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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Modernism. Hedonism. Fascism

GERMANY | Friday, 15 December 2006 | Views [2416]

Despite the rapid rebuilding of an incredibly modern and sophisticated city, Berlin is unlike almost any other city I have ever been to. Physically it seems to be huge, with wide tree lined avenues and immensely wide pedestrian paths which makes walking or cycling anywhere highly enjoyable and comparatively little traffic to most modern cities, although since there are few tall landmarks and the city is incredibly flat, getting your bearings is unusually difficult as everywhere seems to be oriented the same way.

But where is everyone? The streets seem empty and almost deserted despite the population of 3 million. The average age seems to be grey and retired. What's happened to the youth? They can't have all left. There seems to be a huge lack of energy about the place as though it has long since had the life sucked out of it; I could certainly understand why London would be considered hip, youthful and trendy by comparison. Despite this, there has obviously been a colossal re-building program since 1989 and the city is rapidly regaining its reputation for sophistication and hedonism.

Chris and I are here with Mike from Lonely Planet for a travel services conference. After my last visit to Paris I was determined to do something new and unusual. One suggestion in the Lonely Planet Berlin city guide suggested a curry sausage vendor much as we have Harry's in Sydney. Another was Cassambalis, a posh Spanish cafe just behind where we were staying. We didn't get there until late, and perhaps this was the most interesting time of the evening when most dinners had already left for bed. The food was terrific but the atmosphere was straight out of a David Lean movie, with thick red crimson drapes over the entrance to keep out the October chill, the waiter with the crisp waxed moustache, twins at the bar comparing their female body fat and two tall Russian prostitutes working their magic on two middle-aged men in cardigans with silver hair. All it needed was a dwarf in lederhosen to make an entrance through the curtain and the evening would have been complete.

With a spare afternoon we had the chance to pick something else to experience, and the new Jewish Museum was a piece of modern architecture that I knew a little about from Yuki's architecture books. This is a building or a museum as a concept and an experience rather than as a piece of design and once designed to make you more than a little uncomfortable; perhaps the single most interesting element was the Holocaust Void, a concrete enclosed space with small links that hint at an outside world but no hope of being able to reach that world. Sound and light drift in from outside through narrow windows high high up, a ladder is attached to the wall, tantalisingly out of reach, a metaphor for those victims of Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau.

The mood is one of reflection rather than oppression, which is quite an achievement given the topic, and it strikes one that this is an incredibly brave bold statement for the new Berlin, one which perhaps reflects a confidence in the future through an ability to come to terms with the past.

Tags: berlin, jewish, lonely planet, sausage, work


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