5 * VIENNA: 31 – 2 Sep

Fifth stop: Vienna! The capital of Austria is a city of culture and history. By the Danube, the city’s first traces of human settlement trace back to 500 BC. From the 15th century onwards, it was also the house of the Habsburgs, a royal dynasty that ruled for hundreds of years and played a pivotal role in the history of Europe. Its marvelous Baroque beauty hides hints of the impact WWII had on the city and on the country. 

[A view of the historical city center of Vienna]


Vienna was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, right before the beginning of WWII, in an ostentatious parade that counted with the presence of Hitler, who was himself austrian born. The occupation – known in German by Anschluss – lasted until the end of the war and brought tremendous suffering and loss. Local jews were persecuted and deported and the city was besieged and bombed a couple of times both by the Americans and the British, specially by the end of the conflict. 

After the end of the war in Europe, similarly to Berlin, Vienna was divided and governed by the winning allied forces – which is depicted in the famous 1949 movie The Third Man – for ten long years, until 1955.

[Karlskirche by Fischer von Erlach]


The Historic Centre of Vienna was classified by UNESCO in 2001, as it beautifully showcases the medieval and Baroque architecture and urban planning that characterizes central european cities. Vienna, for many years the capital of the long lasting Austro-Hungarian Empire, is also an important place when it comes to intangible heritage since it has been a major focal point for musical creation since the 16th century, being the city of famous composers like Mozart and Beethoven.  



DAY 10: The Ringstrasse

In the latter part of the 19th century, Vienna was in need to expand its dense urban medieval perimeter. The medieval walls of the city were demolished and a new, major boulevard – the Ringstrasse – was built, surrounding the historical town. This major project encompassed noble, representative public buildings and enabled the city to incorporate the developing suburbs, resulting in the quick enlargement of the capital.

I spent my first day in the austrian capital walking along this main axis and got the opportunity to visit some of the magnificent buildings and parks that surround it. I started at Karlskirche, a major example of Baroque and of the spirit of the counter-reformation. This church is a major project by probably the most relevant Baroque austrian architect, Fischer von Erlach. From the top of its cupula, it is possible to admire the Vienna’s city center and how it stays course and coherent in a beautiful overlap between the different architectural styles that shape the city.


[The magnificient Baroque decor inside the church]

Then I continued my trip around the Ringstrasse to admire other buildings like the Wiener Staatsoper – the famous opera house, destroyed during WWII and reopened in 1955 with Beethoven’s “Fidelio” -, the Austrian Parliament – currently going through works in accordance to its original project – or the Wien Rathaus – the magnificent city hall building in neo-Gothic style.

DAY 11: Traces of Annexed Austria

My second day in Vienna was dedicated to visiting traces of the Anschluss, a very challenging period of occupation for the city and its inhabitants. My morning started at the Augarten, a public garden in the northern limit of the historical center that used to be a noble property and today is a extense public garden. 

In the middle of the greenery, two massive structures disrupt the landscape: the Flak Towers. These enormous constructions were erected by the Nazis as anti-aircraft defense during WWII, resourcing to slave labour. Vienna was not the only city getting them: both Berlin and Hamburg were also equipped with a couple of them. Even though their immediate purpose was to block Allied offensives, there were plans to revamp and make them major symbols of Nazi power once the war ended.


[On my way to the Augarten / One of the Flak Towers]

Nowadays, it is interesting to reflect upon how each people and each city dealt and deals with this somehow “uncomfortable” heritage. The majority of these towers in Germany were either partially or totally destroyed right after the end of the war as they evoke the dark times of the war and the destruction it caused, while in Austria, most of them still stand, serving as a memorial and a public awareness tool for the harsh aftermath of conflicts in cities. 

In the afternoon, I strolled around the city center and entered the Stephansdom – the city’s cathedral. From there, I walked through the thigh knit and classically harmonious settlement surrounding the royal Habsburg complex, passing by the Judenplatz – that used to be the center of the Viennese Jewish community in the Middle Ages – to check the site-specific that was built there – a petrified library, where books cover are not readable and where it is impossible to enter, remembering the cultural loss and the identity attack suffered by the jews during Nazi rule.


[A passage in the city centre / Judenplatz]

I ended my walk near the Albertina museum, where I made a last stop to appreciate one of the Hrdlicka Memorials. These small sculpted ensembles, created by the homonymous sculptor, evoke the many ways Austria witnessed suffering during the occupation and the war. The ones in the picture, in Albertinaplatz, use stone sourced using forced labour in Mauthausen, a concentration camp near Linz.


