In Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the place of that name is being used to dramatically convey transformation: Franz Bieberkopf is traumatized by the changes it has undergone while he spent years in prison, and stands for the transformations he himself will undergo.
Döblin’s novel takes place in the 1920s, and Berlin has undergo dramatic changes since. After the destructions of the Second World War and the division of the city, it was no longer the single city center. The architects of the Eastern part weren’t insensitive, they kept the space open and repurposable.
Nearby churches were renovated and allowed other change to happen, later.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the administrative buildings were taken down. The facade of the Palace of the Republic used to annoy the people of power with distorted reflections of the nearby cathedral. Not anymore.
Radically modern buildings show that transformation is still possible. This leaves hope for Franz’s children.
Berlin and Bloomington have few things in common, besides their first letter B.
Of more general interest is probably that both cities feature a building by Chinese architect I.M. Pei. I wrote about the Art Museum in Bloomington in an earlier post. Here you see the German Historical Museum in Berlin, or rather its extension.
I would call this building an invitation to explore the esthetic possibilities of dysfunctional space. The helicoidal stairwell, it’s most prominent feature, connects only the second to the third floor and extends further without purpose to a non-existent fourth floor. It’s placed inconveniently at the (sharp) entrance corner of the building. Climbing these steps has as its main purpose to be climbing these steps. They are gorgeous.
The more functional connection between the ground floor and the first floor is a long ramp leading to the helix. Like everything else, it is pushed to the side, so that as much of the empty space of the building remains intact.
What we see while walking this building are the structural elements that connect. Above is a view down into the basement level, reachable through the escalator or an angled stairwell (at the bottom).
What I found striking and inexplicable is the harmony and balance between the playful round elements like the helix or the circular opening above, and the cornered, straight-edged, almost brutal structural components.
It’s tempting to call these the male and female aspects of the building. No matter, it lives from the dialogue between the two.
A neighbor and I exchanged books over the holidays (a forgotten art?). I gave her Christoph Ransmayr’s Arznei gegen die Sterblichkeit, and she returned the favor with Katja Oskamp’s Marzahn mon amour.
Marzahn is a legendary suburb of Berlin I had never been to. The name triggered childhood memories of Frau Malzahn, the wonderful dragon in Ottfried Preußler’s even more wonderful Jim Knopf books.
But this has nothing to do with Marzahn mon amour, nor do the pictures above, which show Alt-Marzahn, miraculously preserved among the Plattenbauten, the prefab buildings that provided a cheap solution to the growing housing problem of the former German Democratic Republic.
Here is one of them, proudly announcing cosmetic studio at the entrance as if the entire building is that studio.
And this is what the book is about: People living in these prefab houses, and being taken care of temporarily by the narrator, who works as a pedicurist in a cosmetic studio just like the one above (this one?).
We learn to like them, the people and the buildings, maybe because they all have decided to cope with their large and small miseries by taking care of themselves, even if only symbolically.
Most remarkable, however, is the insight of the narrator: That by stepping apparently down (in her case from struggling author to a pedicurist) one can in fact find happiness, and then by the way, write a charming little book.
This cute little building in Berlin houses exhibits that are concerned with — you guessed it — the future. A thematic question on one of the walls brings it to the point: How do we display something that doesn’t exist yet?
You can find robots and explanations of some cutting edge technologies, but also large scale models that just keep you musing.
Much of the interior design is an attempt to appear moderately futuristic.
This object is the closest I could find to something like a personal oracle. It lights up (or darkens) when you move in front of it.
The exhibit above seems to be designed for introspection. Which me will pick which door?
So maybe we have a misconception here. The future doesn’t just arrive. It’s upon us to create it.
Hisham Matar’s autobiographic book The Return talks about his father’s absence.
The image above show the Voided Void at the end of the Axis of Holocaust in Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Matar quotes Aristoteles: The theory that the void exists involves the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft of body.
Right now, the museum is being prepared for a new standard exhibition, and hence almost completely void.
Matar continues to reflect about Aristoteles. He adds: He says nothing of time here, and time is surely part of it all, of how we try to accommodate the absence. […]. Only time can hope to fill the void. The body of my father is gone, but his place is here and occupied by something that cannot just be called memory.
A second accessible void in the Libeskind building is the Memory Void, containing Menashe Kadishman’s installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves).
Matar concludes this reflection: What is extraordinary is that, given everything that has happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.
These here are my first shots with Samyang’s spectacular 10mm wide angle lens for 35mm cameras.
The first three pictures are from the government district in Berlin.
Almost everything becomes extremely compressed in width and pulled apart in depth.
It is a very satisfying experience to have to step closer when all other people step back to take a picture.
And the last three pictures are from Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the main train station.
This extreme lens forces the photographer to compose differently.
My first visit to Dresden took place in the early 1990s. It was a foggy day in December, and one of my lasting memories is the enormous pile of rubble in the city center.
The ruins of the Frauenkirche hadn’t been touched since the bombing at the end of the Second World War, but after the reunification of Germany, a decision to rebuild was made quickly. This summer I became curious how things looked like today, so I visited Dresden a second time.
What may we forget, and how should we remember? Some of the temples and monuments that have been destroyed in the Middle East in the past few years were intended to last until the end of time by their creators. Arrogance, or trust in a protective higher power?
We live in volatile times. A carelessly written email can haunt us for the rest of our live, while a mouse simple click can erase decades of work stored on a hard drive.
If only we could attach an expiration date to everything we do, it would be easier to decide what to keep and what to let go.