Sunday, March 14, 2010

Berlin: ewig zu werden

[ Berlin : Forever becoming ]

Arriving in Berlin didn’t immediately sink in. Receiving my invitation to visit Berlin in a party-sponsored Seminar trip with the SPD was a surprise and an exciting and unexpected opportunity.

Walking out of the huge glass train station, a reflecting focal point epitomizing modern architecture and design being opened only just before the world cup in 2006, Berlin immediately begins to confuse its visitors.

Is Berlin ugly? From a first glance, Yes – but turn your head, capture another angle, and the city is beautiful. In other words, the puzzle pieces that make up the entire image of Berlin don’t seem to fit together. Outside the train station, there is an unexpected sprawling amount of open space – here, there is no expansive skyline expected of a world class capital – yet, there are landmarks dotted in the distance – the complete image of Berlin proves to just have a very broad canvas.

There seemed to be construction everywhere – but once again, the direction the city is going in is undetermined. Its journey of building, re-building, tearing down, and preserving leaves a clutter of ideas and once again confusion. Is Berlin trying to emphasize that it received a fresh start after 1990 and has used these 20 years to press boundaries and maximize the creative minds of modern architects to form an exemplary world capital city of the 21st century?

Walk past these modern castles of glass and geometric shapes, however, and the distance is bordered with rectangular quadrangles demonstrating the unique living blocks echoing a communist past, but also in present times a simple hub of diverse people living in close, small accommodations in a big eclectic city. The streets are famously lined with graffiti – some sloppy and hastily scrawled as a “tag” or a moan rebelling against governance or society – yet others are works of art, turning lego-pieced streets into bright, message bearing images. Berlin, at first glance doesn’t seem to make sense – but like a visit to a modern art gallery, sometimes something modern and abstract doesn’t have to make sense, but it still causes us to glare, keep staring, and wonder, and this becomes a subliminal beginning to taking in all that Berlin has to represent.

Visiting Berlin in 2010 marks twenty years after the city famously came back together; its wall had a domino effect on the rest of suppressed Europe. This nucleus as a central point for so much of modern European history provided me with these interesting first impressions in present day; however it seems that Berlin has always been evolving:

"Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein"
("Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.")
(Karl Scheffler, author of Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal, 1910 )

Thus represents what makes Berlin so different – like its train station – enormous and glass – the fragile, translucent monument seems almost vulnerable in the flat plain that makes up the heart of the political district of the city. Perhaps this can be observed as the heart of the German nation as well – as I have blogged over the past months, even in the short time I have been able to witness some historic moments in German history. The city celebrated its reuniting, but with the memorial of this great turning point in modern European history, it reawakened the series of events and scars in history that led to the wall. This vulnerability can be interpreted through many of the corners of Berlin, from the practical, forward-thinking modernism, to the protection and display of history, majestic and bold, as well as cold and sore.

[ Images of the DDR - the original red "Torman" stoplight as well as a section of the Berlin wall still standing in a part of the city still rapidly modernizing with construction. ]

Berlin would continue to surprise me throughout my mini visit to the city over the next three days. Even in the uninviting cold and sprawling areas of public squares and gardens – crispy, beige and dead from the winter blanketing the empty space of the peripheral perspective – there was still an energy that came from the streets of the city promoting only further curiosity – bustling and loud from its images, graffiti and unafraid colors, to its serenity and simplicity with a reserved atmosphere that could seemingly sum up its pedestrians. I am in Berlin, the capital of my foreign home, and rapidly putting pieces together of the history and culture that I have observed and learned through my daily life around the country.