Friday, April 10, 2009


Berlin. I’m not sure where to start. I have seen a few of the great cities of the world and have images of the many I have not visited. But only in retrospect do I realise that until now I had no image of Berlin. Part of that may be my own ignorance of the city which was the Prussian capital of Frederick the Great and that of Wilhelmine Germany. I had bits and pieces of images of Berlin, snapshots of the twenties when it was not just the capital of a wrecked Germany, but a center of art and architecture and the decadence of the early twentieth century, scenes based on the tortured writings Albert Speer in which he tried to explain his architecture for the Third Reich, images of cold war Berlin, wrecked, divided and under siege. But I had no real sense of the place.

Now I do, or at least I think I do. Honestly, both Sharon and I found Berlin overwhelming. In part it may have been because we arrived, both of us, suffering from colds we had picked up at the beginning of the week. In part, too, we had so little time there, just two and a half days, barely. But more, I think it was because we found a city so greatly in transition, a city bursting at the seams, temporary water mains running overhead through construction zones all over town, a city newly reintegrated, reinvigourated, struggling to reinvent itself while coming to terms with its past, a past that speaks of the agonies of the twentieth century.

But enough of my incoherent blather.

A note on these images, they are not so numerous nor of the quality I would have liked, but struggling with illness, we toured more by bus and less on foot and, I lacked the energy to compose as cerefully or shoot as plentifully as I might have.

Berlin is home to some remarkable architecture. As a whole, we found European architecture to be much more stylish than that in the UK which seems stodgy by comparison, even in London, I fear to say. And we've not even seen Spain and Barcelona, which by repute and from my students' accounts is stunning.
This, of course, is stunning in another way, one of the few (the only?) preserved portions of "Die Mauer" (the wall).

The Jewish Museum is a complex of three interconnected buildings that commemorate that tragic, horrible side of Berlin's past. Th city abounds with such memorials and with such memories. My admiration for the Germans for dealing so openly with these dark aspects of their history has no limits.
From the tour bus, another reminder.
Not all of Berlin's past is marked with contrition. The city's public buildings, many of them in part or in whole reconstructed, commemorate a more majestic imperial past.
The Bundestag was destroyed not by war, but by the Nazis, reconstructed afterward with a striking post-modern glass dome.
The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is another example of striking postmodern architecture and an example of the scale on which the city is built. With its broad modern streets (dating back to the late nineteenth century) the city has a grander scale than any I've seen.

If you examine closely this image of the the Kurfurstendam you can see a representation of at least three of what I regard as the main elements of modern Berlin. In the foreground is a modernist sculpture in four pieces representing the postwar division of Berlin. Behind it (and there are more images below) is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächniskirche (Memorial Church). The city has left standing a few bombed out churches as peace memorials. And, of course, the Kurfurstendam is lined with modern buildings that reflect the contemporary vigour of this city.
More examples of the city's modern and po-mo architecture. Despite being ill that weekend, by Saturday morning we had to walk, and so set off down Tauentzenstrasse (we got ourselves briefly lost) toward the tiergarten and the Brandenburg gate.

In the middle of the city is the tiergarten, comprising both the zoo and the grosser tiergarten, a large and delightful urban park. I love San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but how much nicer it would be if it were located just off Market Street.

This memorial stunned us both. Built in 1990 by the Soviets, it commemorates the Soviet "liberation" of Berlin. What amazed us is that it still stands, more as a testament to German tolerance than to the late unlamented Soviet Union.
This, of course, is the real deal, just a few yards east, the Brandenburg Gate. Off limits to all during the cold war, today . . .
it is not just the historic center of the city but a exuberant memorial to the division of Berlin.

For a fee, tourists can pose in this tableau vivant of Soviet occupation.
For a fee, this fellow will imprint your passport with an old Soviet stamp
These break dancers represent the current culture of the city. Sharon had us standing here longer than I would have. I wonder why.
Another state building
The double row of bricks running across the city marks the path of the wall. I wish I could say that in this image I set out deliberately to capture the monochrome of postwar East Berlin, but regardless I seem to have done.

Memorials to those who died trying to cross the wall.
Two views of "Checkpoint Charlie" guarding the early American sector of Berlin.

Closer views of the memorial church on the Kurfurstendam.

This ain't Berlin. We began and ended our trip out of Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. Because our flight back to Bristol was early, we decided to spend Sunday night at the airport and cruising the net, the citizen M Hotel looked interesting and affordable. It was interesting, but far from affordable (think Ryanair). The room was sort of a cruise ship stateroom cast in postmodern terms. The downside is that we, who are not technological Luddites, could not get the room's central control touchpad to do what it was supposed to, and had to devise some workarounds. The whole room was one space with pods for shower and toilet. (You do not want to share this room with someone you are not intimate with.) Would we stay again? I'm not sure. Probably not, if only because the one night exceeded 250€ including dinner and parking. But it was interesting.

Apart from a brief visit to Nürnberg in late May, we'll be spending the rest of our stay in the UK, but we are already thinking about our next trip to Germany.

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