Monday, 3 August 2015

Walking the City 3 - Berlin, Past & Present, Imagined & Sunlit

 Bison - Lonely? Reflective? My absolute favourite Tier in Berlin's Tiergarten

What was it that triggered that feeling – quite suddenly – of a far deeper connection with a place? A feeling of – almost of sinking into something. The feeling is very recognizable. It connects with place, with self, with a more expanded awareness. And you enter it, like walking into a familiar building. There is no conscious intention to walk into that building or that feeling. It just happens as if by magic, the way things happen in dreams.

I felt it at some point today during the Warsaw train's slow arrival into Berlin – but where exactly? Was it when I saw a red brick building I recognized, and knew that I was near Lichtenberg? Or was it the familiar heaps, ditch ramparts almost, of sand, near Warschauer? Or at Ost Bahnhof? It could well have been at Ost Bahnhof, when the group of teenagers with their soft-spoken and beautiful teacher got out. All very well behaved. And the train waited. And the sky was deep blue. And this curious, so simple feeling of returning, of touching something so familiar – again. Of being back in some place that welcomed me. (Impossible to reach without a welcome).


And from Alexanderplatz, the train went very slowly, so I looked out at all these familiar buildings. After Hauptbahnhof, Bellevue, Tiergarten...


Horse sculpture outside the Hauptbahnhof

quiet, peaceful, people in a slow dream, the red brick elevated building of the train station, and the greenery of the gardens – tree tops and bushes thickly clustering around the areas of flat grass, the wooded pathways, the street lamps from different cities – Leipzig, Freiburg, Hamburg, London, St. Petersburg, Paris –


lining the silent walkway, and none of this visible from the train station, where no one gets off and only two or three people stand, as if waiting for the right time to wake up, waiting to be told it's time, waiting to remember what they came here for.

Meanwhile the Tiergarten is enveloped in greenery, hiding movement or life, it could be empty, for all that the trees reveal, for all that the trees hide with their shade and leafy patterned secrets, the life lived below their branches, lived in patchy shadows, unseen, mostly. Until the path emerges onto a bridge. On the other side (I crossed it you see, when I was here before) the path continues by the river and a notice declares that it was here that Rosa Luxemburg was killed and her body thrown into the water.....

It hit me on that hot day in sunshine, how much opposition, how much violence, how much struggle, in the shade of bushes by the water, with the small flies dancing on the surface – how much intimidation and oppression this city has seen. If some people are seen as other, seen as enemies, or against you – who believe in the rightness of your own cause or your own authority – it is extraordinary what people will feel justified in doing. As if they forget their own humanity, caught up in some non-human frenzy.

Now in this sun and tourist filled city, all the darkling deeds live safely in a place called past. Because they don't live here, trinkets and reminders can quite safely multiply and be sold as charms for sightseers. This place called past might as well be a source of profit, as it was a source of pain. The trams might as well go there. Have their lines extended so that the touring visitors can also extend their stay and their sight-seeing, to every stop on the way to Past, each Einbahnstrasse looping round any possible obstacle to revealing the wires and the ways of this other country. The gadgets and the tram lines. The odd-looking boxes of cars, the bitter winters. The wire-topped walls.

Photo from the Stasi Museum - the wall goes up

The hidden microphones in radios, telephones, watering cans and ties.


From the Stasi Museum - examples of hidden microphones

The lives that went on, unseen, beyond the wall. The way that our eyes adjust to seeing something that blocks the horizon, get used to living in an Einbahnstrasse of our own, not thinking of the ways beyond the wall. Beyond the loops of barbed wire. How many dreams were entangled in that wire. Snagged and torn. Or nestled there, feathers among the birds. How many dreams were built beside the wall, standing there, shoulder to shoulder, invisible, feeding on the smell of metal expanding in hot sun, the smell of bricks, mortar, concrete. Did any plants thrive in the cracks? Any stunted trees find purchase for their tiny roots, in crevices between the bricks?


Photo from the Stasi Museum. The tattoo reads: Only when I dream am I free


When I first arrive in Berlin I enquire about Tageskarte. You get them at the U Bahnhof. And where is that? Just a few meters away. Go out of the Zentrale Bahnhof, links. And there it is. I don't look at the street ahead, but that's where we come later, a few days later, the street where Annemarie Schwarzenbach lived, when she was in Berlin. It just so happens.

How it all became transformed a few days later, when I returned. How I knew my way around, from Hauptbahnhof to Zoologisher Garten. How the S Bahn moves sedately, higher than the streets, looking down on pavements and people, passing the buildings within intimate distance so you could reach out and touch them. So you feel. Gliding – quiet.
So quiet in fact that the announcement, though perfectly clear, sounds like an intimate whisper. 

Ausschied – links. (Exit - left) 
It isn't like the London underground, which hurtles through the tunnels like a frenzied mole. And there's so much noise, bangs, clatters, engine sounds, you can't hear what the announcer says, something about change here for other lines – Circle and District.
Stand clear of the doors.

I take my case to the left luggage area, where there's a bike auction going on. Put the case in the locker, turn the key....then outside, into the warm afternoon, and head along Kantstrasse, to Fasanenstrasse and to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum.


Käthe Kollwitz sculpture in the garden of the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, 
                               Fasanenstrasse, Berlin

It is all deep in an enchantment, this afternoon and early evening. The city has slid into that deep place of connection. It had seemed harsh before. Unter den Linden was a building site. The linden trees – I felt sorry for them, in their inadequacy.

Later, I discovered the Kurfurstendamm. This is where the trees leaned over the pavements, trees in the central area shade it entirely, lean over the street, almost touching the others on the pavement. Steeped in late light and wonder, the city has come to rest in me, spreading its green and shady fingers, splintering the light so that it paints and shifts, rocks slightly, as if the city was at sea, became a boat, turned a key, unlocked itself.



The Solitary Walker said...

Love the horse sculpture photo through the window.

dritanje said...

Yes it's an amazing sculpture, and on a level as you can see, with the trains, so you get a much better view of it from the station.

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Interesting sculpture....strange pose.....does it have a title?
I was thinking of you as we saw the steam train pass on it's first run. I love these old steam engines,like puffing dragons!
Must get out to visit before you take off again....

dritanje said...

It was in the museum garden, and didn't have a title.
Yes, it's good to have the trains, but it is a bittersweet feeling, as they don't stop here...
Yes, do come out soon!
M xx