Arriving by train from Paris, the graffiti starts early on the walls along the tracks leading into Berlin. And it builds and overlaps and shouts out. Then you discover when you leave the station that it is nearly everywhere and at first a U.S. mind thinks of gang tags and turf battles. But, soon the graffiti is not scary at all. The letters merge, codes mystify, colors blend; the walls in Berlin twitter and tweet in a way I came to enjoy, especially where we were staying in east Berlin near the former wall.
Here is a photo of the little shop where Franziska directed me to pick up the key to her flat which we were renting through http://www.airbnb. That first evening it was all new and strange–the graffiti especially–but by the end of our 10 day stay, this small store on Oderbergerstrasse was part of our cosy and friendly home space.
So, if Paris is for lovers, Berlin is for readers. First trying to decipher graffiti, and next finding columns, kiosks and exhibits at strategic places in the city where people gather: Brandenberg Gate, the Reichstag, near the Berliner Dom, on Bernauerstrasse.
The photos and writing beckon in both German and English. Berlin very consciously tells its story of the Nazi era and the years of the wall without editorializing. Facts and more facts are yours for the reading.
A project called “Lost Diversity” has columns with portraits of people and their stories. Each photo and narrative tells the story of an individual lost under Hitler. So as you wander the city and read and wander and read, the impressions these people make on you fill your head and by the end of the day, it is pretty overwhelming. It’s the same when you visit memorials at the site of the former wall on Bernauerstrasse where the stories of families who fled, who died trying, and who dug tunnels to escape are all documented on the walls or in plaques in the sidewalks, and over time, in your mind.
A third sort of language you cannot escape in Berlin is the slow motion of cranes. No, not birds this time, but machines. If their metal arms were drawing lines in the sky, they would make interesting patterns. What they convey in their vast numbers and noise and work is that Berlin is constantly renovating and redefining itself.
There was so much to take in and enjoy in Berlin! Museum island with all its wonderful collections–enormous gates from antiquity, small collections of Egyptian treasures, glowing carpets, and a woman on a horse! The cafe in the Bogen at the top of the marble staircase was a restful stop on a very full day. I also liked touring the new dome on the Reichstag building. You have to reserve a time to visit and security is tight, but it’s all worth it for the views of the city and the explanations. More than ever before I accepted audio guides when they were offered, and I was glad that I did. Especially, for example, at the Museum of Resistance which is so full of words; so much about the vast array of people who were trying very hard to rid Germany of Hitler. And the lovely Berggruen museum. Not to be missed! It is such a nice size and its small rooms hold works by Paul Klee, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso.
Lest you think Berlin is all work and no play, there are great parks and riverside cafes to enjoy too as well as the wonderful Thai restaurant called Sarod’s in Kreuzberg, fantastic cake and coffee at places like Ana Blumen, the Oberquelle restaurant in our own neighborhood, Prenzlauerburg–even the cosy beer and currywurst spot Greg found under a railway bridge!. Berlin let me dust off my German and use it when I could–though I read almost everything in English. I learned about so many people from Helene Weigel, Bertolt Brecht’s multi-talented wife, to Kathe Kollwitz and her art. And, especially, I learned from the many portraits in the “Lost Diversity” exhibits. I came to enjoy graffiti in all its colors and patterns too.
Do visit Berlin! It chronicles many losses, but today, in 2013, it is so full of life–there are so many young people, babies, travelers and, Berliners! To close, here are a couple of works by Paul Klee from the Berggruen museum that make me think he would enjoy today’s graffiti in Berlin too.