Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Berlin

Berlin has Risen and Fallen More Than Once. We're About to See it Rise Again. 

Sunset over Schlüterstraße. Berlin, Germany. 01.19.2017
Germany has come a long way since the days of Otto von Bismarck and his famous, "Blood and Iron" speech. If one were to trace Germany, and Berlin's, history on a graph it might resemble a Sine Wave. 

Going up with Bismarck's unification of Germany, and then down with Kaiser Wilhelm II and the First World War. With the ascension of Hitler and the Nazi Party a brief period of economic growth followed by the destruction and death of World War II.

Having just spent a month in Berlin, I think it's safe to say the city is coming 'up' once more. There are construction projects underway in several neighbourhoods, and Germany can only become a more desirable place to do business in. Particularly with the United States under Trump being so unpredictable for at least the next 4 years.  

Fragments of Berlin's history can be found everywhere; sometimes you almost trip over them because there are so many. It's almost impossible to understand the Berlin of 2017 without knowing something about the city's long and sometimes dark history. Reading Rory MacLean's Berlin: Imagine a City sheds light on this history by using each chapter to tell the story of a person who did something of consequence while living in Berlin.

Many of MacLean's subjects are famous - Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, and to a lesser extent Christopher Isherwood are all household names. 

Dietrich made her career as a film star who fled Nazi Germany for the United States. You can still find plenty of artwork, including one of Berlin's famous bear statues, devoted to her at the Intercontinental Hotel on Budapester Straße

David Bowie arrived in Berlin in 1976 to kick a Cocaine addiction and re-energize himself creatively. The result was his 'Berlin Trilogy' of Low, Heroes, and Lodger. At the Hansa Studios located at 38 Köthener Straße he made wonderfully edgy electronic music with Brian Eno and others that has stood the test of time.

My personal favourite chapter of Berlin: Imagine a City is devoted to author Christopher Isherwood. While in Berlin he lived near Nollendorfplatz, now one of the city's defined gaybourhoods. There Isherwood wrote Goodbye to Berlin, which depicts a city on the edge of becoming something else under the Nazis. Much is hinted at, and deeper meaning is left for the reader to piece together.

Part of the point of coming to Berlin for Isherwood (and many other gay men) was the opportunity to act on his desires and live the life he wanted for himself.

As MacLean writes: "Isherwood didn't want to live forever in his head. He wanted to touch, and be touched. He was a sensual boy, hemmed in by an English timidity of physical contact... (In Berlin) Isherwood could touch and be touched, stroke and sink into surrender." 

Today Berlin is still a place where you can do this, regardless of whether you're gay or straight. The wonderful directness of many Germans, together with the existence of certain clubs and venues, is a gift. The emphasis here is on having sex and a good time - not on endless game playing. Which is as it should be.

Even with the armies of tour guides and pieces of history all around you, what's worth paying attention to most is Berlin's future. 
Having been there for a month, it`s not hard to imagine a time when Berlin is the beating heart of Europe. A capitol for tech savvy, open minded, curious people to grow and thrive in. 

To all the Earthbound Extraterrestrials and Misfits reading this - take note. 

Berlin is a place for you. 

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