We have managed to get out doors and are not spending all our time on cultural uplift. We took a walk through the Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park. Not quite as large as New York’s, it feels much more woods like and dense.
The park is split by the Strasse des 17 Juni, so named by West Berlin to commemorate an uprising of East Berlin workers against the Soviet backed regime. The street, really a major highway, begins at the Brandenburg gate, passing by a memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in the fighting over Berlin in 1945.
Wandering from the Tiergarted toward Potsdamer Plaz, I realized that we were in the middle of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A friend had suggested I visit this site, but the sudden appearance, with no signs announcing it’s purpose, surprised me, since I had expected a more official recognition. A field of over two thousand stone slabs, of varying heights, arranged in rows that rise and dip. I was reminded of the Vietnam Memorial because of the way the slabs deliberately undercut the more traditional form of a memorial, something that announces its purpose and tries to aggrandize. This site simply disconcerts, puzzles. The knee-high slabs suggest sarcophagi and the larger ones, prehistoric markers.
Across the street, on the fringes of the park, is another monument. Dedicated to the homosexuals murdered by the nazis, it follows the slab motif, presenting just one, imposing block, with a window that displays a simple affectionate embrace of a couple. Together, both memorials are relentless, and their blankness demands that one imagine and decode.
A few blocks from the memorials, Berlin turns aggressively modern in Potsdamer Plaz with a series of stone and glass buildings whose shapes announce an architectural plan to set a design in space with no attention to the surroundings.
Reading espionage novels from the 1960s, my sense of Berlin was dominated by scenes set at Checkpoint Charlie, where nervous spies, either inept or clever, nervously planned their escapes from the East. Most of my time has been in the old East Berlin sections, but I did make a detour to the original Checkpoint which is now merely a relic of street theatre with performers dressed as U.S. soldiers ready to pretend they are guarding the gate to freedom. (The area around the checkpoint is the most tawdry one I’ve seen so far.)