Berlin 2 – unscrambling the city….September 2014

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.

Prussian memories

Schloss Sanssouci at Potsdam

Schloss Sanssouci at Potsdam

And its folly

And its folly

Altes Museum, one of the many neo Classical buildings designed by KF Schinkler, used to be draped in Nazi flags when  Hitler spoke to the crowds in the Lustgarten from here.

Altes Museum, one of the many neo Classical buildings designed by KF Schinkler, used to be draped in Nazi flags when Hitler spoke to the crowds in the Lustgarten from here.

How could you go to Berlin and not have your photo taken at twilight by the Brandenburg gate?

How could you go to Berlin and not have your photo taken at twilight by the Brandenburg Gate?

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.

Berliner Dom, the royal court cathedral  built in 1905 stands by the River Spree,

Berliner Dom, the royal court cathedral built in 1905 stands by the River Spree,

Scattered throughout are the dozens of museum and galleries to every aspect of past and present life.

Part of a large communist era mural adorning the old Luftwaffe building.

Part of a large communist era mural adorning the old Luftwaffe building.

Part of the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz. The Wall ran right though here and destruction was rife; it left a blank canvas for some great modern architecture and a wonderful arts precinct.

Part of the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz. The Wall ran right through here and destruction was rife; it left a blank canvas for some great modern architecture and a wonderful arts precinct.

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.

Here taking up a city block are theField of Stelae or the Holocaust Memorial.

Here taking up a city block are the  labyrinth Field of Stelae or the Holocaust Memorial. Underneath in one room short biographies of the 6 million Jewish people killed in Hitler’s war are read out. To read them all takes 7 years.

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.

In many memorial museums simple cardboard placards record history.

In many memorial museums stark cardboard placards record history, mostly in the form of individual stories.

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.

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Filed under History, MUSINGS, TRAVEL

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