Echoes of history and rapid change
Buildings built in Soviet style but with modern facades, and the broad roads clearly remind one of Beijing’s streets and its architecture. Mei Jia reports in Berlin.
Walking along Karl Marx Alley in Berlin, a first-time visitor to the city from Beijing may feel a strange sense of familiarity. The buildings, built in Soviet style but with modern facades and the broad roads clearly remind one of Beijing’s streets and its architecture.
Before we enter the alley, we are told that it is now the center of a community that accommodates an affluent neighborhood.
As we visit German writer Holm Friebe at his apartment on that street, we see a music parade.
Standing by the window of his book-loaded apartment, and watching the parade, Friebe says: “Isn’t it a good view?”
He adds that from his vantage point he can see the changes the city is going through.
People say that there are not many European cities that are undergoing the scale of construction or changes that Berlin has seen since the 1990s, after the tearing down of the BerlinWall.
Friebe is now in the news for a game, which he writes about in his latest book Mimikry, about the Berlin literary scene. Players are invited to write paragraphs for a book, which are then mixed with the original writing. Then, players have to pick out the original writing.
One thing that endears Berlin to me is that dining outlets and grocery shops are open late into the night, and are also open early during weekends, at least on Saturday mornings.
Berlin, with its rich history and central location in Europe, is known for its historical sites, cultural activities, nightlife and spirit of openness. So, travelers have a lot of choices when it comes to what they want to see and experience.
Traveling with a team of publishers and book reporters, we join a crowd walking from the Reichstag building to Brandenburg Gate.
To get a close view of the signature glass dome of the parliament building, remodeled by British architect Norman Foster in the 1990s, one needs reservations. So we view it from outside.
The gate, the symbol of Berlin and of Germany, was originally built in the late 18th century.
The goddess of victory and her chariot on top of it was once removed by Napoleon but later returned. The gate was rebuilt in 1957.
The plaza below is now a happy place, watched over by the goddess.
Not far from the iconic gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, with 2,711 symbolic cement steles designed by Peter Eisenman.
Situated in the heart of Berlin, it showcases German reflections on the war and the Holocaust.
We also walk by Checkpoint Charlie along the BerlinWall.
The city’s Festival of Lights brightens up old architecture at night, giving it an exciting new look.
Museum Island is a spot that consumes half of a day during our trip.
With a cluster of five museums built from 1830 to 1930, the place is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our choices that day are the Pergamon Museum, where the beautiful dark blue Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market Gate of Miletus from ancient Rome are on display; and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), which features mainly European, especially German, masters from the neo-classical, impressionist and early modernist periods.
I buy a souvenir there, a box for glasses with dark blue images from the Ishtar Gate, together with recordings of the bell ringing from the nearby Berlin Cathedral.
Something unusual about Berlin, for a Beijing resident, is when I hear that at some point during the 1990s, artists from around the world rushed to Berlin to “occupy” the many empty houses there for free and stayed there to create art.
“My workshop is located in a neighborhood that used to be like this (empty). But as time passed, the artists’ presence boosted the quality of life there, the housing prices soared, and bankers and rich people begin to move in,” says Chinese-Germandesigner LiuYangwhenwevisit her studio.
Finally we experience Berliner Weisse, a local white beer with juices or syrups, and thick, tasty beef goulash.
Top: The Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery, featuring graffiti of Checkpoint Charlie and the famous MyGod,HelpMetoSurviveThisDeadlyLove painting. Above left: A vendor by the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery sells pieces said to be collected from the wall that was built in 1961 and torn down in 1990. Above right: The shelf of best-selling books and new arrivals at Ocelot bookstore, Berlin.