After 30 posts covering many different locations around Berlin, I’ve decided it was time to say goodbye to this most absorbing city. I haven’t covered everything of course, mainly because my interest in Berlin has always centred around the pivotal role it played in world affairs during the 20th century.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to use this final post to show that there is more to Berlin than those places I’ve covered. From classical architecture to a buzzing nightlife, Berlin has it all, so here are a few things that I’ve omitted, but perhaps shouldn’t have.
The first glaring omission I need to mention is the Gendarmenmarkt. Regarded as the loveliest square in Berlin, it started out as a market square in 1688 and then used by the gens d’arms (a Cavalry regiment) between 1736 and 1782.
At one end of the square is the Deutscher Dom (German Church) and at the other is the Franzosischer Dom (French Church), both of which were built at the beginning of the 18th century. Between the two is the Konzerthaus, and standing in front of it is a fine monument to the poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller. Standing here today, it’s hard to imagine this harmonious arrangement of classical architecture in ruins, but that’s how it would have looked during the Second World War. Its appearance now though is testament to how the city has transformed itself from the devastation inflicted on it during the days leading up to the end of the war and the divisions after it.
Many of Central Berlin’s iconic buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged during the fight for Berlin, and much of the area fell under the jurisdiction of the GDR after it was over. Consequently, reunification brought about a massive regeneration project, some of which made sense, and some which didn’t, like the rebuilding of the Royal Palace which was overambitious and not necessary in my opinion.
One place that needed demolishing was the Kunsthaus Tacheles (Tacheles Art House) on Oranienburger Strasse in the Jewish quarter of Spandauer Vorstadt. I’d read somewhere that it was an interesting place to visit, and it was, but not in the way I was expecting. It’s not unknown for me to visit dodgy places, and this appeared to be yet another one, and it didn’t take me long to realise that this was a squat used by ‘artists’.
I was a bit apprehensive when I walked through the front door, but as I made my way up the unlit stairwell, I felt like a fly entering a spider’s web. Realising that there wouldn’t be any art I would appreciate looking at up here, I turned around and went back down to a world I was more familiar with. After several years of wrangling, it now appears that the site is now being redeveloped.
Spandauer Vorstadt gets its name from the Spandau Gate which was part of the original walled city. From here a road led to the medieval town of Spandau, which is now Berlin’s most westerly borough.
Spandau is well known for the prison that housed Nazi war criminals after the Second World War. Its most famous prisoner was Rudolf Hess who (supposedly) committed suicide here in August 1987 aged 93. Some people think that he was murdered by British Secret Intelligence to prevent him speaking out against British misconduct during the war. If that was the case, why they would have waited so long to do it I’m not quite sure. In any event, after his death the prison was demolished.
One place that is still standing is the 16th century Citadel. The fortress is still in excellent condition and it was a pity that I chose a poor day to explore the bastions. Even so, on a clear day the views from the Julius Turm (tower) would be grand I’m sure – but not today.
Another place that offers fine views on a good day is the Funkturm. From a distance it looks like a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower but at 500 ft high it’s hardly small.
Originally built as a radio transmitter, it made its first broadcast in 1926, but in 1941 Joseph Goebbels, the minister for propaganda during the Nazi period, used the Funkturm to transmit the world’s first regular TV broadcasting service to the residents of Berlin. Today its frequencies are used by just the police and taxis.
I managed to get up to the viewing platform one evening to see the lights of Berlin. It wasn’t any good for photography but there were some great views of the city nonetheless.
It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll ever take any more photographs of Berlin, which is a shame in a way because there are still many unfinished projects that I would have loved to have seen completed. At the same time, I feel fortunate to have witnessed the transition of a city that is, in many ways, trying to atone for its past history. I fear however that mistakes are being made once again, even though they are being made with the best of intentions. As those of you who follow my blogs well know, I don’t use this platform to talk about contentious issues, so I’ll leave you to work out what I think those issues are.
In Tauentzienstraße is a sculpture that was constructed in 1987 – when Berlin was still a divided city. Just called ‘Berlin’ it was designed by a husband and wife team – Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff and Martin Matschinsky – who made this eye-catching symbol of a broken chain representing the broken city. Facing on a West-East axis, the chain is broken in two places where the ends almost meet, but not quite. The city may not be divided in the way it once was, but it doesn’t mean to say that it couldn’t be divided again. Auf Wiedersehen Berlin!
POSTED – OCTOBER 2021