Surface-Scratching in Berlin by Lily Greenberg


Part 3 of my vacances d'hiver was Berlin: again, I was supposed to spend 4 full days there, but because of the snow storm in Edinburgh, this was reduced to 48 hours. A crying shame considering how bottomless this city is! 

In Berlin, I stayed in a hostel in a neighborhood called Mitte, a pretty hip/gentrified quarter of the city. I was mostly on my own, though I also had the chance to meet up with my friend Emily, who I had studied abroad with in Orvieto and has now just moved to Berlin to start a new job. 

Berlin struck me as a city of subcultures, of unbelievable specificity, of profound historical significance. It pulls in two different directions, one that features cutting edge contemporary art scenes and represents all the current trends; and the other that maintains a discussion on its past. Berlin seemed to have something for everyone. 

Serving time as a tourist, I took a walking tour of many of the historical sites, including the Berlin Wall (the stark West side vs. the vibrant East), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Bebelplatz (known for the Nazi book-burning ceremonies), and the apartment where Hitler lived and eventually committed suicide. The most striking to me was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (pictured below). It was a physical space to enter, made of concrete slabs. On the exterior, the slabs are pretty low to the ground, but as the viewer walks further in, the slabs increase in height. I felt smaller and smaller as I walked along, the slabs towering and looming over me. Something about this memorial felt really right when thinking about such widespread atrocity. It was amorphous, ambiguous, dark, and overwhelming. 

And, in the same breath, I delved into some of the contemporary scenes. I saw several installations at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art. At the former, my favorites expos were of Judith Hopf (sculpture and film) and Trix and Robert Haussman (interior design). At the latter, I saw a great sculpture collection as well as a pop art expo (featuring some fab Andy Warhol's!). My one big disappointment of the trip was that I tried to also go to the Bauhaus Collections Museum only to find out that it literally just closed for renovations, and will remain closed for the next four years. I learned about Walter Gropius while working for Historic New England, and fell in love with his summer home in Lincoln, MA. I was so excited to see this museum that he designed, and bummed to find it closed. Ah well, looks like I'll have to come back in 4 years time....

I loved the specificity I found in Berlin. A bookstore was never a general book store. No, it was a subversive zine store, or a contemporary art book store, or a French book store. I drank excellent coffee (my favorite place being The Barn (Nashville friends, think Barista Parlor), and could find anything under the sun to eat (again, all vegan). 

I had so little time, but it was just enough to leave me anxious for more. I'll be back for you, Berlin.