During the Easter holiday, a few friends and I spontaneously decided to take a roadtrip to Berlin. Now Berlin is no new city to me - Me brother used to study (architecture as well) in Dresden, so my parents and I have been in and past Berlin quite a few times in the last decade. But this time, it was my first visit to the city with my new architectural knowings and oppinions, so the experience was significantly different.
Berlin, like London (which I visited about two months ago), is yet another great European metropolis. Now I assume most of you readers are well familiar with the city of Berlin, and it's dramatic history as well, so I'll skip the long historic writings and focus more on my experience of the city. But before skipping the entire "lecture", I believe there are a few things that are worthy of mentioning about the architectural styles of the city. As you most likely know, the city was split up between parts during the Cold War era - Eastern and Western Berlin. The eastern part of the city was at the time under influence of the USSR and thus the architectural style was strongly influenced from the styles that were dominant in the Soviet Republic. The west on the other hand, was strongly influenced by Western European and American styles - Such as post-modernism and western modernism. The eastern side was on the otherhand characterized by the rationalistic style, which was dominant throughout the entire USSR due to its fitting image towards the communistic idealogy. The two styles on each side of the border are still quite visible today, which if you ask me, has created a bit of a stylistic chaos in the city. Fortunately the city is changing towards a more harmonious style, that connects the styles of the two borders, but it is a process that undoubtfully will take decades yet. Above is a photo of a USSR-era highrise building that has been redesigned into a hotel, with a more modern and pleasant facade.
So away we go from the history lesson and back to the more subjective and personal material. I've always found it a good thing that the center of Berlin is placed in a fairly close area, thus being a city with a clearly defined downtown area. The area I speak of is the one where the Reichstag and the Brandenburgertür are located and on to the Potsdamerplatz with the Jewish monument on the way. And then in towards east by Checkpoint Charlie and on to the museum island. All these landmarks are within a few minutes of walking distance, which I believe is a vital feat when defining a city center. One place did unfortunately is a while away, is the infamous shopping street, Kurfürstendamm Strasse. As my friends and I experienced during our stay in Berlin, it was no doubt the busiest street in the city (pedestrian wise). I find it a shame that it isn't closer to the downtown monuments and landmarks, but to be fair, you naturally can't just move a street closer to some place (imagine the possibilities if you could though!). Above is a picture of an element of one of the taller buildings on the Ku'damm Strasse (as the locals call it).
Despite the slightly chaotic structuring of the city (as one can expect for a city of it's size and history), human interaction and life seemed to be plentiful throughout the streets. Germany as a nation is well known for their automotive cultural, and when walking the streets, you quickly notice that Germans seem to be rather proud of their engineering skills and automotive creations. The urban infrastructure highly prioritizes space for vehicles, rather than pedestrians, perhaps due to this cultural tendency amongst the Germans. But yet again, the Berlin infrastructure seems inviting to pedestrians, due to a great abundance of trees at just about every street! One thing I admire about Berlin, is the new Potsdamer Platz area. The architectural value of this area is a thing of taste, but the area functions perfectly in a social and interactive manner. The photo above is a picture of the tent that covers the Sony Center space, which is filled with restaurants and cafés, all filled with people. Never have I seen a modern complex in Europe that attracts as many visitors as Berlin's Sony Center! Now before I get too enthusiastic about the great social qualities of the Sony Center, I might want to explain what it is first... Or, I'll just choose to be a lazy bugger and make you check out this link instead. Read it yet? So how about it, huh?
A five minute walk away from the Potsdamer Platz, we find the now somewhat famous Jewish Monument (as seen on the photo above). Now unlike the Sony Center area, I'm really disappointed with this monumental square. Now don't get me wrong, I feel bad, really bad, for all the millions of Jewish people whose lives were lost during the war, but this is no monument for such a tragic and dark part of the German history. Making a huge square with concrete blocks in different heights isn't going to make anyone sad or remember the poor people who went missing during the war - It is the perfect recipe for a parkour runners dream, or a huge playground for children running around, jumping on blocks, and playing hide and seek amongst them. The possibilities for interaction at this "monument" are fantastic. Who would've thought a bunch of simple concrete blocks could create such a fun space? And yet, one isn't allowed to interact with the square "due to its symbolic value". Peter Eisenman, the designer of the monument, really didn't think this one through if you ask me. It be interesting to make a replica of this monument in some city, without its tragic symbolism, and see how people interact with it - I think it could turn up to be quite a busy playground for people of all ages!
Ah yes. Finally of course, we have the remains of the Berlin Wall. Once a tragic structure that seperated one from the other, today a display of some of the finest Cold War graffiti. I have only attached this one picture above, for there are too many to fit in here on this humble post. But a simple google of the words "Berlin Wall Art" will get you there! Now I believe I've come to the point of this post, in which I've mentioned just the most of the stuff on my mind (it least the stuff there's room for!). I can highly recommend a trip to Berlin at any time, it sure is a city with plenty of life, and lots to do. Oh and did I mention the nightlife is great? The nightlife is great!
(Do note that my friends and I were on a rather short visit, so a lot of the city remains unexplored from my point of the story)
- Andy Minchev