As I was finalising this entry I heard about the attack on the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market in Berlin. It was one of the markets we visited just over a week ago. The whole place buzzed with light, colour, the sound of Christmas music and the aroma of Christmas cheer. Now that has been obliterated. I've decided to publish this anyway because we can't let violence silence us.
Here are a few highlights of my visit last week.
A light at the end of the tunnel (or in this case, the top of the tower of the 18th century Deutscher Dom on Gendarmenmarkt)
Potsdamer Platz didn’t look like this 30 years ago!
Neither did the Hauptbahnhof (Main station)
The Bundesrepublik did tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the country was reunified in 1989, eg the Palast der Republik, which was of immense historical importance. They blamed its necessary destruction on asbestos, but it’s much more likely that they simply couldn’t bear to have such a potent reminder of the GDR in their midst. Having said that, they’ve sensibly left the impressive statues of Marx and Engels on their Platz, even if the area needs a makeover ( and it’s getting one at the moment – the nearby Schlossplatz is a building site. )
However, one baby that they not only didn’t throw out, but took to heart and allowed to become a trademark of reunited Berlin, is Ampelmann (Ampel = traffic light). Admittedly there was a move after reunification to standardise all traffic light men to the boring western ones, but the result was an outcry, protests and so on. Ampelmann had been a beloved symbol of GDR Berlin – he even featured in an educational TV series. Now he has spread into the west and a huge merchandising industry has spread around him. He has also be the subject of serious art works, topiary and numerous books. Occasionally politically correctness has crept in and you may also come across a female version.
So here he is lighting up the crossing near the Hauptbahnhof . The red and green don’t show up too well- you can see them a bit better on the Ampelmann store sign.
A detour out of Berlin to my father’s birthplace, Pasewalk up North-east near the Polish border. This glowing building is St Spiritus dating from the 18th century, now a retirement home.
The streetlights bathe the gym hall of my father’s school in warm light.
Back in Berlin the stalls on the Alexanderplatz Christmas market shone brightly too.
And talking of shining, the Deutsche Oper’s Lohengrin put on a dazzling performance. Granted there were a few oddities – as usual the director had to stick his egoistic nose into the story. Lohengrin was decked out with detachable swan’s wings (which should have been attached to his legendary swan but the director had an unfortunate lightbulb moment). They caused sniggers in the audience, particularly when he got stuck exiting stage door left and had to remove them - as he also did during his thwarted attempt to bed Elsa. During this scene also, when the glorious saviour knight (Lohengrin) was making a move on his frail and vulnerable maiden (Elsa) as they were sat on the bed, he edged a little closer, which apparently unnerved her and she fell off, landing awkwardly on the floor. She picked herself up and they both carried on as if nothing had happened. A most curious bit of stage directing. At least I’m assuming it was intentional. I could hardly control my giggles. Luckily Lohengrin had shed the wings by the glorious final act. The very ending was marred by another weird idea from the director but luckily it was fleeting.
Once more the golden dome of the Oranienburgerstrasse Reform Synagogue has become a shining beacon on the Berlin skyline. The synagogue escaped destruction on Kristallnacht thanks to the courageous action of a police officer, who drew his gun on the Nazi hoodlums and ordered them to disperse. However, it did not survive the allied bombing of 1943-4. Now it has been restored and houses a small synagogue and the "Centrum Judaicum", a museum and archive of Berlin Jewish history.
And finally: not quite the glorious covered courtyard of the British Museum, but this courtyard linking the old and new buildings of the fabulous Deutsches Historisches Museum is a light and peaceful space and really rather beautiful.