of the main throughways of the old town, there is a bus route on a street that is not wide enough for both two-lane traffic and pedestrians.

Outside the band of parks that follow where the old city walls used to be, the roads morph into a design that would be recognizable to any American driver. While Regensburg was spared from the bombing that Germany underwent at the end of World War Two, Munich and Berlin were not, which allowed both of those cities to undergo widespread urban renewal projects, clearing away much of the already bombed-out medieval cores. 

Munich falls between medieval Regensburg and Berlin. Munich has the advantage of being organized around a recreated medieval core, but the American-esque urban sprawl is well integrated into the city, which leads to ultra-modern glass and steel buildings standing across narrow alleys from the neo-classical opera house. Munich is also quite small, and in three days of staying there, I was able to walk along much of the city’s North-South axis, including Munich’s own Museum Island (an imitation of Berlin’s) and the English Gardens (organized in the style of Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York.) There is surely no place for a park so large in small Regensburg.

The organization of Berlin is rather complex. It lacks a distinct city center, although East Berlin was designed to have one. Rather there are many smaller marketplaces connected by the S-Bahn, the “suburban” train. The development of the city was split in two by Germany’s split during the Cold War, a fate that neither Munich nor Regensburg had to go through. The center of Berlin is more diffuse than either other city, despite the population being more densely populated. It has more wide boulevards as well and might be best compared to Chicago instead of Munich.

The travel component of the terms abroad is not only the most relaxing but also the most informative part of the trips. In this way, it is the absolute essence of what the study abroad programs are about, a way to enhance a person’s general experience and make them more knowledgeable in general instead of basing the trip on a specific course. Without travel to other parts of the country, the perspective of a student studying only in Berlin might be that the entire country is similar to the city, a fact obviously disproved by a week of travel.