In Berlin now, was intending on only a three day visit but extended another day then another... it's a fascinating place. There's a kind of hard edge to it, which somewhat to my surprise suited me--there's not the frou frou of Paris, the faded glory of Vienna, the faded misery of Budapest, the obvious charm of Prague, the obvious money of Zurich... it's what it is, the German nononsense, there are rules in the world and you must live by them... one could easily compare Berliners to NewYorkers.
I visit the Bauhaus archives, the design movement that in many ways shape we know as modernity in physical form. What’s interesting is that Bauhaus had a strong socialist leaning, desiring “art for the masses,” in which they failed, after which its visual language and architecture are widely adopted by capitalist corporations. The exhibitions are unimpressive, the formal experiments with out the messages are dead on the wall, and to honest and direct to be interesting.
Post modern (or is it post-post-modern?)
I happen upon the Sony and Daimler Chrysler complexes, the new commercial center of new Berlin that arises out of nothing into a steel and glass micro-metropolis. I thought the Sony Metreon in San Francisco was over designed… this Sony complex makes Metreon look like a primitive cardboard box. It’s impressive, especially at night with the constantly shifting pink-purple-blue light, and it’s not difficult to envision German style new architecture—the teutonic tectonic—as the design solution for the mega metropolises of the future.
Then outside the complex on the Postdamer Platz, where a new haptbahnhof is being constructed along with many new commercial buildings, I come to a small exhibition of Yann Arthus-Bertrand “The Earth from Above” photos. Taken from helicoptors, these pictures show myriad effects of human habitation on earth and are absolutely stunning. I happened upon the book last year and immediately bought three copies. But on this backdrop of concrete and metal jungle, for global corporations to put on an exhibition with a strong message of environmental and cultural preservation, for people to ogle at natural beauty in far and not so far away places and follow the exhibition into the mall—this is rich. People pause at the pictures… many stop for a long while, as I did. No doubt the irony of it does not escape many of them, and certainly not the exhibition’s sponsors.
A child touches a picture of Toyko, highrises without end with more than 30 million inhabitants. The city is twice rebuilt, the more recent after 1945, just like Berlin, like Dresden. The last half century have seen so many cities rise from the ashes, or from nothing, like Spring bamboo. In the next half century there will be 3 billion more in population—about 160% of current—where will this child live?
The exhibition leads into a mall, a nice mall I’m sure, but I never understand the attraction of malls. Yet they are a part of every new development plan. Are they really necessary? Do we have to keep consuming what we don’t need, otherwise the machine stops and the unspeakable happens? Another picture shows a flea market in Kenya. The artifical colorfulness of the clothes implies these are second-hand fashions donated by the first world, which has replaced indigenous clothing every where—“trickle down.” The shiny people here continue to flock to the sales.
Maybe I’m being too heavy handed with this. Berlin, afterall, is a city full of irony, and such an exhibition afterall is interesting and good. The pictures are sincere. The contrast with the surroundings enhance them in a way, and we all have increasingly sophisticated tastes that need the extra layers, or channels, of messages to satifisfy. Whether irony is a good condiment, or makes the whole thing hard to swallow, is a different story…
I think people often take circuitous, at at least oblique, routes to their goals, and not by accident but intentionally. I arrive in Prague at last, six weeks after leaving home. I arrive on the night train so by 6:30am I am in the old town square, taking pictures simply because there was no one there... I don't know what anything is or where I am, but no matter, it's for me alone to have a conversation with and find out the answers. This was a indeed fortuitous chance for a first impression--I quickly concluded this is the most beautiful city I've seen in Europe so far. Of course, I've not seen Florence, Venice, the other likely favorites of large cities, but Prague, frequently described as "magical" lives up to its reputation. History is alive here and the architecture is more varied, giving it a more charming and accessible feel. I extend my stay and scour the English newspaper which has a young, irreverant editorial tone I'm used to. However five nights pass quickly... I must leave tomorrow. Perhaps I can write more about it then...
There are those who form broad assumptions about people, with little interaction or just on sight--that they are happy or sad, sloppy or neat, work in a deadend job or is the uppity type. I always hesitate to do that, instinctively giving them leeway as I would like to be given the same leeway myself: I may have had a bad day at work, it may be a bad hair day or something equivalent, I may be in the mood for only one kind of conversation. We are all complex and unknowable, how could I ever draw any conclusions? Yet those mentioned earlier are often better judges of character than I, and are better at being known as well.
Similarly I hesitate to write, or even form, opinions about cities I travel in, knowing what I see and experience are so brief and partial, and cities are as complex and unknowable as anything. (I like to think this kind of self-censuring stems from a compassion of sorts...) But I know I should try...
"The line I trace with my feet walking to the museum is more important and more beautiful than the lines I find there hung up on the walls."This is said by Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist who was a world citizen, a Renaissance man who was said many interesting things, designed in many mediums including buildings and villages, and like all the best artists, inspires the most playful and unconventional instincts in us. He said:
"Paradise can only be made by yourself, by your own creativity, in harmony with the creativity of nature. Why use a ruler heartlessly when everyone knows that the straight line is a dangerous, comfortable fiction which leads into destruction like a poisoned candy."