[The Royal complex / The Hdrlicka Memorial in Albertinaplatz]

DAY 12: A Divided City

I could not finish my days in the Austrian capital without a visit to Schönbrunn Palace, the major summer residence of the Habsburgs. Together with its sumptuous gardens, the ensemble has been inscribed in the UNESCO list for World Heritage Sites since 1996. The building that can be seen nowadays has an original Baroque project, by same architect as the previously mentioned Karlskirche, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, but the full complex nowadays is the result of a sum up of many interventions throughout the centuries.


[The Schönbrunn Palace / The Baroque fountains / The Gloriette]

Curiously, after the war and during the Allied occupation period that followed (1945 – 1955), the palace was used for both the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria and for the headquarters for the small British Military Garrison present in Vienna, before becoming a museum again with the reestablishment of the Austrian Republic.

Back to the city center after lunch, I visited a beautiful church – Dominkanerkirche – that illustrates Austrian Baroque well – white and intricate. Before leaving for my next stop, I still had time to meet Regina Wiala-Zimm, the International Relations Officer for the City of Vienna that cooperates directly with OWHC, and a fellow traveler, Stefan Župan.


– Heldenplatz – 

In front of the royal palace of the Habsburgs, the famous Hofburg, there is this significant square. In 1938, when the Nazis occupied Austria, Hitler did an impressive parade and speech here to show its power and announce the annexation of the country.

[Heldenplatz nowadays]

– Stephansdom – 

The cathedral of Vienna, a magnificent gothic church, suffered tremendously during WWII. Damaged during bombing, as Germans were retreating from the city by the end of war, intentional destruction was planned. Viennese german command Sepp Dietrich ordered the soldiers to “fire a hundred shells (at the cathedral) and leave it in just debris and ashes.” Luckily, a subordinate disregarded the order and more destruction was spared. After the war, efforts to reconstruct it started immediately.


[The Stephansdom / The Canova inside]

4 * PRAGUE: 27 – 30 Aug

Prague was the fourth stop of the trip: a marvelous and culturally rich city, with a peculiar story regarding war(s). Crossed by the Vlatva, it is known by its magnificent city center that depicts very coherently all the periods the city went through. From being the official residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, to witnessing the first signs of the Reformation and being a bubbly cultural hub in the late 19th century, the city has a vast number of heritage sites worth a visit.

[A view of Prague and of the Vlatva]


As WWII was beginning, Prague was the capital and major city of Czechoslovakia, a republic formed in 1918 that used to unite the modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia. Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia started even before the beginning of the war. In 1938, with the signing of the Munich Pact, a compromise between Germany and England, Sudetenland, a bordering region with strong affiliations to german culture, was annexed, in the hopes it would satisfy Nazis’ expansion intentions. However, in March of the following year, the rest of the country was occupied as well, as Hitler only gave two options to the at that time president Emil Hácha – occupation or total destruction.  

The capital of the Bohemia and Moravia Protectorate – as Nazis called it – lived years under terror during the full duration of the conflict. Even thought it was mainly spared of mass destruction due to shelling, as it was only bombed once by the end of the confrontations – and by accident! -, Prague witnessed profound transformations and the loss of important heritage sites, specially after 1941, under the rule of Reinhard Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague

The Jewish Quarter was tremendously altered with the creation of one of the biggest ghettos created during WWII and the old town severely damaged as a consequence of the Prague Uprising, an attempt to liberate the city from the Nazis, only a couple of days before the cease of the conflict in Europe.


[The main square in the Old Town of Prague, classified by the UNESCO since 1992, and its famous Astronomical Clock]


The Historic Centre of Prague was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992 and it is a great example of urban coherence and quality, combining harmoniously medieval structures, baroque churches and Art Nouveau buildings. Nowadays, Prague is a city visited by copious amounts of visitors, having to cope with the challenges brought by mass tourism, but at the same time, it seems to have been able so far to keep an uniqueness that provokes amazement in each single neighborhood.


DAY 6: The City Centre

My first day in the Czech capital started with a walk through the old townStare Mesto – the medieval settlement from where the city later expanded. Starting at the main square, I admired the Old City Hall building, where the symbol of Prague – the Astronomical Clock lies. It was heavily damaged by the Nazis as a retaliation for the uprisers at the end of the conflict and it took a couple of years to be repaired. However, and even though several architectural competitions were held in the following decades, the plot where the damaged part of the building layed remains empty and the wall that faces the square, clearly cut, speaks of that disruption and that event in czech history. 


