On quiet Berlin and the gifts and prohibitions of public space

I loved Berlin. I loved the S-bahn and U-bahn systems (as poorly mapped as they are by the city). I loved German beer and German wine, German food markets. I loved the Berlin hipsters and German typographical design. I could live, I think, forever in Berlin.

I am not sure if the city itself and its particular histories offers this experience to all who travel there, or if it was my own thinking, but it seemed a city devoted to the prohibitions and affordances of urban (and otherwise) space. There is, of course, ‘the wall’ and all it did and did not do, all its remaining traces in the city. These are visible. Where it once stood is marked on and off again throughout the city in various forms. Sometimes a piece of it still stands. Sometimes its former position is noted as would be the division between traffic lanes–a line below you that you cross with or without noticing.

There is also a relationship Berlin seems to have with space, with architecture and with urban planning, that is unusual in the travel I have done elsewhere. Such diverse building styles, so much space devoted to the public, so many ways to navigate…

The first full day I spent in the city I went to the Hamburger Bahnhof where, in addition to an incredible exhibit of the relationship between fine art and architecture (Architektonika 2) there was a large room devoted to Anthony McCall’s work, Five Minutes of Pure Sculpture. I have no interest in describing the pieces (because I could not do them justice) except to stay that you feel what they are doing to you and to the space around you in a way unlike any other sculptural works I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Later in the week I also spent some time wandering in the Tiergarten–a park which beats Central Park in New York City and Griffith Park in Los Angeles by epic strides.

I visited the Bauhaus Archive, a Gropius-designed building, constructed posthumously and in a space he did not intend but which none-the-less houses one of the nicest special collections I’ve come across. Klee, Maholy-Nagy, Mies Van der Rohe, Breuer–all are present in the archive as artists in process more than they are as authors, monoliths.

Finally, the biergarten. Germans, despite what must be very cold winters, know how to drink outdoors. And they know how to do it with delicious sausages. I could spend every summer afternoon in a biergarten if the company was right. We went to this one: Schleusen Krug. Next to the Zoo. We saw some idle donkeys on the way in.

All of these travels through the city, and many more I took in the five days I spent in there, were made more potent by the fact that Berlin seemed always to be functioning in a hush. Even in crowds and on main drags it felt quiet, warm.

Let me close by saying (it really has to be said): Ich bin ein Berliner!*


*I’ve been told that this most globally known of quotations is inaccurate. JFK apparently accidentally said “I am a doughnut.” But that would work, for the purposes of this blog, too. Berliners love their doughnuts. They are, in my experience, delicious.

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