Old and New


I love waking up in Berlin. An obvious part of that is that I am waking up in bed with the woman I love. However, there is more to it. Berlin is a city that I am coming to love more and more. 

Travelling into the centre of the city yesterday, I was struck once again by the fusion of architecture. Grand red-brick buildings sitting easily side by side with modern, often zanily coloured, structures. In London, this mishmash of styles seems to clash, to jar on the senses. In Berlin it just works. 

I couldn’t work out why at first, both cities are well established and cosmopolitan after all. After some thought I reached the conclusion that the difference is Berlin’s recent history. It is a city that has been torn apart, and then sewn back together again. Walking around, there is a sense of old Germany and new. Whilst there are tensions and problems, mostly there is a cheerful tolerance. London shares that tolerance of change, but it has grown fat and complacent, even about its own denizens. Its new architecture is born of wealth and the pursuit of more wealth. Mirrored buildings rising high, their steel structures exclusive and discouraging to the ordinary passerby. We gape briefly at them, but there is no comfort there, no sense of ownership. 

In Berlin, new buildings have been born of necessity. First from the destruction of a terrible war, and then from the re-unification of the city split asunder by grasping superpowers. Small train stations are now shiny transport hubs connecting the city back to the country. Office buildings, hotels and apartments nestle against each other, all built at different times and in different styles and colours.

History has been preserved. The beautiful dome, broken by bombs. The sky tower built to spy. The quiet tiled train station, once use to transport people to their death, now preserved to remind and educate. A section of the wall, once a place of despair and death, is now a gallery of art. Oh yes, the art. It seems that any small corner of space left around the city is filled with it. Walls everywhere are emblazoned with colours and images. Even the graffiti on the trains work in Berlin, they communicate its indomitable spirit. 

I saw a street sign on my way from the airport, ‘Königin-Elisabeth-Straße’. I thought I understood, but had to confirm the dreadful idea. Yes, there was indeed a street in the middle of the capital of Germany named after my monarch. We were in what had been the British Sector, and many streets had been renamed in this way. But this is Berlin, so not only had the name stayed, but the buildings along it celebrate by calling themselves ‘Queens’ this and that. It somehow summed up the city. Berliners just get on with the changing of the times.

History is not forgotten in Berlin, but it is a city that is reaching for the future. People are truly living in Berlin, rebuilding it from the ground up, and you can feel it around you. There is hope, determination and creativity in the air, and I love waking up and breathing it in.

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