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The city is still divided by the river, there was the western enclave, the window shops, the traffic, the benevolent cops – here, on the eastern side, well, was a different world.

The reason why I am here, is precisely to track any clue that may remain, from that other age, any testimony of what it was really like. The wall has gone, but the river is still there, and the treasure island, at the fork. The two worlds now coexist, with boundaries no longer guarded, but not entirely removed either.

There is something in the air, perhaps a different pace of life, a different look in the eyes of the young women I watch, I, old relic of the Cold War…

Image: Alfred Lichtwark, Berlin: Verlag von Bruno Cassirer, 1922. Via the-two-germanys

In Berlin (in five sentences…)

Viktoria ParkI drove carefully along your highways, approaching your centre as one approaches a very beautiful woman, a little tensed, perhaps apprehensive at the thought of your contemptuous stare…

How quiet were your tree-lined streets, how beautiful Viktoria park in the late Summer light, and how radiant your smile when you open your door, my adored lover, my soul, my mistress.

It was so quiet, everywhere, as if the leaves of the trees were silencing the far-away murmur of traffic; but this is not London nor Paris: this is the city of a hard-won peace. Oh Berlin, city of our love, where so long ago, you said we would meet again, here, on the banks of the Spree, unter den Linden.

Memorial to the Berlin Airlift, 1948, TempelhofFor I adore your city, as I adore you, knowing that history never totally disappears, knowing the Topography of the Terror, the martyred bodies on the Wall, the long way back to life after the fall… Eastside Gallery, die Alte National Gallery… Dem Deutschen Volke…

In Tempelhof we ran, my eyes never leaving the golden hair and your sun-tanned legs, the goddess’s steps. And in the evening we walked the calm streets of Kreuzberg, and then you taught me that Aphrodite herself lives here.

The Young Dancer, Alte Nationalgallery

#AtoZChallenge: April 2, 2013 – Berlin

Über den Dächern von Berlin

There is no theme to these posts, other than perhaps geography, as in places, landscapes and people – and of course writing, books, authors and you, reader.  Some cities are more propitious to certain books, whether as one travels to them (those long journeys on fast trains across Europe), or in the new surroundings, as one discovers streets, buildings, history and faces.

Berlin has a special place in this writer’s heart and mind.  The capital of reunited Germany,  her intellectual and youth capital as well as the political one, may well become one day the capital of an enlarged European Federation – from the Atlantic to the Urals, to paraphrase Charles De Gaulle – but this is in a future as yet undeclared.  The city covers just under 900 sqkm, and her boundaries are 234 km long.  The length of her main river, the Spree, is 45 km.  Her population at the end of 2012 was 3,513,026.

Berlin is one city on the long list of the world’s martyr cities of the 20th century: together with many other German cities incinerated by the “Allies”, Dresden, Hamburg, Bremen, Stuttgart, together with Coventry, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki… and many others.  In Germany’s year zero – 1945 – the city was split, occupied, a hostage in a divided country in ruins.

Berlin has not forgotten anything from her history, from her early development as a medieval trading centre, through becoming the royal capital of the Prussian kingdom, the napoleonic occupation, her transformation into the imperial capital of the German Reich, the cosmopolitan city of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, the destruction of 1945, to the fall of the “Wall”, and now her position in a powerful country at the centre of the European Union.

Reichstag Some of her buildings and squares have more than iconic values: there are for us places of pilgrimage: the Reichstag, burnt by the Nazis, now seat again of the modern legislature – “Dem Deutschen Volke” – shrapnels and bullets marked, the Tiergarten, the Spree, Museumsinsel, the place near Humboldt Universität where the Nazis burnt books, Checkpoint Charlie…

And what book?  It has to be Alfred Döblin’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz”, written in 1929.  Berlin’s literature is rich, varied and well worth exploring… Perhaps see you there!

Dem Deutschen Voke

Links to the city and her past:

Jewish Museum

Liane Berkowitz

The Guardian’s City Guide

Joerg Von Stein

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