Top 13 things about Berlin…
Unter Den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, circa 1910
A return to Berlin. I first visited this city when it was divided. Then again when it was reunited. And now when it is transformed. All within little more than 20 years. Here are some probably pretty superficial observations on the state of the city in October 2007: Trieze – j’eus un plaisir cruel de m’arrêter sur ce nombre.*
XIII. It is the coolest place in Europe and not just because it is bloody cold and Tom Cruise is filming outside Humbolt University. After the wall came down and it was clear how shabby things had become in the east, it took some time for Berlin to recover. But not that long. Where there were Soviet military convoys, now the place is full of Russians buying Bugattis on Friedrichstrasse. DDR memorabilia is chic and convoys of pink Trabants parade the streets for the tourists.
XII. Rents are maybe a fifth of what they are in London hence it is a paradise for penniless young artists, writers, musicians, and minor league trustafarians, who can comfortably sustain themselves for a month on what it costs to scrape by for a week in UKland. There is so much real estate to be had, and so much development possible, that the politicians and corporations can build their monuments while leaving the neighbourhoods undemolished.
XI. There is a very non-threatening street scene. People are incredibly friendly and nice. There is none of the apparat of the National Security State that envelopes London.
X. The ugliest new building is the aggressive, paranoid British Embassy of James Stirling. The American embassy compound is also hideous. The American installation succeeds in recreating the notorious wall, so segregated is it from the city, so dangerous the beast caged within. Checkpoint Charlie lives!
IX. Everyone speaks some English although often rather superficially. But they are better linguists than the French or British.
VIII. The food is only fair. The chefs have not yet reformed Berlin’s cuisine to London or Paris standards.
VII. The coolest part of this cool city is the old Jewish quarter which is the epicenter of the new gallery/atelier district. The organisation of urban neighborhoods in a city so spacious permits both masses of small parks and also buildings with verdant couryards where children can play in safety.
VI. There are children everywhere.
V. Getting in and out of Berlin is a nightmare because of completely inadequate airports. They are British in their primitiveness. They have finally agreed (after years of British-style wrangling and allegations of corruption) to build a new one (Berlin Brandenberg International) but it will not be ready until 2011. When Tegel and Tempelhof will be closed. Even more space. Once you are in, the public transport is amazing and it is maybe the most bicycle-friendly major city in Europe.
IV. It is all happening on the east side; the Ku-damm and the bright lights of the west all look a bit shabby in comparison.
III. The guys selling the tacky DDR souvenirs have all moved up the Unter Den Linden to the bridge over the Spree. A rat (?) skin hat with a faux Soviet badge costs 25 euros; in white rabbit, maybe 35 euros.
II. The city remains eternally huge. Gigantic construction has made a big dent around the Branbdenberg gate and along the line of the wall to the south but there are still huge prairies.
I. It is only a matter of time (seconds) before Time Magazine has Berlin on the cover and declares it swinging. The transformation of this city has been one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. More so, it has changed from a place greatly sinister to a place where one can develop a real affection for the people and the place. It remains a place of memories but faces the future more convincingly than anywhere else. Ich bin ein Berliner?
*Inspired by Berliner Walter Benjamin, inspired by Proust.