Current city: Prague (Praha, Prag, take your pick)
So going right from Paris to Berlin and then to Prague, it's like double culture-shock; you go from old city, to new city, to uber-old city. Paris seems to have embraced its old-world charm, all the while charging people to experience it. There are centuries of history hidden in every square and building, but at the same time it is definitely a world-class city, and seems to have the ego to go along with it. Don't get me wrong, I loved it there, and there is certainly a lot to learn and experience in Paris. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Berlin turned out to be a bit of a mindfuck. The whole city is an oasis of new-city on a continent of old. For obvious reasons; there was very little left of it after 1945, so rebuilding was the only option. Being there for only 2.5 days gave me more of a history lesson than in 5 years of highschool. Going on a walking tour of the city, you realize just how much it seems that Berliners are looking towards the future, while at the same time glancing over their shoulder at the past. Case in point; the Berlin Wall. When it came down in 1989, there was a huge movement to get rid of as many remnants of the Soviet-era as possible, with a 12-ft tall piece of concrete being the most obvious. With only 3 sections of the wall remaining intact, Berliners are now reallizing that it might be important to save, because a) of the obvious tourist draw (and therefore tourist $$) and b) for the importance it played in shaping the modern-day Berlin. It is an important aspect of the city and its history, no matter how dubious. The same way that Paris recognizes something like the Place de la Concorde as a venue for history-changing events (like the beheading of a King), I think that, in time, Berlin will come to recognize their own (albeit infamous) place on the world stage. Now, please dont think for a moment I'm drawing any kind of comparison between the French revolution and the attrocities of WWII; one only need tour the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (in Berlin) to realize just what happened, in horribly graphic detail, between 1939 and 1945. I only wish to point out just how far-reaching the wake of past events can be, and the effects of those events decades or centuries later. I just find it fascinating to compare how relatively recent events versus past events can shape modern-day cities.
I did enjoy my time in Berlin; its a fantastic display of modern architecture and engineering juxtaposed against decided old-world monuments and buildings. My only regret is that I never got to tour the Reichstag; in November of last year they apparently had a credible terrorist threat against the building (according to our tour guide), and thus no longer allow walk-in visitors. Each person visiting the dome must now sign-up online at least 3 days in advance. Since I have an open Eurail pass, and I plan on coming back through Munich later this month, I think I might make a day of it yet!
Now on to Prague, and my initial impressions of it are that I seem to love it! It is the quintessential old-world European city. It has the history, the charm, and, for lack of a better word, the "whimsy" that one expects while wandering the winding cobblestone streets. And this is coming from someone who's only experienced it for about 6 hours. The highlight of coming here, though, would have to be the Orloj, or Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, a mechanical clock completed in 1410. Forget the "seeing a castle older than Canada" requirement of this trip; I've seen a CLOCK older than Canada! For those of you who havn't seen the YouTube video, let alone heard of this clock, it celebrated its 600th birthday with a spectacular video display on Oct 9th, 2010. (Video Mapping on Orloj: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YQxAv6zg9o ).
I had just finished a fantastic pizza dinner and was making my way towards the clock when I heard some sound effects from several blocks away. When I got to the square, I realized that they were showing the Projection Mapping that I had seen a while ago on youtube. I nearly wet myself. I thought I had had the incredible good luck of showing up on the exact anniversary of the video display. (Being both a science-geek and a tech-geek, I was fascinated by both the astronomical clock movement and exactly how they were projecting this onto the building). However, after the video had finished there was a countdown clock that seemed to start at 20 minutes, indicating that they run the same display every 20 minutes every night. I don't care, I'm sticking with my original impression that it was my impeccable timing. It was impressive nonetheless.
I now have a nickname for Prague; Paris sans pretentious.
I kinda like it.