Monday, 27 August 2012


Berlin - where to start?  So many views tell so many stories.  This one, for example, looking out to the television tower, is a picture that would have been impossible for me to take last time I was here, in 1979, when the Oberbaum bridge from where it was taken was part of East Berlin and pretty much out of bounds except to the border police. 

And what about those cranes building high rise right on the river's edge, is that progress or desecration?  Looking in the other direction this is what has happened.  Striking architecture but not much room for people to walk along that part of the waterfront

Still on the river bank, in the direction of the television tower and looking from east to west, are these two almost identical scenes except that the first is what it seems, a derelict building, and the second, one of the city's hippest night (and well into the following day) clubs 

Bits of the wall are still in place and one part has been turned into an art gallery

with some interesting

and some cliched images

as well as some thoughtfully legible graffiti work

These tourists were particularly keen on the fragment of this mural that shows a painted version of Andy Warhol's screen print of Marilyn Monroe.  Very post modern, I thought.

It's hard not to spend a bit of time working out which bits were East and which bits were West Berlin.  Right behind the Bundestag is a line of pavers that shows exactly where the wall was.  It's no wonder it just didn't work as West Germany's parliament house

Every so often, you get an even stranger reminder of the once divided city when you come across a control tower sitting in the midst of what is now a luxuriantly green park filled with people and trees

And even the trees tell a story.  This view from the Bundestag dome shows how beautifully dense the Tiergarten is but all those trees are 'new' (or at least post 1950s) as the few that survived WW2 were cut down and used for firewood in the immediate aftermath

This park used to be an air port but is now home to a field of vegetable patches

and what looks like Eyore's home

This building, in one of the prime locations of what was East Berlin, was probably one of its  'best' shops

Now it it this

and has some of the best second hand clothes I've ever seen including shirts like these

and these

as well as some brand new, still unsold items from c. 1959.  Hard to know why they haven't been snapped up yet.

 The interior is also quite striking.  There's no lift but instead a great staircase

and from the window you get a perfect view of the almost matching building diagonally across the square

and just down the road are some of the 'people's palaces' built for workers of the GDR

Not far away is this quite charming street

which I had barely set foot in before these turned up

I'm not sure what they were expecting to find.  Perhaps it was just a routine 'let's go and see what the rads are up to' kind of Sunday afternoon thing but it was all nice and quiet the day I was there.  Nothing like Mainzer Strasse back in 1990 (which you can still see on You Tube any time of the day or night).

A lot of this area has been gentrified in recent times but luckily there are still plenty of rads around

willing to express their views on the changes taking place

 and not necessarily welcoming the new comers

And, to be fair, if you wanted to live in a building that looked like this

 when your neighbours looked like this

wouldn't common sense tell you you were in the wrong place?   

One of the tourist destinations I was particularly keen to see was the old Ministry for State Security building and now the Stasi museum

Downstairs there are some fascinating rooms describing every day life in the GDR, none of which looked particularly disturbing although this display of banned records was a bit sad

and then upstairs are the displays of surveillance equipment used by the Stasi and their informers to spy on the not-so-good socialists all around them.  Some of it, such as this 'hidden' camera

and this spy truck which popped up all over the place

look quite bizarre and could seem laughable except that the consequences of the spying were devastating (thousands and thousands imprisoned without trial, many executed).  

Equally bizarre and disturbing are the offices of the Minister and his staff, left just as they were back in 1990 when the building was taken over by civil rights activists.  It's like walking back in time to see office furnishings like this; it's as if the boss and his minions have just stepped out and will be back at any moment

One other work place I visited was this which, despite the empty chairs,  is still operational

I even got to see the door to the office of the woman with the hardest job in Europe (or the world?). Pity she wasn't around to say hello to

The rest of the building is pretty impressive too, from the graffiti left behind by the Soviet soldiers in May 1945

to the glass and mirrors dome that sits over the top

and creates all kinds of kaleidoscopic images

and even has a lovely opening to the sky to let the hot air out

Here are some pics of things seen in Berlin that I have never seen anywhere else

And just a bit more of the art that is everywhere you look, including inside Berlin's contemporary art gallery

And finally, one more view from that bridge 

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