Weißensee (Berlin XVI)

The Jewish cemetery at Weißensee in Berlin is a wondrous place.

It is vast in space with more than 100,000 graves, and the Jewish tradition of leaving graves undisturbed in perpetuity has created a vastness in time.

What we have here is a landscape of time.

Miraculously, the cemetery was largely unharmed by war and the Nazis, but has suffered vandalism after the second world war. We humans are strange, we can’t even leave the dead unharmed.

Traditional tombstones mingle with more contemporary designs, like the one above for the grave of Stefan Heym.

Long alleys through memory lead to the eternal question:

What will the future bring?

Doors (Berlin XIII)

During the second world war, Hohenschönhausen was a heavily bombed industrial area in the northeast of Berlin.

In 1945, one of the few still intact buildings was used by the Soviet Secret Police as Special Camp 3, a prison camp to intern Nazis and other undesired elements.

The pictures above are from the former cafeteria, converted into prison cells by forced labor.

In 1951, the East German Stasi took over and added a new building with nicer rooms.

It was used as a highly secret interrogation prison, with few people knowing about its existence. Dissidents and other people stubbornly seeking to leave the young republic were brought here into solitary confinement to solicit confessions.

At night, prisoners were checked on every few minutes and woken up if their sleeping position in bed deviated from the norm. The sound of the keyhole latches is still causing nightmares to the survivors.

The psychological torture aimed to make the prisoners feel utterly alone, disoriented, and hopeless.

An open door became even more terrifying than a closed one.

Grunewald Cemetery (Berlin XII)

Close to the Havel — a famous place to drown — secluded, away from any popular hiking trails, in the largest forest of the western part of Berlin, the Grunewald, is a little cemetery.

It is for the misfits, the nameless ones, by fate or choice.

It is a somber place, but it doesn’t depress. Instead it makes us calm and serene. I would even say this is a place I could live.

The earliest graves are from 1900, many of them overgrown.

Some of the graves are mass graves, for fallen soldiers who had no other place.

I wish we knew all their stories.

Braun (Berlin XI)

Taste changes, as do necessities.

What you see here are impressions from the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which has been controversial for two decades, mainly for financial reasons.

My own reservations are more of a more esthetic and, alas, political nature. At first, I was struck by its boredom.

We have low ceilings, steel, glass, and — brown decor.

The prevalence of the color brown (mostly in the form of dead wood and marble tiles) darkens the place, and, much worse, reminds me of an esthetic that I believed had been overcome long ago.

Curiously, the older airport Berlin-Tegel (which had replaced airport Berlin-Tempelhof, famous for the being used for the Luftbrücke during the Berlin Blockade) still feels much more modern, with its successful usage of simple geometric shapes like hexagons and triangles to create an efficient and stimulating atmosphere, was co-designed by the same architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.

Admittedly, here in Indiana I am used to the color brown, and I have always feared that it supports an unhealthy emotional state.

At least here, at BER, there is a solution built-in: Leave.

History Lessons (Berlin X)

If you search the internet for Cemeteries at Hallesches Tor, you will find blog posts about this cemetery, and some of them mention an encounter with a friendly middle aged man.

Saying a greeting led to a polite exchange, which in turn led to a conversation about the cemetery in general, which in turn led to an in-depth discussion of many specific graves.

This is another one of these blog posts. I, too, met this person, and received the best history lesson I had in my entire life.

For instance, I learned about the strange markings on many graves that look like gun shot holes. They are from gun shots, inflicted in one of the many utterly senseless battles of the Second Word War, when the Nazis forced teenage boys to confront the Soviet army, with only a handful of ammunition and no hope but death.

Or about the bunker that the Nazis build on this cemetery after making room by eliminating all traces of the Jewish graves, a bunker that was never used as it filled instantly with ground water, a bunker that has resisted demolition ever since, a bunker that couldn’t be more meaningless.

Or about the grave of Archduke Leopold Ferdinand of Austria, one of the last hopes of the Austrian Monarchy after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, one of the escalations that led to the First World War, but who happily renounced his title in order to marry the sex worker Wilhelmine Adamovicz. His grave (together with this third wife Clara Hedwig Pawlowski) is reportedly still visited yearly by mourning monarchists.

