Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Berlin ... and Old Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

I first went to Berlin as a late teenager when the city was divided and The Wall was still in place.

As much as anything, what struck us all at the time was the contrast between the roaring economic engine of West Berlin with its brightly-lit shops full of Xmas cheer and the poverty and gloom and emptiness of the other socialist half of the city. And the almost palpable danger at the Brandenburg Gate where the top of the wall on both sides was bristling with armed guards. And you knew a dash across the open space towards the Gate and the West could actually get you shot.

I was back in Berlin in 2003 as part of a four month stay in Europe. And was curious to see how the city worked now it was one again.

At the Brandenburg Gate - now - the only word is you should kiss the guy you're with under one of its arches, if you want to stay together for life! And of course I did.

As we wandered about what had been East Berlin, we noticed traces of the pre-1939 city, with its public buildings almost entirely in a Greco-Roman style ...




The CBD in fact is a museum of 50s and 60s architecture, particularly round Alexanderplatz - a phenomenon which spills over into the surrounding suburbs ...


And new architecture is springing up all over the now unified city ...


I particularly remember on my first visit the Pergamon Museum the interior design seeming to be unchanged since the Second World War. The rooms were coded for period and content in friezes round the top of their walls - so those with Greek antiquities had the key design motif ...

The museum had been built to house the Great Pergamon Altar, a second century BC podium transported wholesale to Berlin from two digs (1897 and 1904) from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, modern day Bergama in Turkey.

The Great Pergamon Alter, Pergamon Museum, Berlin (Not my photo)

Of course, I prefer my own photographs with their own special upper right quadrant smudge!




The museum also holds the Ishtar Gate, a tiled entrance to the 575 BC city of Babylon which was reconstructed here from material from digs in Iraq in the 1930s.




And there are ancient Assyrian winged bulls and exquisite base reliefs ...




And if you'd ever wondered where the Code of Hammurabi (Babylon, 1790 BC) was ...


In a memory lane kinda thing, we ascended the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) on Alexanderplatz ...


... to the revolving restaurant with its spectacular views of the city ...






If by this stage you were wondering about the antiquities focus, there an historical reason. With the divide of the city in 1945, the museum and art collections were split such that East Berlin had the antiquities.

The Agyptisches Museum (and a range of others) have got some really hot objects, from Nefertiti's bust ...





... down to, for me, more evocative ancient domestic objects from Egypt, Greece and Italy ...







And when you've done all your hard but elevating arty-farty work, there's a great open and public gay scene to explore ...


... with lots of public events, like the gay-spinned Father's Day ...




The gay scene moves around - so the guide is needed to tell you which venues are gay on any given night.

The sub-culture reminds you a bit of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin of the 1930s. In one rather ordinary looking bar, you needed to check in your gear at the door - no biggie. I checked the place out as you do when you arrive and noticed a row of benches coming away from the wall in a very wide corridor between the bar and the toilet - each with a reclining guy being fisted, with a spotlight between his legs - just in case you missed the 'spot'. On the way back to the bar, I was approached by a rather hot guy who asked me 'Do you want to fist me now? Or later?'.

As we wandered round Berlin this time during the day, I couldn't help but wonder at it seeming so unexpectedly quiet, almost deserted. Like a very leisurely Sunday - and everyday.

People told us that it has been felt things would normalize within a short period after the wall went down - that industry and people would flow in. But the 'spirit of uncertainty' from being so long an island of capitalism within a sea of socialism keeps the population at between 3 and 4 million and development at bay.

And also as we meandered about it was hard not to continually wonder what the city might have been like had it not been pretty much flattened at the end of WWII.

It seems to me some tiny idea can be gained from this footage ...

video

... with its nostalgic and sentimental sound-track from Marlene Dietrich - singing about her city.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Many Flower Posts Is Too Many?


Yet another soothing visit to the Botanical Gardens to mitigate a less-than-soothing visit to the dentist, the gist of which was so incisively captured by May Gibbs in 'The Banksiamen Tooth Extractor' (from 'The Adventures of Bib and Bub' - my first book) ...









I suspect this justification is entirely successful - so ...










The answer therefore to the opening question about too many posts must be:

'Any more posts than the number of times I have to see my own particular tooth-extractor'!

Don't you think!