Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin…

model of Pariser Platz

“Berlin is a skeleton which aches in the cold: it is my own skeleton aching. I feel in my bones the sharp ache of the frost in the girders of the overhead railway, in the iron-work of balconies, in bridges, tramlines, lamp-standards, latrines. The iron throbs and shrinks, the stone and the bricks ache dully, the plaster is numb.”  

-from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

For most of this week, I’ll be in Berlin. While I could wait till I was there, I’ve decided to introduce the city ahead of time. Te above quote is from Isherwood’s depiction of the city in the early thirties, when the National Socialists were in the process of coming to power. Curiously, the mood of the city has retained a bit of what he was talking about, which is a bit odd when you consider what many people say about Berlin these days.

You say you’re going there, and often the first thing out of a person’s mouth in response is, ‘Can you believe how much Berlin has changed?’ It started years ago with friends who’d lived there while the city was still divided. One friend said, ‘Have you seen what they’ve done to the Alex?’ Yes, I understand Alexanderplatz looks different, but I never saw East Berlin before The Wall, so I really have nothing to compare.

Here’s my question: why do people swarm to Berlin? What is it about this city that draws not only Germans but people from all over the world to it? One of the most common things I hear people say is, ‘Oh, I love to visit Berlin, but I couldn’t live there.’ I understand that. It’s a lively, frenetic place.

Some go for the nightlife, some for the excellent theatre and opera. It’s not just the seat of the German government (along with Bonn, I believe), but it’s also the centre of a lot of media and art goings on. Compared to some other European capitals, it’s a relatively young city. And the history of who came here and when has some bearing on how the city eventually developed as a place of tolerance. Here’s how it’s described by Christian Härtel in Berlin – A Short History:

‘In 1671 the first sizeable group to be assimilated into…(Berlin)…were exiled Jews from Vienna. The Edict of Potsdam in 1685 facilitated the immigration of 20,000 Huguenots, who mainly settled in Berlin. The majority of the Huguenots, Protestant refugees from France, set themselves up in business and trade and the Jews in finance and credit. Thus the idea of tolerance, which was to become one of the pillars of the Prussian conception of a state, had its roots in entirely pragmatic considerations.’

So here are some of my favourite photos of Berlin:

angel blowing a trumpet on the back of a lion on the Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is near the centre of the city and has been important in the history of the city. Here’s Wikipedia’s take on it.

masonry at the Handwerkerverein
Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz
Heinrich Heine with the Fernsehturm in the background
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche)
classic advertising inside the Wittenberg Platz U-Bahn

And a bit about the New Synagogue.

your sometimes humble blogger in the reflection

The title is what German football fans chant when their team reaches the German League Cup Final (Der Pokal)


  1. Hee, the reflection photo made me laugh.

    I am VERY EXCITED we’re going to Berlin this week. We? YES WE. Because you are taking ALL of us there with you! Bet you weren’t aware you were playing tour guide to the entire internet, now were you? That’s a lot of pressure on you. Hope you’re up for the task.

    I thought my dad would find it enjoyable you were going to Berlin, because he’s been there, but when I told him, he said, “See? SEE? That’s what THEY DO.” “They?” I asked. “They. THEY! They’re always going on TRIPS. I bet he has a COVER STORY, too.”

    I think he’s still under the assumption you’re a hired assassin.

    Sorry about that. This might take a little undoing.

    In any case, I hope you have a good cover story.

    1. I have no problem with the prospect of taking all of you with me to Berlin. It was what I was planning…virtually, at least.

      The hired assassin thing? I find it very funny that your father has created this back story. At first I thought it’d be that the Berlin trip confirmed my leftist tendencies. You might not want to reinforce those in your conversations about me with your father.

      My cover story is actually rather good. Travel convention and appointments with writing contacts. Should be a good week. But I’m sure that cover story will only confirm his suspicions. Being an international man of mystery without any risk actually has its benefits.

      1. i am very excited about us going to berlin, too. and since my conceptualization of it is largely based on cold war films such as ‘the quiller memorandum’, i won’t be shocked either, when you calmly piece together your gun and raise your sights…

        the other part of the imaginary berlin, for me, is the inter war berlin of ‘cabaret’, so right there with the isherwood. and i have only visited once, for a couple of days while i had an operation, so not exactly a holiday, but i was vomitingly excited to be there and use my schoolgirl german. the berlin of the mind has what walter benjamin called ‘aura’. you don’t need to know a lot about berlin to think it is glamourous for virtually no reason whatever. some places, like some paintings just have it in spades. i feel like that about london, too, even though my daily life hardly reflects it.

      2. That’s an excellent cover story. I mean, as cover stories go. It gives you plenty of time to sneak off, take care of other business, and return, with no one the wiser. Most crafty.

        Hee, “leftist tendencies.” No. No, that will not be a topic I bring up. Because if I do, you’ll go from “hired assassin” to “that damn commie you met online” in about five seconds flat. And who wants that, really? No one. At least “hired assassin” has some grandeur about it.

        We’re going to BERLIIINNNNN! This is great, I had no idea I was going on a trip this week. I’ve already been but it’s been a long time. This time I’ll pay better attention.

  2. You people are amateurs. Easy victims for a hired assassin.

    Leftist tendencies, happy-go-lucky-tour-guide – These are EXACTLY the sort of things hired assassins pretend to have. It makes them seem all cuddly until they get the garrotte out.

    The only thing to do is kidnap Ken and rough him up until he tells the truth.

    There’s a place near me that offers Cat Boarding. I imagine that’s like water-boarding with cats. THAT would make him talk, I’ll bet.

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