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.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at mei­jia@ chinadaily.com.cn

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.

PHO­TOS BY MEI JIA / CHINA DAILY

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.

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