Thursday, July 2, 2009



First trip to Berlin. Have been looking forward to this for a long time.

Greeted by beautiful weather. A bit muggy but partly cloudy in the high 70s. Brief late afternoon thunderstorm today but otherwise a welcome relief from rain-soaked New York, whose bon voyage gift to me on Tues night was a 90 minute departure delay due to thunderstorms and rain showers.

The architectural mix here (at least in the eastern sector) includes stunning preWar residential and office buildings (few and far between) and 1950s/60s modernist structures, with a heavy emphasis on the new. My first thought on the way in from the airport was how much the travertine cloaked pedestrian passageways and 1960s five story apartment buildings here resemble Milano Centro, which, like Berlin, was devastated by Allied bombing during the war and (almost) completely rebuilt during the same era.

There are about two dozen 'must-see's' on my Berlin list, so headed off to a self guided walking tour of center city--Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate, vestiges of the Wall, Potsdam Place, and ended up at the magnificent Reichstag, which, you may know, is now capped by a stunning glass dome designed by Norman Foster.

The streets are filled with young people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and costumes. Lots of Americans, mostly high school and college age. There is good energy here, casual and only moderately hurried (perhaps due to summer). Plentiful light along the streets, since most of the city is built to a height of six to eight stories, max. And it stays light quite late into the evening--when I returned to the hotel after 10pm, there was still bright blue twilight in the western sky.

Early on during today's walk, passed by the Holocaust memorial and right thru the district which includes the (unmarked) subterranean Fuhrerbunker and the spot, now marked by a children's playground, where Adolf and Eva were cremated as the Allied forces closed in in April 1945. Couldn't help feeling a mix of chills and dread as I walked aboveground over a wholly different nightmarish Ground Zero.

The memorial itself, consisting of several hundred grey concrete rectangular slabs of various heights but uniform width, draws you in through the placement of the smaller slabs at the periphery. Less forbidding at first, you soon find yourself wandering down sloped rectilinear pathways surrounded on all sides by slabs increasing in height and finally submerging you in a forest of grey concrete. I felt fear, foreboding, but also comfort by a sense of permanence---this monument, if left in place, will last hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand, which would be an ironic counterpoint to the Thousand Year Reich headquartered, in the bitter bitter end, less than 200 meters away.

I think Berlin is going to be like that for me during these next several days here. Reminders of a glorious 18th and 19th century past, a very dark 20th, and a renaissance in the 21st century. Hooray for them--and for us.

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