Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Berlin (1)

At what point does visiting Berlin stop including a somewhat morbid association with the horrors of the past?

Difficult, probably impossible, but I started last weekend's visit with its symbol of the present and future, the iconic dome on the Reichstag building (I had to, since you can only visit by pre-booking: for once it paid to check a guidebook in advance, otherwise I would have missed the chance).

All is light and air, with the mirrored cone reflecting light into the Parliamentary chamber below, and extracting the hot stale air of debate (ho ho) to help warm the building up. It also serves to catch and re-use any rain or snow that falls in through the open oculus at the top.

The claimed symbolism of transparency, allowing citizens literally to look down on their representatives at work, is belied by the fact that it's not really possible to see much through the thick glass ceiling of the chamber, not to mention the sadly necessary airport-style security around the building (of which more later).

However, the spiral ramp around it allows you to climb right up to the top and survey the views of the city round about. Most of the skyline isn't particularly dramatic, but you get a good view of how the new government buildings are deliberately formed in a swathe (sometimes directly linked by internal bridges) across the former line of the Wall, snaking along the meandering course of the River Spree. Below is the Federal Chancellor's office, where in the past I've stood looking across the narrow channel at blank sheds and menacing East German patrol boats:
The reunification theme understandably appears all over the place: these gigantic "Molecule Men" mark the point where the districts of Treptow (where I was staying) and Friedrichshain (in the East) meet Kreuzberg (in the West).
Something that was still only on the drawing-board when I last visited Berlin was the new Hauptbahnhof. Like Paris and London, Berlin had different rail termini for the lines from different parts of the country, but reunification gave them the opportunity to link up as much as possible in one station, pretty well exactly on the line of the Wall. One gigantic steel and glass box with five different levels allows easy interchange between mainline, regional and suburban trains, the underground and local buses.One more new development, reflecting the unavoidable past: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, sited on what was once Hitler's Chancellery. A striking field of blank grey concrete blocks, in regular lines, but at irregular angles, blank, impersonal, unyielding, and all the more striking against the trees and blue sky:

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