Berlin in black-and-white

peeping tom

For any American who grew up during the Cold War, Berlin was a city torn between two worlds: the Kodachrome present of Western consumerist culture and what we imagined to be the gray, regimented East, still scarred by the war and therefore to be pictured in the grainy black-and-white of old newsreels.

pipe

Visiting the former East Berlin last month, it was almost impossible to connect that mental image with the vibrant, hip and trendy neighborhoods we walked through, except when we rounded a corner and saw yet another building under construction or renovation.

cranes & angels

Cranes were everywhere, their monstrous beaks slowly swiveling like vultures picking over a carcass.

the eyes of war

But it was refreshing to visit a place whose inhabitants have collectively refused to simply pave over past crimes and pretend that it was all over and done. As someone from a country where even admitting complicity in genocides and other war crimes seems politically impossible, I was extremely impressed. Special “stumbling stones” (stolpersteine) were set into the sidewalks in front of former Jewish residences to memorialize their murdered inhabitants, and I noticed more and more of these as the week went on. The Holocaust memorial, which we visited the last night of our stay, was as disorienting a memorial as any I’ve ever seen.

Neue Wache rear

But it was this building that made the biggest impression. We first noticed it from the rear, where its ranks of trees in autumn colors made a melancholy impression. What is this place, we wondered, but walked on. An hour or two later we found ourselves heading back the same way and thought, what the hell, we might as well see what it is.

Neue Wache plaque

It was the Neue Wache. “Originally built as a guardhouse for the troops of the crown prince of Prussia, the building has been used as a war memorial since 1931.”

Neue Wache visitor

On that dark, rainy afternoon, the interior was only dimly lit by a round opening in the ceiling — an oculus. Directly below, in the middle of the otherwise empty and unadorned space, visitors encounter the black stone sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son.

Neue Wache sculpture

They sat in the middle of a small puddle of rain which kept anyone from getting too close, for who wanted to risk seeing their reflection there?

Humboldt

All was not gloom, of course. Germany has produced many brilliant thinkers and they too were remembered in stone.

torso

Where once two cities refused to engage, now the past and future were locked in a passionate pas-de-deux.

Babylon

Darkness fell, and it was time to go to the grand old theater from the 1920s, built for silent, black-and-white movies and still in possession of its organ. Quotes from Rosa Luxemburg were engraved in the sidewalk all along the street that bears her name. From a block away we saw Babylon in red.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

5 Comments


  1. Wonderful, Dave. It’s a place I want to visit very much.

    Reply

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