Barcelona, Milan, and Berlin have been crucibles of culture and experimentation for centuries, instrumental in changing the course of European history. They’ve also long been magnets for talented and unconventional residents, many of whom gravitate to distinctive and colorful neighborhoods. In districts as familiar as the Ramblas, the Piazza del Duomo, and the Brandenburg Gate, there are still many special places beloved by locals that are overlooked by visitors.
Fred Plotkin, a popular Smithsonian speaker on culture, history, and music, has lived in and visited Barcelona, Milan, and Berlin over more than four decades. Join him for a richly illustrated series in which he looks at these places through the eyes of a flâneur—a French term for a person whose casual strolls through city streets produce delight in their chance discoveries. He shares what he’s found on his walks: churches, theaters, specialty shops, restaurants, cafes, and unusual museums just a stone’s throw from world-famous landmarks.
Note: As of January 13, individual sessions are available for individual purchase.
Jan. 23 Barcelona
Following the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona became one of the most popular destinations in the world. Several neighborhoods were overwhelmed with tourists, and in the process, lost much of their special character. The stubborn citizens, deeply proud of their Catalan identity, went to great lengths to preserve tangible evidence of their culture. As a result, attentive visitors can still find restaurants that serve strictly local food and visit churches, stores (such as the oldest candle shop in Spain), a chocolate museum, and ancient Jewish burial grounds important to Barcelonans. The Diagonal district, created a century ago, is full of lesser-known destinations of all kinds that conserve genuine Barcelona traditions.
Feb. 27 Milan
Famous for its banks and wealth, unrivaled fashion sense, and Teatro alla Scala, Milan has always attracted and cultivated genius. The legacy of Leonardo da Vinci, who lived here for 25 years, is found in many aspects of the city’s landscape, including the navigli, the canals he designed that lead from the city to the Mediterranean. Visitors can find surprises all over Milan, from the Bosco Veticale (Vertical Forest), a pair of eco-friendly apartment towers covered in vegetation, to extraordinary barbershops, including the one in which Puccini got his daily shave.
March 19 Berlin
Germany’s capital has changed more radically than any city in Europe. Its people jealously conserve all evidence of its glorious and tormented past, reflected in neighborhoods throughout Berlin’s sprawling urban spaces and abundant green zones. The city abounds in offbeat museums—some devoted to sugar, erotica, hemp, and pacifism—and boasts the best food hall in Europe, part of the KaDeWe department store. You can take in a performance at the Admiralspalast, the stunning 1928 theater favorited by Hitler that became the first in Germany to stage The Producers.
Photo caption: From top: Park Guell, Barcelona; Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, and Brandenburg Gate, Berlin