[The main square in Prague / The Old City Hall, partially destroyed during the Prague Uprising, that was never rebuilt]

Walking through the organic medieval street network in direction to the river, there was still time to visit the Rudolfinum, the building where Dvórak premiered his famous “Slavonic Dances” and that nowadays hosts the Czech Philharmonic. It is a prime example of the not-so-obvious destruction that WWII left on the city: as a strategical point for Nazis, Prague and its buildings were often occupied by passing troops that used major architectural landmarks of the city in a way that often didn’t respect its richness, massively altering and altering its interiors. The Rudolfinum, for instance, was an entertainment hall for Nazis, where they would recreate plays and concerts inside to create entertainment and raise the spirits of high ranked German officers, while war was erasing Europe. 


[The Rudolfinum, now house to the Czech Philharmonic]

DAY 7: Bombed by Mistake

On my second day in the city, my daily exploration started with a visit to Malá Strana – also known as the Lesser Town – on the opposite side of Old Prague; a neighborhood founded in the Middle Ages and that was historically home for many ethnic German and Italian inhabitants of Prague. There, I admired a couple of beautiful churches, passed by the famous Lennon Wall – where locals used to creatively express their frustrations during the communistic period – and ended in Pétrin, the big green area of the city. 


[The Lennon Wall, used as an anonymous complaints during the communist period / The remains of the old walls of the city in Pétrin]

Back to the Old Town, I crossed the iconic Charles Bridge, whose construction was initiated in 1357, to substitute a previous wooden structure, by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The statuary that adorns it is now mainly commissions from the Baroque period but additions have been made throughout the centuries. Even if the bridge survived the war structurally, it still suffered some damage during the conflict, since Nazis, as they were forcefully leaving the city by the end of the war, made a barricade to the Old Tower bridge gateway to slow the progression of opposing troops.

In the afternoon, I was lucky enough to join a group of local historians and architects from the University of Prague for a walk, as well as Mounir, a syrian architect that is finishing his PhD in the city and that sadly knowns firsthand the devastating and long lasting consequences war can have on cities, their heritage and people.

[Walking through the southern part of the city to check bombed buildings and its current state]

We walked through the southern neighborhoodsNove Mesto -, to visited the area that was affected by one of the few bombings Prague witnessed during WWII, when Americans accidentally mistook Prague by Dresden. We passed by the worldly known futuristic Dancing House – a deconstructive building started in 1992 and designed by the star architect Frank Gehry – that was actually built in a plot that remained empty for a couple of decades due to this precise shelling. However, the most illustrative example of reconstruction in this part of town is the Emmaus Monastery, a gothic structure whose vaults were destroyed in the previously described event and that after a couple of reconstruction projects, the decision to add a new contemporary layer, representing its time, won in the 1960’s. Now, a Gothic foundation and a Modernistic tower co-exist in a somewhat harmonious way.


[The Dancing House / The Emmaus Monastery]

DAY 8: The Jewish Quarter

My third day in the city started with a really nice walk around town, with a local historian, Lukas, to observe newer projects that have been built in plots either destroyed during WWII or dismissed by the communist regime that followed, resulting in a very diverse approach to reconstruction and heritage preservation led after the conflict, varying, for example, depending on the location in the city or the typology of the building. 

In the afternoon, I dedicated the majority of my time to the Old Jewish Ghetto of Prague, situated in the northern part of the city. A true city inside a city, even if the area is not very big considering the thousands that inhabited it before WWII, and that for many reasons throughout the centuries were forced to concentrate and keep to this part of town. 

[The cemetery in the Jewish Quarter]

Nowadays, the neighborhood, completely included in the remaining urban system, hosts a significant minor number of jews, as many were deported and killed during the Nazi occupation of the country and many of those who survived decided not to come back. Nonetheless, the majority of the main structures that characterized the Josefov – also called like these to celebrate the Toleration Act, issued by Joseph II in 1781, granting the jews from Prague many rights – remain and have been carefully reconstructed and preserved. Among them, the synagogues – six in total – allow the visitors to have a glimpse of the rich history of the quarter, as some stand for centuries and date back to the medieval times, served as hubs for the sharing of fresh ideas or as a refuge for the jewish community during persecutions or pogroms. 


