I have been traveling for days, one day on the train, a late night in the new place, a full day exploring, and then back to the train. It’s been a demanding schedule and not particualrly conducive to evenings of reflective writing for my website. But now I am in Berlin, and I have stories to share. I’ll do that over the next few days.
As I sit here on the couch of my apartment in the former East Berlin, listening to Deutsch on the TV murmuring in the background (a good way to learn the language), I pull together some photos from my walks around Berlin, and some thoughts.
Prenzlauer Berg, where I am living, is a mix of familiar Western gentrification, and crumbing buildings that survived the War but not the Soviet occupation. Flaking sandstone apartment blocks vie with Bauhaus-influenced boxes. The trendy bio (organic) market down the street—not unlike a Whole Foods market in the States—shares the neighborhood with boarded up buildings plastered with concert posters and graffiti. I walk down streets lined with new buildings, monuments to minimalism, but then out of no where a pre-War building swallowed in a tangle of overgrowth appears.
People stride by as if it is the most normal of things; but it is not. Nearly eighty percent of Berlin’s historic buildings were destroyed in the War and yet seventy years later here stand a few that survived, although they were never restored or kept up. It’s an odd juxtaposition, different from urban decay in other cities, because somewhere near here I know a bomb exploded and took with it block after block of buildings. Many of those that did not fall were later razed by the Soviets. I walk for miles, and street after street blurs together with a mix of gritty, pre-War, brick buildings swirled with graffiti, and brisk, urban glass and steel constructions spilling clever shops onto the sidewalks.
The Wall may have come down 23 years ago but Berlin is far from clearly defined.