Berlin leaves my head a kaleidoscope of dizzying experiences and thoughts . For some reason I think of filo pastry – fine layer upon layer of history, of human folly and of cultural aspiration. The chronological layers are clear yet their impact on the urban fabric is like a spoon has stirred the strudel’s cherry filling. Within one square kilometre around Unter den Linden are major historical footprints:
- the Prussian grand precinct with the Humboldt University buildings and State Library, Museum Island and the old palace now being rebuilt;
- the old Third Reich Luftwaffe building ironically now the tax office;
- the early Prussian Brandenburg Gate in the Pariser Platz, framed by the now rebuilt Deutsche Bank, the Adlon Hotel and the American Embassy;
- Frederick the Great’s palace, Sanssouci at Potsdam
- the new glass architecture of the parliamentary precinct.
The city surface is like a marbled cake – here some Prussian grandeur, there some remnant communist building not the least of which is their showpiece TV Tower on Alexanderplatz, over there a monument to the murdered Jews of the holocaust and finally some standout modern architecture. And most of it , including the restoration of the Prussian palaces, built in the last 70 years since 70% of the city was bombed.
Scattered throughout are the dozens of museum and galleries to every aspect of past and present life.
This is a city central to World War 2, the epicentre of the Cold War and now capital of a country leading much of the world in free education, renewable energy and support to other nations. The city in its many museums and memorials resonates with thousands of showcased stories (often retold on large cardboard placards) about both the perpetrators and the victims of its history. This is reconciliation on a large public scale.
One small reason I came to Berlin was my own struggle to understand “man’s inhumanity”. On a much smaller scale in my own country the majority of people are seemingly unmoved by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, and the awful life suffered by many Aboriginal people passes mostly unremarked. I came to touch the surface of how the German people, who remind me much of Australians, seemed to be compliant during the years from 1933, ignore the persecution of the enemies of the Reich, the unbridled fascism and later the unbridled power of the Stasi.
The answer too seems to be a marble cake of reasons – simplistically, the chaos of the Weimar Republic, the desire for improved economic conditions, the impetus to recover face from WW1, the pervasive rhetoric, the fear of the Gestapo and later the Stasi, and maybe that innate respect for authority manifested daily in the fact that still no German seems prepared to cross the road without a green light. Anyway I leave with books to read to help clarify the mind. I am captured by a city where so many visible statements of the past are treated with quiet respect, where the arts are central, where alternative Berlin still lingers and at the same time young people say it is party central. This is a city of stories. The horrors of the twentieth century have been laid out for all who would, to see. In the blogs that follow, I now know how I shall slice the layers:
- The Third Reich
- The Cold War
- Archeology, art and architecture
- Alternative Berlin and street life
They used to say New York was where the future came to rehearse. I think Berlin is where the future is being created, where everything old is new again and much that is old is actually new and there is striving to do it well.