[The Ceremonial Hall / The view of the cemetery]

I had the opportunity to visit the majority of them and was touched by how each one of them plays a role in understanding the neighborhood, as some remain religious buildings and others were turned into museums or memorials.

DAY 9: The Hill Over Prague

To end my stay, my last day in Bohemia’s capital was dedicated to the Prazsky Hrad, a fortified structure dating back to early medieval times; a place of coronation for the Czech rulers and of surveillance during war and occupation.

The castle started being built in the 9th century and since then has been a seat of power for the king of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and Czech presidents. It has been reconstructed countless times after fires and wars and nowadays is a complex structure combining many different architecture styles, even if the predominant one is the Gothic.


[The view from the castle’s hill / The ceiling inside the oldest rooms of the castle / The main entrance of St. Vitus Cathedral]

Next to it, one can also visit St. Vitus Cathedral. The current structure, built upon an older rotunda by Wenceslaus – a king and patron saint – dates back to the 14th century. It is a marvelous Gothic structure, whose completion only ended in the 20th century. Original elements coexist harmoniously with newer ones: for example, a new decorated window by Alfons Mucha, a famous Art Nouveau artist.

To finish the walk around the hill and overlooking the city, the southern gardens of the castle were a later add-on. Its current state results from a project from the 1920’s, by the famous slovenian architect Josip Plecnik, for the first czechoslovakian president, T. G. Masaryk.



 – Pinkas Synagogue –

Today a memorial, this synagogue speaks of the harsh chapter of history related to the Holocaust. Its walls are covered with all the names collected of deported Czech jews. Thousands died during WWII and in 1945, after the war, the jewish population of the city was reduced to less than a fourth. Apparently simple but impactful!

 – Spanish Synagogue – 

Before WWII, Prague had one of the biggest and liveliest jewish communities in Europe. The old ghetto had a couple of synagogues, being the last one to be built, the Spanish Synagogue, in the second half of the 19th century. Its Moorish Revival style is unique and speaks of the contemporary Jewish Enlightenment, which produced many famous books, marvelous music and works of art. During the historical Crystal Night, a pogrom in the prelude of WWII,  in 1938, that purposefully destroyed many synagogues and jewish property in diverse cities around Europe, and it served as well as a shelter for the jews of Prague.


[One of the walls in Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of deported jews are organized by family name and city of origin / The interiors of the Spanish Synagogue]

3 * DRESDEN: 26 Aug

The third city I had the opportunity to visit was Dresden – the capital of Saxony, in southern Germany, which has an inspiring story of hope and tolerance, when it comes to heritage preservation and a post-war reconstruction. From its beautiful gardens over the Elbe river to its magnificent brick and wood-framing buildings, there is a lot to see. Founded by the Margraves of Meissen in the 13th century, it was based on a stereotypical plan of central Europe – a rectilinear street system disrupted by a main market square.

[The skyline of the historical district of Dresden]

August II (1670-1733), an important saxon, left a big impact in the physical city. As a lover of the arts and architecture, he turned Dresden into a major cultural center, by attracting many international artists and commissioning lavish baroque palaces that form(ed) the iconic ensemble of the city’s downtown.

Dresden is not a World Heritage City but it was an unmissable stop between Berlin and Prague, as it shows the will of a people to safeguard its cultural heritage, shows how long-lasting the effects of war are in cities and helps showcase the diversity of urban and architectural heritage safeguarding strategies adopted in Germany after WWII, as local contingencies varied in a divided country.


[The statue of August, the Strong in the new district, and a new building contrasting with the historical reconstruction on the orher side of the Elbe]


In one of the most aggressive air offensives by the Allies, Dresden was heavily devastated on 13-14 February 1945, in a raid that had little military purpose and aimed to weaken Germany by the end of the war, killing many civilians and obliterating a symbol of German culture. Under soviet-influence after WWII, the strategy to rebuild the city was first oriented in a way that aimed to evoke the ideal socialist society, but the significant amount of rubble – as Dresden was one of the German cities that faced more destruction – and the financial challenges of German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the decades to come, made the process start late and see guidelines change often, resulting in a significant loss of the city heritage landmarks.



