A Berlin Interlude

img_1874What do you do on a drizzly grey day in Berlin? A midwinter day when the sun is enfeebled and hidden, cowering somewhere beneath a thick duvet of cloud. What do you do in a city that you do not know well and only have experience of in winter?

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In early January the detritus of Christmas can still be seen in the streets – fairy lights cling obstinately to avenues of artificial trees, and discarded Christmas trees litter the pavements awaiting collection for recycling. The year has turned and spirituality and festivities will soon give way to politics. In less than a week, Berliners of a left-leaning persuasion will be attending another regular winter event, the commemoration of the deaths of the Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were summarily executed during the uprising of January 1919. Each year on the second Sunday in January Berliners gather at the Memorial to the Socialists at Friedrichsfelde Cemetery to commemorate Luxemburg, Liebknecht and others who perished at the hands of the right wing Freikorps. This year is the centenary.

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I am a few days too early for this event so I decide instead to take a walk along the main body of water that flows through central Berlin, the River Spree. I walk out of Berlin Hauptbahnhof railway station and cross the river to its south bank to follow the path to Museuminsel (Museum Island), from where I will strike west away from the river towards Alexanderplatz. Light rain and dense cloud renders the urban landscape almost monochrome. Such colour that there is stands out for its rarity – traffic lights, bright umbrellas, the hi-vis orange jackets worn by street workers. Although this is the heart of a populous capital city there are few other walkers to be seen – the poor weather has seen to that – but here and there is a jogger, a strolling couple, a woman pushing a pram. Tracing the river, I pass a succession of ultra-modern waterside buildings – enterprise temples of concrete and glass that give the impression of being hermetically sealed from the gloom outside. Office workers in a brightly lit dining canteen pay me no attention as I walk past on the other side of the glass wall that separates us. The Foster-designed glass dome of the Reichstag makes an appearance above the surrounding buildings as I progress; black, red and yellow flags flutter in the breeze.

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Leaving the canal behind after traversing Museuminsel, the lofty TV tower of the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz comes into view, as eventually do the twin Communist period tiered towers that flank Karl-Marx-Allee. At Alexanderplatz I descend underground to catch the U-bahn and a few stops later emerge once again at Potsdamer Platz where I cross the square to enter the railway station. Past sunset by now, the sky squid-ink black, the fluorescent blaze from the office blocks that fringe the square throws up reflected light from the rain-wet pavement. After colour-robbed days such as this the bright lights of human endeavour contrasted against the intense darkness of night can seem almost a comfort.

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About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
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6 Responses to A Berlin Interlude

  1. Like the transition from grey day to colourful night. Remember this well from my one visit to Las Vegas where it was grey concrete in stark contrast to the saturation of neon colours at nights. Visiting Berlin later in the year and really looking forward to it.

  2. dobraszczyk says:

    A bit late to the table on this: a lovely piece Laurence. I did this very walk on a balmy afternoon in September last year; but I had also been there in August 1989 when I was 14. A radically transformed city and, for me, the resurfacing of some lost memories. I always think that it’s always so difficult to remember what used to be there in cities, however short or long the passage of time is.

  3. Dina says:

    A great photo story and I thoroughly enjoyed the walked with you. The first photo is excellent! My first visit to Berlin was 1985, the city was divided and made a deep impact on me. My latest visit was three years ago and although I enjoyed it and partly walked where you went, I felt absolutely drained afterwards. So many people, a busy, modern place, absolutely opposite to a tiny little village in Norfolk. I’m not a city girl anymore.

    • Thanks Hanne, the weather was very gloomy when I was in Berlin as you can tell from these images. My first visit to the city was brief, just after reunification in the late 80s. I visited again in the autumn of 2010. I would like to see the city in summer sometime. As big cities go, I must say I find Berlin very relaxed and easygoing – an easier place to be than, say, London.

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