Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

I'm still in the process of digging out from underneath the mountainous piles of work that tend to accumulate like punishment-on-tap every time I slip away from the bondage of the desk, but I just wanted to jot down a few scattered thoughts about Berlin.

I imagine Berlin must be an architect's paradise, with every conceivable variation of building structure - and then some - on display throughout what is actually a very large city area-wise. From bauhaus, post modern and new-fangled, to centuries' old classical buildings, palaces and churches (I'm sure there is a vast array of suitable jargon that is not immediately accessible to me to describe the various styles, but suffice to say, there's an interesting blend of very old and very new - with the new leaning toward the experimental and quirky). I think the mixture was faciliated, sadly, by the extensive destruction brought on by World War II. But the results are interesting to behold nonetheless.

As expected, there is indeed beer to be found in that great city - and cheap too. For a New Yorker all too accustomed to the $5-$6 beer, the 2 euro and 3 euro prices were heaven-sent. So Berlin is not just the architect's utopia, but the beer drinking architect's utopia. So many variations to try, so little time, yet I did my best to sample the lot. My personal favorite was the various kristallweizen offerings. Think hefeweizen if you know it (a thick-ish, wheat beer [weize=wheat]), but lighter and crisper. So satisfying that I can completely empathize with the large number of Berliners I saw enjoying a tall glass with breakfast or lunch - or both. As for me, when in Berlin....

The museums were plentiful and varied - I particularly enjoyed the Kulturforum complex where I was lucky enough to catch a Rembrandt exhibit that was quite remarkable in its breadth. Rembrandt has long been my favorite as far as my appreciation of painters goes, so this rare compilation of so many of his works was an added bonus.

I was also surprised by the impact that the Checkpoint Charlie museum had on me (commemorating the main passage between the former East and West Berlins). It was really rather moving to get a glimpse of what life was like in a divided city, with vivid details of the struggle those on the East side of the Wall (and West side to a lesser extent) were forced to deal with. The necessity of the hardships encountered in the East gave rise to a wealth of creativity, ingenuity and resolve liberally employed by its denizens in devising their various escape plans.

Along these lines, there was a James Bond-esque collection of gadgets, tunnels, vehicles and other remnants of smugglers' subterfuge including a hollowed out pair of suitcases that were joined together so that a smallish woman could lay across the insides of both while the lid was closed, an old volkswagon with a hidden compartment under the trunk, a one-man flying machine and a personalized submarine used by one East Berliner to escape, and which was immediately patented upon his landing with variations still in use today.

I could not help but be struck with a sort of nostalgia when traveling through the halls of that museum, remembering that at one time the US was really the salvation of so many people in such an unambiguous way (not that we aren't still to some, but things wax murkier these days). Nevertheless, I understand that some of this may be the product of an over-romanticized euphoric recall. Whatever the reason, I was particularly moved when reading an account of the fall of Berlin that told of the fervent desire of German soldiers to seek out American forces to surrender. The German soldiers were well aware of the respective detainee policies of the Soviets and the Americans - and were eager for their would be American captors to relieve them of their duties. A storied tradition that has served us well throughout our existence, from Washington to FDR, that has been thrown on to the scrap heap by a reckless and radical administration.

Speaking of East-West, there is still a palpable shift in aesthetic and feel when the now-invisible boundary dividing the city is traversed. The West side is infused with an opulence and glamour typical of Europe's halcyon days, while the East continues to struggle to shed its drab, industrial communist husk. That being said, the artists and intellectuals tend to gravitate toward the East due to cheaper rents and lower living expenses (all in all, rather affordable I might add). With the young, trendy and hip goes the nightlife, restaurants, bars and cafes - so business is thriving. An ironic interplay of capitalism and communism, and the rebirth of a city through cool.

Nearby, and intermixed in some East Berlin regions as well, are the predominately Muslim areas like Oranien strasse and Oranienburger strasse [I believe Oranien = Iranian, strasse = street]. These streets/neighborhoods are also replete with bars, clubs, cafes etc. - not to mention some amazing food.

Like Paris, I found the young people of Berlin to be particularly enamored with American hip hop music, style and culture. Graffiti is ubiquitous, as are fashions common in any American city or town. Many of the most popular contemporary German artists appear to be of Muslim immigrant background - as is the case in France as well to the best of my knowledge. This trend should be of little surprise considering the themes of poverty, alienation and social struggle that are so common in hip hop which must translate well in many respects to the Muslim immigrant experience. But it's still strange to listen to someone rapping in German. Even if they're saying the same things.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?