DAY 5: Tainted Baroque Splendor 

With only one day to visit Dresden, my day started with an Eierschecke – a local sweet speciality made of three layers: cake, quark cheesecake and vanilla custard- , offered by Felix, a local history teacher that kindly hosted me and gave me a small welcome tour. As the newer and the older parts of the city are divided by the Elbe river, we crossed Augustusbrücke, one of the oldest long-standing bridges in Germany, responsible for connecting important trade routes since the medieval period.


[The sweet Eierschecke / The Augustusbrücke, rebuil using a similar approach to the one used in the Frauenkirche: burnt stones were recovered from the river and reused]

At first glance, it might seem that the contemporary skyline of the old town does not differ much from what we can see in Canaletto’s veduti dated from mid-1800’s but, in fact, before the war the city had already seen major alterations during the 19th century and some key baroque landmarks ended up never being reconstructed after WWII. 

On the other side of the bridge, one is welcomed by a big gate, leading into the historically reconstructed part of the town. But first, one both sides of the street there are two spots worth a stop. On the left, the Brühlsche Terrasse, a garden originally private and built by a count between 1739-1748, that now allows everyone to admire the beauty of the Elbe’s banks. And on the right, near the Katholische Hofkirche, the Napoleon Stone, marking the spot where the emperor paraded his troops before an important victory during the Napoleonic Wars. 


[The entrance to old Dresden, from the opposite view points / The Napoleon Stone]

Continuing through the organic urban fabric, one stumbles upon the Fürstenzug, (“Procession of the Princes”), a mural with 102 meters and circa 23 000 Meissen tiles, produced in Saxony – the largest porcelain one in the world. It depicts the Wettin dynasty, the historical Saxony ruling house and was done in the 19th century as a way to celebrate its 800th century. Meissen porcelain, also known locally as “white gold”, can be recognized as authentic by displaying two crossed swords inscribed.

[The impressive Fürstenzug]

Then, we passed by the Neumarkt, where the rebuilt Frauenkirche stands, to quickly be faced with the contrast embodied, only a couple of hundred meters away, by another square and another public building, from a different period and built upon a different ideology. The Kulturpalast, in the Altmarkt, faces a main, large avenue. Built during the communistic period, still to this day, it is used as the library and concert hall of the city. On one of the exterior façades, one can admire the mural “The Path of the Red Flag”, a propagandistic mural completed in 1962, that aims to portray the history of socialism. Felix told me about the Trümmerfrauen depicted; women that have been elevated to national heroes all over the country, as they are celebrated in many paintings and sculptures. After WWII, there was a lack of construction workers due to displacement and war losses, so women volunteered or took very poorly paid jobs helping clearing the rubble and sorting amongst it the materials that could be reused. According to the available stats, they were not as many as the memorials might have made us think they were, but they hold for sure a symbolic role in German reconstruction and heritage safeguarding. 


[The Frauenkirche / The contrast between old and new stones ]

In the afternoon, I walked around the Zwinger Palace and the Semperoper, iconic baroque buildings of the city, heavily damaged during the war, but repaired and reopened. As the sun was setting, I catched a tram to an area further away from the historical center, to see one last heritage jewel: the traditional regional timber-framed houses, in the Loschwitz district. I was told that this common local typology was also very common in the old town back in the day, but that after the fires that destroyed the city after WWII’s bombings the majority of them burnt down. They still can be seen in the outskirts of dresden and are a beautiful example of local heritage and craftsmanship.


[The Semperoper and the lavish Baroque of the Zwinger Palace]

After more than seven decades, Dresden, in a major parto due to its people’s will, is still rebuilt itself, even after many demolitions post-conflict and heritage loss due to lack of political decision. Following an historical approach of building come era, dov’era but without eradicating fully all the periods of history the city faced, as darken stones punctuate buildings everywhere we look, the city is a great example of how heritage can foster togetherness and urban vibrancy. 

[Timber-framed houses, in the Loschwitz district]



In Neumarkt, where, quarter by quarter baroque buildings have been reconstructed for decades now, this Lutheran church, a major symbol for Dresden, was built in the 18th century. During the aerial bombing of Dresden, a fire made its dome collapse. After many decades of abandonment, as the GDR struggled to decide on the approach to rebuild the old center of Dresden, it was only rebuilt from the mid-90’s according to its original plan, after the famous “Appeal from Dresden”, a popular appeal that aimed to end years of indecisiveness. 


