Friday, September 09, 2005

A Walk In The Park

This, too, will pass: I've become re-addicted to the lousy bagels they sell here, which are available over in Potsdamer Platz. What the hell; it was a nice day, the work I was supposed to do today fell out, and so it was a fine day for a walk. And it occurred to me, as I left the house, that I always go to Potz Platz the same way: down Friedrichstr. to Leipziger Str. and over to the mall...errr, I mean Potsdamer Platz Arkaden (employees can be fired for referring to it as a mall, although it is, to any American eyes, a mall).

So I decided today to walk the length of Reinhardtstr., cross over the bridge at its end, and walk through the Tiergarten. The Tiergarten, for those of you who haven't been here, is Berlin's Central Park. It's also its central park, a huge stretch of green between the Zoo (which defines its western end) and the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag.

Reinhardtstr. is a street "in transition." The most notable transition I noted today was the old Nazi air-raid bunker. It's being renovated by the Denkmalschutz folks (historic buildings authority) and an apartment is being built on top of it! This is amazing. They tried to tear it down, but the cost of demolishing it turned out to be higher than the value of the property it stood on, so at least the building is secure. But damn, who'd want to live on top of it?

Maybe the answer lies on the rest of the street, which has clones of a number of Bonn's favorite restaurants on it. Given the propinquity to the government district, it's become part of Berlin's Little Bonn ghetto, the hangout of the folks who go home on weekends because they love living in Berlin so much. I can see some high-up in the CDU liking the idea of living atop a monument to the Nazi elite. (Well, you didn't think they were planning to stash ordinary folks in there, do you?)

Of course, this government influence extends to campaign posters. Currently, the SPD has one with Schröder's head on it and three words: Powerful, Courageous, Human. The CDU, on the other hand, has made what looks to me like a tactical error, with huge billboards filled with a German flag and the words "Better for our land." Wrapping yourself in the flag does not have a positive connotation in Germany because of the last bunch who tried it. In fact, any sort of nationalistic-feeling boasting is very heavily frowned upon. Hell, I was astonished to realize that nobody here ever uses the word "proud" to describe themselves. Just ask a parent if they're proud of one of their kids' achievements and you'll get much nervous throat-clearing.

Anyway, I passed the multi-million-Euro kindergarten that was built on the banks of the Spree River for the Bonners' kids (as the city was cutting funds to its schools, much to the chagrin of the locals) and walked over the bridge, which not only wasn't there when I moved into the neighborhood, but crosses the Spree at a place where the Spree wasn't when I came here. There was a huge redirection of the river's course (done mostly by big gangs of Dutch workers) when the whole government complex went in, and that's where I found myself after I crossed the river: Alphaville. There will come a day, I suspect, when this whole Kohl-era grandeur will seem embarrassing, but at the moment, there are still busloads of tourists pulling up for tours of these buildings. As I crossed to the lawn of the Reichstag, I saw the usual long, long line of tourists waiting to get in. Tourism in Berlin is almost 100% German, and the Reichstag is the number-one attraction. Despite the mid-80s temperatures -- we're having a bit of an Indian Summer here at the moment -- the line stretched down the stairs and onto the lawn. I've been up there, and yeah, it's a nice view, but you can't really see into the chambers (so much for "transparent government"), and, well, the view isn't that nice. Still, it's a line, and you get to stand in it. Germans love to stand in lines.

The lawn took me into the Tiergarten, where I used to do my exercise walking back when I lived in the Moabit district and it was only two blocks away. I haven't been in there much since then, but it was such a nice day that it was a pleasure to walk in the shade of the trees, then come out into fields of wild flowers and plants like milkweed. I detoured as I neared Potsdamer Platz, though, because there was a big pink rock sitting there. This was a part of the park I wasn't overly familiar with, because it had been too close to the Wall back in the old days, and wasn't developed, so I was curious what this was a memorial to. Walking up on it, I noticed it was a giant boulder of pink sandstone which was apparently still being worked on. Parts were polished, parts not. And there wasn't a plaque to be seen. This marks some sort of progress for Berlin: a big hunk of stone out in the middle of nowhere which doesn't commemorate some shameful (not to mention pride-inducing) incident. It just is. I felt a lot better when, walking back towards Potsdamer Platz, I stumbled on a big ornate statue of Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn's pal, philosopher and writer. Looked like an early 19th Century job, muse proffering laurel-wreath and all. Also, there was graffiti all over it. I was still in Berlin.

When I got to Potsdamer Platz, via an unfamiliar approach (although I was happy to walk past the Cornwall Pasty Company and note that it's still open, since it's a great place to grab lunch down that way), I saw something that boggled me: inside the mall...I mean Arkaden...there were
German tourists getting a guided tour of the place. There's something so quintessentially German about that, I reflected, as if you couldn't be sure what you were seeing until it was explained to you, never mind that 99% of the shops there were identical with shops in any good-sized German town or city. Sort of like the lectures learned art historians give before the opening of any gallery show or museum exhibition, long-winded expositions of the obvious, albeit in very high German.

It occurred to me, as I left, bagels in hand, that I should continue my contrary approach to this trip I've made so often, and so I walked down Leipziger Str. on the side I never go on. This took me past the Bundesrat, a Parliament building, and there I found another Mendelssohn family monument, a tiny plaque screwed onto one side of it which noted that it was the site of the first Mendelssohn bank, the place where Felix wrote the overture to Midsummer Night's Dream, and the place where his sister Fanny was married and held the weekly Hausmusik concerts.

Not far past that was the Bulgarian Embassy, and the Kubrat Hotel, where, I guess, Bulgarians stay when they're in town. Bulgaria Air was offering one-way trips to Sofia for €111, which was tempting, but I noticed that the Bulgarian restaurant the Kubrat used to have attached to it was now an Italian restaurant. Same colors on the flag, but, I noted, checking one against the other, in different order.

I continued down the street, and walked past the T-Com House I mentioned in the last post. There were various bits of propaganda there, including what purported to be the diary of a woman who spent a weekend there with her husband and child (a woman, of course, is perfect for showing the average Telekom customer that the technology there is so simple that even a woman can use it!), and I was gratified to see that she downloaded and watched a film on Saturday evening: Meet Joe Black, which I believe is commonly held to be one of the worst films of the past decade.

Just past that was the Kommunikatiionsmuseum, and it was talking to me in English. The reason for this is that this is the Einstein Year here in Berlin, the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Theory of Relativity, and what I was hearing was Einstein giving speeches and interviews, and being broadcast into the street by the museum. There is a lot of Einstein stuff going on this year, and I really should get out and see what it's all about, the kind of thing I used to be paid to do and always enjoyed. Not that anyone wants the story these days, but hey, it keeps the brain oiled.

After that, the walk was a bit of an anticlimax, but hey, how can you top Einstein and Mendelssohn? Not to mention huge pink sandstone boulders.

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