Other visitors commemorate E.T.A. Hoffmann’s death by following his request not to bring flowers but champagne…

And of course there are graves of mathematicians, like the one of the immortal Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, and less famous ones, like the one of Horst Kirchmeier, whose brave attempts to liberalize the German law governing sexual offenses went rather far.

I could continue my history lesson for a while. Or write about the symbolic of the cast iron fences.

Or about the massive thefts of tomb decorations that apparently sell world wide for enormous sums. Or what happened to the churches to which this cemetery belonged, and what buildings are there now… Another day.

Disappearances (Berlin VII)

One of my favorite post-wall places to photograph in Berlin is the Hauptbahnof, the main railway station, about which I have written twice already.

If you look at the previous posts, you will see that I took full advantage there of the strong lines that steal beams, rails, escalators and elevators offer.

The many transparent and reflective surfaces seem to emphasize the structural strength even more, but one can also take a different point of view.

Using a shallow depth of field, the lines disappear in secondary and tertiary layers. Out of the sudden we become insecure, and the certainty of the place is cast in doubt.

The overwhelming feeling of being here and now is replaced by questions about elsewhere and tomorrow. A mistake? I don’t think so. After all, we come here in order to leave.

Dark Matter (Berlin VI)

Dark Matter is a light-sound installation by Christopher Bauder, distributed over seven rooms. Abstract shapes move in space, change color to sound, a concept not unlike the ballets Wassily Kandinsky designed a hundred years ago.

While the aspect of motion gets lost in the static images here, I didn’t find the first few rooms compelling, the shapes are too simple, the action to little.

What really was missing, however, became clear in the Polygon Playground, where an artificial hill could be climbed and interacted with, providing the visitors with a bath in light.

From then on I became more fascinated by the reaction of the visitors to the art than by the art itself.

Or maybe I had just misunderstood before, maybe all the installations are just a canvas on which the actual art is happening.

This became even clearer in Grid, where dozens of light tubes move to an epic electronic composition by Robert Henke (Monolake), transfixing the audience.

Interaction has become art.

Borders to Canvasses (Devil’s Mountain III)

The interior of the four-story building that supports the domes of the former Cold War listening station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin is accessible only through two (new) exterior stairwells. Each has a long corridor (without any doors!), and open spaces separated by walls.

Most of the walls are decorated with the most wonderful graffiti in bright colors.

The entire building has become a piece of art.

Views through the ‘windows’ show more building-sized graffitis.

So in a miraculous way, one of the most secretive and locked up places from Cold War Berlin has become an organic landscape of open art.

If only we all could deal with our own borders like this.

Fading Time (Devil’s Mountain II)

One of the most fascinating buildings in the old listening station on the Devil’s Mountain is the Villa. That’s my name, I don’t know what it is called, or as what it was used for. We are free to imagine.

Dark corridors eventually lead to brighter rooms, where the colors of the outside graffiti is blinding.

Then, the main room, in faded colors, with shards from a faded time. Who can sit on a chair like this?

And was that lamp used to take away the light?

It seems like all the happiness has been removed from this place.

And yet what has been left behind appears to be waiting for something, for someone.

Is this how the place looks like where we will eventually go?

Or is it us that will be like this?

Berlin Alexanderplatz (10mm VI)

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In Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the place of that name is being used to dramatically convey transformation: Franz Bieberkopf  is traumatized by the changes it has  undergone while he spent years in prison, and stands for the transformations he himself will undergo.

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Döblin’s novel takes place in the 1920s, and Berlin has undergo dramatic changes since. After the destructions of the Second World War and the division of the city, it was no longer the single city center. The architects of the Eastern part weren’t insensitive, they kept the space open and repurposable.

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Nearby churches were renovated and allowed other change to happen, later.

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the administrative buildings were taken down. The facade of the Palace of the Republic used to annoy the people of power with distorted reflections of the nearby cathedral. Not anymore.

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Radically modern buildings show that transformation is still possible. This leaves hope for Franz’s children.

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