“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:
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.
And a bit about the New Synagogue.
The title is what German football fans chant when their team reaches the German League Cup Final (Der Pokal)