One’s ability to understand the present is strongly informed by the knowledge of the past and how deep does one perceive history through different events, people, stories and myths. No other city made me more conscious of this, as I struggled to grapple with the Berlin landscape of empty dark voids, glitzy global commerce, historical sites and the neon night life. I don’t know why but I sensed a strange melancholy in the city. Was it because of the extremely cold weather, the snow, its history or the Easter holidays, is something that I will have to leave to my future visits to this place.
As we entered Berlin from the Schonefeld airport, with the S and U Bahn heading towards Zinnovitzer Strasse on the U6 line, I saw huge empty plots of land, streets that were magnificent axes of power today dimly lit by street lights that would alternate on each side and distanced enough to create pockets of darkness and light, cold wind passing freely along fat masculine buildings separated by equally wide distances. As we reached our hostel, a booking misconception landed the 6 of us in a dormitory with 5 rows of bunk beds in a hall, each one of us having a number that we had to hang on our beds, just like the rest of the 50 odd transits who changed every night. To be sleeping in a room full of strangers, hearing them snore, cough, talk and seeing them brush, shave and change, exchanging uncomfortable glances of suspicion and self awareness was an experience that started my exploration of Berlin. As I observed people from my bed I could see each one of them being travellers, some in groups of two’s and three’s while most being a majority of solitary explorers with different places, experiences and environments etched on their skins.
Through our five day stay in Berlin, we successfully covered the usual suspects like the Reichstag with the Foster’s dome, Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial, Libeskind’s Jewish museum, Mies van der rohe’s National Art gallery, Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus at Dessau, Schinkel’s Altes museum, the Brandenburg gate, the East side art gallery on the Berlin wall, Postdamer platz, Alexanderplatz, etc. Each layer of history layering new assertions of power, like being able to cut through a sedimentary rock and read into the past when the region went through floods, droughts and climatic changes, I felt this city could be understood through these layers that knit together loosely held centres created through Berlin’s engagement with the global economy and empty dark voids that slowly undergo a process of rebuilding. The public realm seemed to take refuge in old buildings, pubs, bars with metal doors and plastic curtains in the form of a very active night life for goths, ping pong players, retired tram drivers, chain smokers, vegetarians, etc. Somehow my experience of Berlin has left me a bit disoriented, hope i get an opportunity to visit it again someday.
Sunday, March 30, 2008