[The exterior / the interior of the reconstructed church / a metalic cross from the original building burnt during the fires following the bombing, recovered from the rubble]

The numerous private donations helped start the reconstruction of this big landmark of hope, finally finished in 2004. Even if the exteriors and interiors aimed to match as much as possible the original George Bähr’s plans, traces of the scars left by the conflict still remind visitors of the tumultuous times the structure and the city faced:  the original stones found in the rumble were used whenever possible, in their exact original position, contrasting with the newer ones, not darkened by the fires. 

2 * POTSDAM: 25 Aug

Potsdam is a beautiful city, located only some kilometers away from Berlin, in an area surrounded by lakes and forests. Many Prussian kings and queens enjoyed spending the summer season in the city, which endowed it with magnificent parks and palaces. Even with the capital in Berlin, Potsdam was the house of the Hohenzollen, the dynasty that ruled Germany, for more that 500 years, until WWI, which resulted in a particularly attentive urban planning and landscape as well as a concentration of architecture landmarks, which tell the story of many periods in german history.


Bombed in April 1945, the old town of Potsdam was significantly destroyed, similarly to many other cities in northern Germany. However, contrary to the city center, the palaces and parks, especially those further away from the city, were spared. With the end of the war in Europe the following month, the victorious powers needed a proper place to gather and decide on the aftermath of the conflict. 

[The Sanssouci Palace, built on top a vineyard, a mark of its time and Frederick, the Great’s interest in recreation, beauty and the arts]

However, Berlin had been massively destroyed and no building that could host securely such a pivotal meeting there was found. Potsdam made history once more, by hosting the Postdam Conference, in the Cecilienhof Palace, from July 17 to August 2, 1945, where representants of the US, UK and USSR decided on the future of Germany and the new borders in Europe, paving the way for a divided country and a time of apparent peace – the Cold War.


[Magnificient details inside the intimate Sanssouci, much smaller than its previous Baroque precursors]


First considered a World Heritage City in 1990, the city has seen since then the number of buildings included and the area classified grew twice, in 1992 and 1999, including now, besides Sanssoussi – the first of the summer palaces to be completed in 1747 – many other aristocratic houses, parks and even a Russian colony downtown. 


[The portico outside / The painted ceilings / Details of the gardens, a project by Peter Joseph Lenné]


DAY 4: From Summer Palaces to the WWII Aftermath

My visit to Potsdam started at the Sanssouci (in French, Without Problems) Park, with a guided tour through the Sanssouci Palace, commissioned by Frederick, the Great and the first one to be built in the magnificent gardens, a landscape jewel designed by Peter Joseph Lenné. In an extensive green area, where each details seems to be have been cared for, I also had the opportunity to stop by the Roman Baths, the Charlottenhof Villa – an elegant small neoclassical palace by Karl Friedrich Schinkel – and the Orangery – the last addition to the complex, built between 1851 and 1864.


[The Roman Baths, portraying the renewed interest in the Classical period in mid-1800’s / The Orangery, the last building to be built in the park]

[A stop at the Chinese Pavillion, another sign of the interest in oriental, less-known cultures and the habit of having tea, in the 19th century]

Then, I headed a couple of kilometers north to visit the New Garden, a newer area, built to suit the acquired taste for privacy and English landscaping of the late 18th century, with the intention to visit the Cecilienhof, the last palace to be built and where the Potsdam Conference was held. To finish my day, before getting back to Berlin, I walked back to the city center and visited Aleksandrova – the Russian colony – and the Dutch Quarter, testimonies of the artistic and multicultural environment promoted by the presence of the court back in the day, as well as some churches that deserve to be mentioned: the Nikolaikirche – another neoclassical major work by Schinkel – and the Franzosische Kirche – where the traces of the destruction in the city right before German surrender could still be seen. 


[One of the gates of the old city / A street where the local historical preserved architectural heritage can be see / The Dutch Quarter, built in the 18th century, with typical brick two-stories houses]

In comparison to Berlin – a bigger city, later divided -, I got the impression that in Potsdam – that fell under western influence after the war -, the reconstruction process was more linear and sparked less debate on the approach to follow. The majority of the buildings were repaired or rebuilt as they were or following guidelines that were grounded in local tradition. The result is an overall coherent urban center, that seems to be very appreciated by its inhabitants and visitors. 


[The beauty of how Schinkel plays inside Nikolaikirche / Signs of April 1945 bombardements in Franzosische Kirche, that was repaired without hiding that layer of history]


Cecilienhof Palace

Built between 1913-1917, as the residence of Crown Prince William and his wife Cecile, this final Hohenzollern palace was created in the style of an English country house, but resourcing to cutting-edge building techniques and newer materials for its time. In 1945, it was the chosen venue to host the Potsdam Conference.

