Monday, March 15, 2010

das Brandenburger Tor

[ The Brandenburg Gate ]

The agenda set up to guide parteimitglieder – party members – of the SPD party through their national capital turned out to be dense with a constant schedule of meetings and events. Upon arrival, we walked across the flat, open square that sprawls from the trainstation, and we were immediately collecting in a bus on our way to our first scheduled event. We weren't even stopping at the hotel until the evening – we arrived and the three day compilation of politics in Berlin as well as a connection back to German history was well underway.

Following a quick lunch – our reserved seats waiting for us, indicating that the group of strangers now had to sit and meet and greet. [Something that I tend to feel falls on my lap most of the time with the expectation of being the small-talk savvy American, but maybe it is just me that feels this anxiety]. The spontaneity of the afternoon continued since we had a minimal amount of time to explore the streets we were around, and as I walked, Berlin continued to transform around me.

Starting with open space and construction in the distance, dense streets lined with commercial high rise buildings guided the way until a turn to a wide lane with the prestige of a Russian flag waving above a huge embassy, neighboring France and the United States. And then, just as unexpected as the Cologne Cathedral or the Eiffel tower in Paris, one of the most famous monuments in all of Europe is crowning the street’s end – das Brandenburger Tor.

It is not a coincidence to have these allied nations clustered together – symbolically by the Brandenburg gate, the historical gateway into Prussian Berlin. Similarly, in another corner of Berlin a stolid stone embassy with the Japanese chrysanthemum crest faces the Italian embassy with a pink, esteemed façade. The history is startlingly standing right before you, and the architecture serves as only the beginning of telling the city’s story.

Das Brandenburger tor has become an image that represents Germany all over the world, but the “gate” confuses visitors more, since in Modern Berlin the city branches out around the gate, there is no entrance since the gate has been swallowed into the city. From plaques that recap decades of complex history into mere paragraphs, it is challenging and almost surreal to stand at the gate and imagine that just yards from this monument a wall once stood, and just to its right upon looking over Platz des 18. März, the German Reichstag – the most central government building - would there stand on the other side of this barrier in plain view. To the left from this same image now stands dozens of stone pillars representing the experience of European Jews becoming lost, alone and helpless throughout Nazi rule.

[ You just have to believe me trying to create some photo journalism here. It is hard to put into perspective the unique setup of Berlin. Turn exactly 90 degrees to the right from the above photo of Platz des 18. März, and the view dramatically changes with the Reichstag building in the background. It is incredible to imagine just 20 years ago a wall once stood here. What is also hard to fathom is how I took this two photos right after each other and one is gray overcast skies, and the other is vibrant blue... That might also sum up German weather pretty precisely.]

The symbolism, imagery, and living history around me was overwhelming. On the other side of the gate, near the U.S. embassy – fresh and polished from its young 2 years of being opened at its new home, stands a table with a tourist ploy. A man dressed in an American army uniform asks me in a very Turkish accented English if I wanted authentic stamps in my passport from the American/French/British and Soviet quarters of divided Berlin – a unique concept, only 2 Euros, but I don't carry my passport in my back pocket.

The kitsch of this expected tourist trap just meters away from the grand gate did provide a perspective on the influence of international politics [ some even calling the cold war the beginning of modern international politics ]. Berlin was a crossroads – it would be wrong to compare it to New York – a city combining layers of many different eras, arts, peoples and politics into one cohesive piece. Berlin, on the other hand, didn’t seem to “melt” like our endeared American melting pot. Influence is not the right word – Berlin is a cross roads of different ideas and powers placed there all claiming their self-declared rightful spot within its borders, the image isn’t cohesive, but like my running theme lost amongst these images, it all told a living story of a deep history.

If the Brandenburg gate bridges Berlin together, garnering the old defacing city divide, then the new Reichstag, home of the German Bundestag, is the bridge of the German people – the next surprising step in my walk around the political center of Berlin.

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