For the past three weekends, I had been going to the mountains, enjoying the prolonged spells of good weather while it lasted. In early September, I ended up visiting a city I had already seen in 2011, but it wasn’t Zermatt as I would have expected: instead, I went to Berlin for the inaugural Lollapalooza in Europe. There, too, the weather largely held up.
Though I tend to enjoy mountains above all, at times I do miss certain elements of bigger cities, eclectic food being among them. While wandering around the city, I happened to stumble across a Korean-Spanish fusion restaurant and decided to try it out. I was so engrossed in the food that I never got to chat with the owner about how or why she brought the fusion restaurant to life. Next time I’m there…
Although the weather for the concert was great, the first two days were overcast and at times rainy. I took advantage of the quiet morning to visit the Brandenburger Tor as the start point of my day, and couldn’t help but notice the convenient placement of the subway exit.
A trip to the Brandenburger Tor wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Reichstag, which is open daily and freely to visitors (reservation required). The cupola at the top of the building, completely destroyed in WWII, is the main attraction, though when the Bundestag is not in session the Plenary Chamber is also viewable from a visitor’s gallery. Unfortunately, I missed recess by a few days and was able only to see the cupola, where hundreds of mirrors direct light into the glass roof of the plenary chamber. The architecture and engineering of the cupola is a pretty incredible achievement, as the center column is not just for light and decoration but also for air handling and building heat recuperation.
Practically due south of the Reichstag is the building that houses the Berlin Philharmonic. There were no concerts while I was there, but the architecture made up for music: angular and detached, a far cry from the clean, stoic lines of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra building.
Mostly west of the Philharmonic is the Bauhaus Archiv, a funky looking building that houses some of the history and works of the Bauhaus movement. I had taken exactly one picture inside before I was told that the whole collection was copyright-protected and photographs forbidden. I guess the art did its job — if there were signs prohibiting photography, I did not see them!
My random ambling also comprised a stop at the Neue Wache, now a memorial with a very long name: “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for Victims of War and Dictatorship.” The significance of the memorial is not lost, particularly in the face of today’s conflicts and refugee situation.
The morning I visited the Reichstag, the whole dome was actually covered in condensation, and there was enough fog that I could barely see the lawn to the north of the building from the rooftop. Though it began to lift by 9 AM, it made for an interesting game of hide and seek with the flags around the terrace.
The symbolism is something of an inconvenient truth. Berlin as a city seems to have a shifting identity; on the one hand, it’s delightful as a tourist destination, with plenty of museums to keep any history buff scrambling to see everything. On another, it’s an artistic community that can express itself in ways both far-reaching and yet subtle. It aims to host the third large airport in Germany (after Frankfurt and Munich) but the airport is years delayed and billions over budget. Amidst the domestic struggles, as a key player in the European Union the government also needs to create a unified response to an impossible crisis, all while trying to be the mediator of a bunch of quarreling nations that surround it. It’s impossible to go to Berlin without perceiving how simple everyday life is compared to the struggles battled by the place.
My last day in Berlin brought me unexpectedly to Potsdamer Platz, which in the days of the Berlin Wall was split in two. Underneath today’s “wall” is the massive Potsdamer Platz metro stop, and at ground level the B1 pierces directly through where the wall used to stand. I hesitated to put this picture up, as by most interpretations it’s a rather crappy one. But it reminds me of something. Massive buses (maybe the only standard public transportation double-deckers in any German city) shuttle residents and tourists alike across the city, today more integrated than ever would have been imagined less than three decades ago. The “wall” runs directly into the buses that are themselves a wall in the picture, not giving any insight as to what lies behind them. The image is slightly claustrophobic, even though the elements by themselves as they are recognized today — modern buses, a now-2D Berlin Wall, and a patch of asphalt — are not symbols of repression. It reminds me that the city is ever morphing. Not knowing what it will become next, or for how long, makes me uncomfortable, and that makes it fascinating.