[The Cecilienhof Palace, seen from the New Garden]

The several days event counted with the leaders of the winning allied countries and their staff, finding refuge is this area of the city that escaped bombing and the massively destroyed capital. It is a magnificent place to learn more about this period of history and have a grasp of how WWII heavily changed the lives of people, countries and cities.


[The entrance / A model of the palace showing where each national committee would enter the building / The room where the meetings were held]

Nowadays, the palace hosts a permanent exhibition about the Potsdam Conference, guiding those who visit it through the chronology of the war, teaching about its intervinientes and why it was such a pivotal event in world history.  

[Some historical participants of the conference, like Stalin, Truman or Churchill, depicted in the common room that preceded the meeting room]

1 * BERLIN: 22 – 24 Aug

War leaves undeniable scars in cities, their people and their heritage. Talking about those in Europe without mentioning Berlin is almost impossible, considering its recent 20th century history and how intertwined it is with the destructive Second World War.  Located in the banks of the Spree and of the Havel, the city has been for many centuries an important crossroad due to its central position in Europe. In the 15th century, it became the capital city of  the Margraviate of Brandenburg and it has not lost that role ever since.

[View of the Museuminsel, from the Berliner Dom]


As the main headquarters of Nazi Germany, Berlin suffered tremendously during the war. After the beginning of WWII, in 1939, Berlin was bombed for the first time in the summer of 1940. From 1943 onwards, Allies began large-scale bombings of the city, and in 1945, right before the end of the conflict in Berlin, the Red Army entered the limits of the German capital, resulting in more than 55 million cubic meters of rubble and a decrease of almost half of the total population. 

Reconstruction began even before the end of the conflict, but had different paces and approaches, as Berlin was divided into four sectors and administered jointly by the occupying powers: the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Many destroyed heritage sites laid in ruins for many decades, some were reconstructed or repaired promptly, others are still a current topic of debate.



Berlin currently has three different classified World Heritage Sites. In 1990, the first two were inscribed in the World Heritage List: The Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin – an extensive area that mediates both cities and includes important landmarks of German architecture and landscaping –  and the Museum Island (Museuminsel). The last site to be added, in 2008, was the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates – six housing projects, located in different parts of the city and completed in-between World Wars, that are major examples of the changes witnessed in these typologies in the early 20th century.


[One of the classified Housing Estates – the Carl Leigen Neighbourhood, built between 1928-1930, by the modernist architect Bruno Taut]


DAY 1: Museuminsel

On the day of my arrival to Berlin, I headed to the Museuminsel, one of the UNESCO classified sites in the city. Many of the museums that together make this ensemble witnessed the war and still showcase traces of the conflict – in the walls, patches covering bullet holes can still be seen, as well as darkened stones recovered from the rubble that were restored to their original spot after the war. It was also an opportunity to visit Berliner Dom, the Lutheran cathedral of the city, whose dome offers a panoramic 360º view of the city, allowing visitors to still witness the differences in the eastern – where some soviet-like housing blocks are still prominent – and the western – where less war damage and western influence led to a preservation of more traditional german architecture – parts of Berlin. 


DAY 2: From East to West

With Berlin divided in the aftermath of WWII, differences in the way each area was ruled and rebuilt became evident quite soon. With the construction of the Berlin Wall, in 1961, that became even more evident, as this physical separation remained until 1989. My second day in Berlin started in Alexanderplatz, possibly the most well-known square in the city, and ended in  Charlottenburg, a quarter after the Tiegarten, part of western Berlin.


[The soviet-inspired architecture in Alexanderplatz and the the urban marks of the previous division between East and West Berlin]

As I walked from East to West, it was very interesting to notice how different political, economic and social views informed different ways to see destroyed heritage and if or/and how to preserve it and protect it. Not far from my starting point there is the Humboldt Forum, a Prussian palace that was massively destroyed during the war and left in ruins for many years in East Berlin, resulting in demolition in 1950. More than fifty years later, the German parliament approved its reconstruction, in 2002, following the original plans and incorporating original pieces, previously stolen. The project loved by some, criticized by how expensive it was by others, is today a space for cultural exhibitions and events.


