Berlin Photo Diary- Part Three

So I told you about the Himmel über Berlin (in one of those majestic mash ups your brain is sometimes capable of, I actually wrote Himbeer, which actually sounds exciting in a modern art kind of way) inspired ’atop the Quadriga’ perfect movie moment, here comes the ’atop the Siegesäule’ version. Incidentally, Siegesäule is another word which sounds oddly satisfying when pronounced with correct Germanness. I therefore spent a very pleasant time in the metal cage imagining myself delicately balanced on Victory’s coattail, looking down on the city with much goodwill and the confidence that angels can correctly articulate all languages. Including German. 


The Dacia was, and to some extent still is, the iconic Romanian car, but for me it was always more a part of the landscape than a reality. While most people of my generation still learned to drive on Dacias, based on the assumption that if you can drive one, you can drive pretty much anything, including a U-boat and the international space station, I managed to spread panic on the roads of my hometown in an Audi. My father, for some strange reasons known perhaps only to him, decided to purchase the alternative communist vehicle, the domestic version of the Citroen, aptly named Oltcit, so, quite exceptionally, our family never owned a Dacia. Yet the real star of my childhood was a small cream coloured Trabant, owned by our neighbour. In the unhappy dusk of Eastern European communism, she would travel with the mythical vehicle to Hungary and return with the small cardboard mule filled to the brim with assorted goods, which invariably included my favourite chocolate, coconut Afrikana. As the hour of arrival approached, I would go to our front door and listen carefully to the sounds coming from the main road until I finally heard the distinctive little cough, and when it turned onto our street, the battered cream Trabant sounded and looked like happiness. 


It’s oddly satisfying that in a cityscape which includes most of Berlin’s landmarks, albeit the Brandenburg gate is obscured by a ferris wheel, the most spectacular thing remains the compact green of the Tierpark. Berlin’s Zoological Garden is the oldest and most visited in Germany, but it’s not Berlin’s only zoo- since this one go stuck in the West, the Eastern part of the city also received it’s own in the fifties- known as Tierpark Berlin, it is still open today, making Berlin one of the best catered for cities when it comes to the incidence of exotic wildlife.


Oddly satisfying aspects continued- when your drink matches the colour palette of your city guide. The shot was taken in the café of C/O Berlin, a cultural foundation which organises photo exhibitions in the building of the Amerika Haus, which until 2006 had housed the information centre of the US Embassy. 


Potsdamer Platz is another typical Berlin destination in that the context is much more important than what you actually get- which is a lot of glass high rises, a slightly confusing transfer hub to suburban rail lines, the Sony centre with people munching sausages before going to the cinema- incidentally, the Berlin film festival has its most important venues in this area, plus further bits of the wall. Between the two world wars, the square had been one of the busiest intersections in Europe and an iconic centre to the city’s nightlife, akin to London’s Piccadilly Circus. It was then almost entirely destroyed during the WWII air raids, and became basically deserted when the wall cut it into two. Potsdamer Platz was also the stage of Roger Water’s monumental rendering of The Wall in July 1990. It’s rundown version is also featured in my pet Berlin love, you guessed right- Der Himmel über Berlin.


Rats as graffiti are of course super popular, especially since they were widely used by Banksy. Their origins can however be dated back to French artist Blek Le Rat, who started stenciling them in Paris in the eighties,  and described them as “the only free animal in the city”. The mum or dad of this Berlin rat is unknown, but there are other rodents populating the city as well, such as those drawn by Belgian artist Roa.


Because cats with (sun)glasses are very much a thing everywhere. As I was saying.


The banks of the Spree bring me to another literary Berlin of mine, the one in Mateiu Caragiale’s novella Remember. Of which there seems to be no proper English translation- I’d always harboured this half defined thought that you can’t really translate Mateiu Caragiale’s work, because it’s so idiosyncratically Romanian and sure enough, I found an article on the subject. In which the author at least manages to give a pretty accurate definition of Caragiale’s creation, “a melancholy, reptilian world, lavishly ornamented in language. ”  And some of this world is spread along the waters of the Spree.


So here comes random super useful trivia about the Fernsehturm: with 365 metres, it is the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe, after the TV towers of Moscow, Kiev and Riga- so yup, the victory of Communism was obviously to be achieved with really, I mean really high TV towers, which were there to compensate for food shortages, lack of free movement, free press, and the likes. When the sun falls on the dome, it usually creates the shape of a cross, therefore the the tower was nicknamed The Pope’s Revenge. Alternatively, it’s also known as the Toothpick or the TV-asparagus- asparagus being one of those veggies which along with lentils, constituted the ’mysterious food eaten exclusively by Germans’ drawer of my childhood concepts. 


