East Side Gallery

May 26, 2008 in Berlin 2008

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is one of my favourite places in Berlin. The longest surviving section of the wall, it is covered in some pretty historic murals, originally painted in the heady days of November 1989, and it’s amazing to be able to see what a pathetically thin slab of concrete separated two different worlds within the same city.

Sadly the murals are decaying. They were freshened up by the original artists in 2000, and so when I first saw them in 2002 they looked pretty good. By 2004 they were a bit rough-looking, and now in 2008 it was really depressing to see how awful they looked. In a city with no shortage of places to spray a bit of graffiti, I couldn’t understand why so many people would choose to spray it here.

Treptow

May 26, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Treptow

The next morning I walked via the Hackescher Markt to Alexanderplatz, then along Unter Den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. Beyond the gate, I walked along the giant Straße des 17 Juni to a Soviet war memorial. This was what used to be West Berlin, but throughout the cold war Soviet soldiers stood guard at the memorial. Two tanks either side of the entrance were supposedly the first two Russian tanks to enter the city in April 1945.

It had been bright and sunny but today was grey and sombre. I walked on from the memorial up to the Spree, and then along by the river banks as far as Bellevue station. From there I decided to head back east, to Treptow and another war memorial.

This one was far, far bigger than the one in the Tiergarten. The huge site was almost deserted, and the heavy skies gave it an atmosphere of sadness. The battle for this city was one of the bloodiest in history, and put an end after six grim years of war to one of the most horrific regimes in history. Berlin today is so exciting and dynamic that it seems impossible to believe what happened here less than a human lifetime ago. Eight million Red Army soldiers were killed in the war, and the Soviets built memorials to them all across the Eastern Bloc. I walked around the site, up to the giant statue of a Red Army soldier stamping on a swastika, and felt unable to comprehend what Europe at war must have been like.

Hauptbahnhof

May 25, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Hauptbahnhof

I’d gone to the Hamburger Bahnhof last time I was in Berlin. To get there we had to go via the Haupbahnhof, which at the time was just an empty shell – a vast glass roof over bare platforms, cold and empty and dusted by winter snow. The station had been finished in 2006, and today in the hot May sun it was unbelievably different, now that it was full of shops, fast food stands, people, trains, and activity.

Hamburger Bahnhof

May 25, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Hamburger Bahnhof

Any great city has to have a great contemporary art gallery. Berlin has the awesome Hamburger Bahnhof, housed in a former railway station in the north of the city. I’d been there before in 2004, and found most things except the main exhibition of the moment to be impressive. It was the same this time, with huge amounts of space devoted to stuff by Wolfgang Tillmans, which I was mostly indifferent to. Once I found the parts that Wolfgang hadn’t filled with meaningless rubbish, there were some excellent things. One installation that I particularly liked was an almost entirely dark room, with just an incredibly faint image projected onto the far wall. You had to spent at least ten minutes in there before the point of it became clear, and I liked that. Re-emerging into the bright gallery, I needed another ten minutes to be able to see properly again afterwards.

Alexanderplatz

May 24, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Alexanderplatz

We’d come into Berlin during the week, hoping to have a bite to eat up the Alexanderplatz TV Tower, but it had been much too busy. We tried again this evening and managed to get in. It’s retro heaven up there, rotating slowly over this amazing city, in a very seventies-looking restaurant. We ate as well as we could afford to, which was not terribly well, and spun around for a couple of hours.

Holocaust memorial

May 24, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Holocaust memorial

Another new thing since 2004 was the Holocaust memorial near Potsdamer Platz. It had opened in 2005 after years of planning and disputes. On what used to be no-mans-land between east and west during the Cold War, 2,711 sombre stone pillars stand, some small, some large, none identical. We walked among them, and I felt that as a piece of art it was interesting, but it was not much of a memorial, with no signs, names, explanations or anything. It took us a while to find the museum below, and that put things right on the memorial front, with detailed and shocking exhibits about the horrors of Nazi Germany. The more I travel in Europe the more I appreciate what devastation this continent suffered, and how fortunate we are to have peace today.

Back in Berlin

May 24, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Back in Berlin

Berlin is probably my favourite city in Europe. I love the atmosphere of the place, heavy with history but so modern and forward-looking at the same time. This was my third trip, and the number of things that had changed since the last time were breathtaking. New buildings had gone up, old ones had come down, most dramatically the old GDR parliament building. The East Side Gallery was much more covered in graffiti than it had been, and the Dom seemed to have lost the very top of its dome. But towering above it all was the familiar sight of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower.

Potsdam

May 19, 2008 in Berlin 2008

Potsdam

Five months into 2008 and I was onto my fifth trip of the year. I went to Potsdam for a week to learn how to analyse a certain type of astronomical data. Unfortunately the weekend before was the Miglia Quadrato, London’s fantastic all-night treasure hunt. I spent a Saturday night driving around the City of London hunting for clues until 5am, grabbed a couple of hours sleep and then headed to Stansted for a flight to Schönefeld. I got an S-bahn into Berlin, then another S-bahn out to Potsdam, finally arriving at my hostel at 1am. Each day’s work for the next week started at 9am, and it took me until about Thursday to recover from the weekend.

Working in Potsdam was pretty awesome. Each morning I would get up at 7am, wander up through Babelsberg via a bakery to buy breakfast and lunch, meet a friend from work who was also here for the week, and then walk up through fields and narrow lanes to the Astrophysikalisches Intstitut. The peacefulness was amazing, and I thought it was great for the week that I was there, but by Friday I was missing noise and bustle. We headed for Berlin.

Gedächtniskirche

Dec 20, 2004 in Berlin 2004

Gedächtniskirche

We went to West Berlin on our last morning in the city. The west got a bit of a raw deal when the city was divided, with most of the most historic and impressive parts of the city ending up in the East. We walked down the Kurfürstendamm from Zoo station and didn’t find too much to detain us. But we did pass the Gedächtniskirche. I’d seen it in 2002 but only from a distance when I’d got off the train from Warsaw at Zoo station. This time we walked right up to the bottom of it. It’s a pretty shocking sight – the ruined shell of a church, left unrepaired since it was bombed in 1943.

On that sombre note we headed back east. We stopped at Hackescher Markt for a coffee and cake, and even in the middle of winter the square was busy and lively. This was the dual personality of Berlin – on the one hand you can’t get away from the fact that it was the epicentre of the most destructive war in human history. And on the other hand it’s hard to find a city more dynamic, progressive and exciting. I hoped I would be back before too long.

Hamburger Bahnhof

Dec 19, 2004 in Berlin 2004

Hamburger Bahnhof

We went to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art gallery. To get there we had to go to via Lehrter Bahnhof, still under construction as Berlin’s new main station, and eerily large and empty. It was snowing heavily as we arrived.

The gallery had some amazing things, and some stupid things, as is the normal way with contemporary art. Its main hall was filled with junk, literally and figuratively, but other parts had worthwhile installations. I liked the two large blocks covered in mirrors.