Berlin has a dark past, but the youth have given it life and light again. The east side captivated KERRI VON GEUSAU
A certain edge reflects the youth culture in Berlin from the laundromats to the lampposts; the walkways, bicycles, and historical sites. The city is a gallery of design, art, memory and vision. Stepping out of the subway into the heart of the trendy Mitte District I am exposed to the jungle of graffiti, boutique stores, trendy cafes and my hostel for the next three nights. Galleries, cafes and buildings, rather than street names, become my reference. All are covered in huge paintings of faces, figures and fantasies – too much city, too little time.
Here’s to-do list if you have just three days to spend in Berlin:
Visit the Holocaust Memorial, to the East of the Brandenburg Gate. Designed by New York-based architect, Peter Eisenman, the Field of Stelae is made up of 2 711 concrete slabs (stelae). Bound by sinister shadows, light, uneven ground and height, it is unsettlingly beautiful. On the outskirts, the stelae are close to the ground like low benches or tombstones. But they rise as you walk towards the centre, creating a field of mystery. Despite the orderly grid, I feel increasingly disorientated, losing company, direction and sunlight. The cool concrete slabs provide a simple but striking setting, inviting meditation on the Holocaust and its associated emotions from vulnerability to fear. Underground, the Information Centre is silent. Only the graphics, stories and accounts displayed in each section create a whirlwind of internal noise. In the black Room of Names with a long bench in the centre, a narrator reads short biographies of those murdered or missing during the Nazi reign. The presentation takes six years, seven months and 27 days to complete.
- Tachelles is a giant warehouse on Oranienburgerstrasse. Once a Jewish shopping centre, then a Nazi prison, now five artists occupy this space with many floors and rooms. The walls are densely layered with posters, drawings, writing and peeling paint. Broken painted glass allows light to poke through the dark stairwell as we ascend floor-by-floor, artist-by-artist to the top. Here, the voice of modern Berlin is clear as a cathedral bell: this public space reflects the cultural undertow of the city – a gallery by day and nightclub by night.
The East-side Gallery is testament to a city comfortable with its bohemian edge and more coherent, orderly nature. This stretch of the iconic Berlin Wall lies between the Oberbaum Bridge and the intersection of Spree and Mühlenstrasse. The 1.3km uninterrupted expanse is a canvas for mural after mural painted by artists from around the world. The gallery evokes a sense of defiance towards the inhumanity of division and an appreciation of freedom. I walk along the wall absorbing the paintings before moving on along the Oberbaum Bridge to yet another grungy, trendy district onthe river’s edge where river cafes and small bars emerge from the shadows. I stroll into a riverside bar, beer in hand and take up a bench to rest my weary limbs. The bar lies beneath the willow trees where ducks roam around to the background murmur of boozy Berlinners. I am grateful that a part of this great city once closed to the west is now open to me.