Illustrating the ’let’s project this summer’s football tournament onto anything’ part of the year. Which reminds me of how sick and tired I am of bars promoting how they are football free areas where the girls can find an oasis to chit chat, eat granola with chia seeds and sip Tequila sunrises. I personally prefer a good screen, good beer and some meat stuff smothered in greasy potatoes. I am also all for football free oases, meant for anyone who bloody wants to be there, irrespective of their gender.


One of those fortuitous instances of mutt looking quite a lot like their owner. Cats of course never look like their owners- that only ever occurs the other way round.


This looked like one of those semi-alternative art world projects, with people in crisp clothes making an effort to look effortless while sipping their rosé and making witty comments about that upcoming artist or other. And perhaps the best thing about it was that it was right around the corner from the scene below.


I am generally pretty particular about smell- pleasant ones work in a very Proustian way and tie experiences together more tightly than images or sounds. I am however not very keen on food smells- most of them are too intense and mixed, and I’ll actually make considerable detours just to avoid a restaurant which smells foul to me. I might even like, love, the food, but hate its smell- there is a huge battle waging inside me each time I eat ramen, for you cannot enter a ramen restaurant and come out the same person as before, you will have become a broth infused monster, satiated but forever tainted. I do however feel very amiable about the smell of döner, especially when it’s dark- it always take me back to my first months in Budapest, when we would explore the city at night and invariably end up in a Turkish restaurant. Kind to the stomach and kind to the wallet, the smell of youthful promises I re-encountered on a side street in Berlin. 


Home is where you can match all the stops on the metro with the landscape above, in foreign cities you’re travelling in a pleasant cocoon of alien sounding surprises to be.


But even new cities become a little bit yours when you start having places you feel like going back to, so I could not resist temptation and returned for a coffee to Westberlin.


Wannsee teeters tentatively on the border of all sorts of German stereotypes, good, bad, and quirky. It’s a sedate little lake with picturesque nooks and well tended to houses and gardens, and then you bump into the villa which hosted the Wannsee conference, today a museum and memorial, and there’s the case of Arthur Nebe, who hid here on island after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. Alongside a neatly organized yacht club you can find a nudist beach, though it was the more traditional version of it which inspired the 1951 Schlager ’Pack die Badhose ein’, which is one of those typically German pleasures which will leave you baffled and mildly entertained at the same time.


At Wannsee we were also confronted with the presence of some rather feral swans- though swans are probably feral by definition, so no surprise here, and a bunch of considerably more peaceful and meditative ducks. I have always felt that the ugly duckling growing up to be a swan is actually a tragedy of some sorts, since ducks are cute and likable at all stages of their lives, whereas swans are generally anything but. I am leaving the door open here for a very special swan who would  have to be, to paraphrase Jules Winfield,  one charming motherfuckin’ swan.


The person who took the most expensive photograph in the world, Andreas Gursky, is incidentally German, what’s more, East German, and the incriminated shot is a rather innocuous landscape depicting the Rhein river. I leave you to be the judges of what that’s all about, until then I’ll practice my minimal skills on the German countryside as well, and hope for the best. 
I found this sticker completely by accident, as I was tying my shoelaces, and could not help but wonder at the reasons behind sticking it at such an awkward angle, in a rather secluded leafy area, where I might have been among the very few people who ever saw it. 


I actually wondered for a couple of seconds why I’d selected this shot, when I finally saw the cat staring back at me rather contemptuously, as they are wont to do. I did also remember trying to get a better shot, but by the time I clumsily fidgeted with my lenses, she had sneaked into the dense foliage of a garden, as they are wont to do.


Max Liebermann was one of the most important representatives of German impressionism, and from 1909 he spent a lot of time in his Wannsee villa, painting many lakeside scenes, gardens and beer gardens on the way. I am particularly fond of the idea of the beer garden as a romanticized locus of idle happiness- all those decadent Paris bars of Impressionism are grand all, but they’d probably  be unable to serve you with a decent pint which is frankly unpardonable.  The villa is today a foundation and a museum open to visitors around the year.


Cities don’t necessarily begin and end at their actual boundaries, or they might as well, physically, but in the way we experience them, they begin and end in train stations, bus terminals, airports. I knew it was Berlin I was seeing as the train rattled through the suburbs, but my Berlin hadn’t yet really begun- the moment I stepped out onto the platform, that’s when the city became real. That is why I love train stations and airports (bus terminal too, albeit a bit less)- even as something, the journey, ends, there is always a new beginning ahead. 

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s