5 September 2006

Berlin

And then there was Berlin itself - a spacious city which is still re-inventing itself. There's so much construction there. Where once there was a barren no-man's land beyond the Brandenburg Gate, now there are glassy banks, the French Embassy and a spanking new American Embassy being put up right next to the famous gate which overlooks the Tiergarten - a vast inner city park with leafy bowers and gargling streams, sweet meadows and paths that wind towards the cooing of turtle doves.
It seems that most of the old eighteenth/nineteenth century centre of Berlin used to lie behind the wall in "The East". My hotel, the Ansbach, was in "The West" near to the Zoo and the vast Ka De We department store. My room overlooked the Mercedes Building which was crowned with a slowly spinning Mercedes symbol - illuminated at night - somehow reminding me of other symbols that had shone over this city in the middle of the last century.

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Perhaps visitors should really be looking forward but some of the time I was of course looking back - at the bullet holes and war scars on badly restored municipal columns and at the car park that sits over the hidden ruins of Hitler's bunker - where he died with his new bride as Russian troops rampaged through the city. Not far from this unremarkable site, I wandered through Berlin's latest monument to the Holocaust - designed by Peter Eisenman - hundreds of concrete blocks of varying heights - arranged in a symmetrical maze without commentary. They leave you asking "Why?" and they remind you of gravestones. You're drawn into them till you don't know where you are and the blocks are dwarfing you.
I found Berlin's train service confusing with its U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines. I never was sure I'd bought the right ticket though nobody ever checked. I visited the Pergamon Museum with its many architectural artefacts ripped off from the ancient world - mostly in the nineteenth century. What were those people thinking? Perhaps in an age when travelling abroad was most uncommon, this was the only way they could think of to enlighten stay-at-home people about what was out there in the wider world. More enjoyable for me was the modern art gallery in the old Hamburger Station with several key works by Andy Warhol.
Apparently, JFK's famous line "Ich bin ein Berliner" was famously grammatically incorrect. Rather than it meaning the intended "I am a citizen of Berlin", a better translation would be "I am a jelly doughnut"... I kid you not!

8 comments:

  1. It sounds like an incredible as well as thought provoking place to visit.

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  2. Fine tune irony? ... or perchance you've not visited the British Museum with its many architectural artefacts ripped off from the ancient world - mostly in the nineteenth century. What were those people thinking? Perhaps in an age when travelling abroad was most uncommon, this was the only way they could think of to enlighten stay-at-home people about what was out there in the wider world.

    [Apologies if this is my failure to master Yorkshire Humour]

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  3. Enyo - Of course the Germans were not the only ones guilty of this archaeological pillaging of treasures from the ancient world and perhaps given Britain's power in the nineteenth century, our country was probably the guiltiest of all. Yes I have seen the Elgin Marbles and what to me is more heart-rendingly tragic - the many Egyptian coffins/mummies in the British Museum. To me it's interesting that classical ideas and symbols are very prominent in Germany's National Socialist architecture, symbolism and thinking...

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  4. don't mention the war!

    I don't think this send-everything-back-where-it-came-from idea is as simple as it appears othewise the italians will want all their paintings back from the national gallery in London, the french will want Richmond castle back, The english will want all the old furniture that sits in american homes returned and the germans will want all their inexploded bombs back from England,France,Belgium,Holland,Spain,Poland,Greece,Russia,Norway,Denmark,Rumania,Malta,Algeria,Egypt...

    and London will have to give the north east the Lindisfarne gospels and I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon

    anyways, you do write some most interesting stuff sometimes old fellow and thankyou

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  5. Arthur - Don't get me wrong. In most cases, I wouldn't propose repatriation of ancient treasures. What's done is done but that doesn't stop you thinking about the injustices of history - archaeological or otherwise.

    Thanks for your encouragement. I enjoy visiting your blog too.

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  6. Well this ancient treasure isn't interested in being repatriated ... and as for Those Marbles you can keep 'em. I've had the renovators give the place a thorough make over in recent years and they just won't do anymore.

    The nazis, certainly the key figures that shaped and drove the movement, were emotional, psychological and moral dwarfs for whom a bit of elaboration and ornamentation (nicked from wherever took their passing fancy)served to brick over their inadequacies.

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  7. By the way, did you know Jews were depicted in caricature as gorillas by the Nazis? It's why I can never put Yiddish on my blog, even though my grandparents grew up speaking it. Where are the optimists when we need them? Eating jelly-donuts, I suppose.

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  8. A jelly doughnut?

    Sigh. Another embarrassing American tourist... Well, at least he was good-looking and witty.

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