[The contrasting façades of the Humboldt Forum: the one facing the river in a modernistic style that dispenses ornament and the other as true to the original Baroque design as possible]

On a totally different note, as I moved west, many buildings witnessed contemporary additions in replacement of destroyed parts, in an attempt to possibly honor the different times they went through and work as an informal tool to teach about the city’s history. The Reichstag, house of the national parliament, is a good example of that, with its flamboyant dome, designed by the star-architect Norman Foster, in 1995, replacing the one burnt during conflict.


[The Brandenburg Tor, behing which the Berlin Wall passed, and the striking contrast between new and old stone in the Reichstag]

In the evening, I spent a couple hours in the Topography of Terror, the empty SS quarter block, raised to the ground after the war, now a place of remeberance. In the pavilion that now stands there, I could visit an interesting temporary exhibition about Albert Speer, known as Hitler’s architect, and learn about construction during war and planned destruction as well.


DAY 3: Jewish Heritage

In my last day in Berlin, I explored the Jewish history and heritage in the city, starting with a visit to the Jewish Museum, a contemporary building in southern Berlin that tells the story of Jews in Germany and consequently of their urban life and architectural heritage destruction. In the afternoon, I visited some neighborhoods on the eastern side and walked along a preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, in Friedrichshain. An example of some of the interesting sites visited is  the Water Tower, in Prezlauer Berg – a building used during the Nazi period as a detention space that has now been converted in housing and stands in the middle of a local urban park.



Altes Museum 

Part of the UNESCO list since 1999, together with the ensemble of the other museums in the island, Altes Museum is a major mark of German Neoclassical architecture. Built between 1825-1830, it embodied a new idea for its time: citizens should have access to art. A major work by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it was partly destroyed during WWII and rebuilt until 1966.

Karl-Marx Allee  

Connecting the Alexanderplatz with the eastern neighborhood of Friedrichchain – heavily bombed during WWII – Karl-Marx Allee is a main axe that was rebuilt in the 50’s in East Germany, with buildings that could resemble Moscow, clearly portraying soviet influence.


Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche 

A beautiful church, finished in the early 20th century, placed in the Western part of the city. The bombed tower was left as it was and a memorial chapel was built next to it in the late 50’s to evoke tolerance and spark conversation about the painful history of the building.


INTRO: Cities at War – Heritage Lessons from the 20th Century

Hello, Carolina, here! Now that I am about to depart and embark in the adventure to visit 7 cities (6 of which are World Heritage ones), from Berlin to Warsaw, to learn more the impact war has on cities, it is time for an introductory article with more details about the project!


During my Erasmus in Italy, in 2016-2017, I was profoundly touched by the refugees’ crisis in the Mediterranean. Back to Lisbon, to finish my master’s in Architecture, I decided to investigate on different reconstruction strategies that were used in different scenarios through time and geographies in urban settlements impacted by armed conflict, choosing as my main study case Aleppo, in Syria. Since then, I am fascinated by the topic and always eager to learn more about the importance of safeguarding our physical cities during challenging times as population heavily depends on the basic services they host and the memories they embody. Now, sadly, with war back in Europe, the topic choice was even more clear, as these are crucial matters on the table again!


Under the theme “Cities at War: Heritage Lessons from the 20th Century”, I will start in Berlin and end in Warsaw, covering the impact World War II had in Central Europe. In total, my trip will include 4 countries, 7 cities and too many experiences, discoveries and stories to count!


Variety! Each city faced slightly different challenges during and after war, when it comes to heritage safeguarding and preservation. During WWII, some were heavily bombed, like Dresden, others almost spared miraculously, like Kraków. Some were battlefields, others occupied, like Prague and Vienna. Some cut almost all ties with the past, some were rebuilt to look like they did in the most hopeful times before the war, like Warsaw.


I will be travelling from August 22nd until September 8th. I plan to stay a couple of days in each city. The expected calendar is the following:

Berlin ( 22-24 Aug) > Potsdam (25 Aug) > Dresden (26 Aug) > Prague (27-30 Aug) > Vienna (31-2 Sep) > Kraków (3-5 Sep) > Warsaw (5-8 Sep)


Almost eight decades after the war, I plan visit each city main sites and speak with heritage professionals in loco. I am sure will have many interesting conversations and learn more on what worked, what didn’t and what we might learn from these interventions nowadays! Each city will later inspire a blog article, but following this trip’s Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/cities_at_war/) can also be a complementary way to learn more about this project as I explore. Stay tuned!