Needed to redeem myself for yesterday’s unproductive behavior. Woke up early. On foot first-thing. Purchased a city map and circled what I wanted to accomplish. Headed down Unter den Liden towards Museum Island. It’s precisely what it sounds like: small area surrounded by canals, containing museums and cathedrals… with additional museums inside said cathedrals.
Stumbled on a World War II memorial I didn’t circle on the map. It was called Neue Wache, which means “New Guardhouse”. The exterior consisted of greek-style columns and a pediment with robed men and horses. The outside did nothing to communicate the power of what waited within it’s walls. The aged concrete exterior became gray rectangular tiles. Wide, empty space. And in the center beneath a circular skyline sat a black statue; A hooded woman holding her deceased son against her chest. The statue is referred to as “Mother with Her Dead Son”. The dead space, the statue and the overcast light pouring in from above created a sense of despair; Dread and loneliness. Like walking through a nightmarish painting.
The feeling of melancholy lingered after I departed. Perhaps from the memorial, I thought. But then I realized that it had been there since I arrived in Berlin. There’s a sadness that looms over the beautiful architecture and friendly locals. Numerous memorials throughout Berlin are a constant reminder of what happened 76 years ago. That wasn’t that long ago. I was reminded of Quentin Tarantino when he discussed premiering his 6th film, Inglorious Basterds, in Berlin. He described the experience as being the first World War II film that German audiences could cheer at. He claimed that it was the first time a German audience could watch a World War II without feeling this inevitable deep shame.
That’s not to say there weren’t good, moral men who strived to serve Germany and not the Nazi party. Men like the character Tom Cruise portrayed in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, General von Stauffenberg, who attempted a coup with other high-level officers against Adolf Hitler to remove the Nazi party from power. Von Stauffenberg was executed shortly after operation Valkyrie failed. When his turn came to be shot by firing squad, his last words were: “Long live our sacred Germany!” Despite this, there’s an undeniable sadness that carries itself through Berlin for what happened then.
I made it to Museum Island but I wasn’t keen on standing in long lines and, frankly, I wasn’t interested in walking through another museum. Especially those unrelated to Germany and it’s history. I continued down den Linden until I found the Soviet War Memorial Treptow. This was created to commemorate the fallen Russian soldiers who fell at the battle of Berlin in April-May of 1945. The portion I saw consisted of a gray marble wall in semi-circle with a single Russian soldier over top. He was in full gear. Gazing down at you. Felt like his indented eyeballs followed your every move as he towered over you.
I continued on to the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Another monument with neoclassical design. Two street musicians played cello and violin in the center courtyard. They played beautifully. There was a camera crew equipped with Canon C300s and a sound mixer capturing b-roll for the Mercedes Fashion Week event parading down the street. The volinist wasn’t happy about them filming and recording his music without some sort of permission. He argued with them for a time until relenting; This was a familiar site back home. But the moment he and his partner resumed playing, he was somewhere else. I captured multiple images of them playing before I departed and the few times his eyes opened while he played, it was a different person than the man I watched squabble with the camera crew. Demonic in his focus. I continued to the Reichburg building, which was a parliament building with a 360-degree dome structure over top. Resembled an alien spacecraft landing on it’s roof. Unfortunately the dome was closed due to renovations until the 10th.
Then, I found myself at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This area was more alive than anywhere else I’d passed through in Berlin. There was more positive energy here than anywhere else in the city. This area resembled an exaggerated graveyard with gray concrete blocks becoming larger in size the nearer you came to the memorial's center. Laughter of children echoed off the walls. Kids playing hide and seek. Appearing and disappearing around corners. It was a welcome change to the otherwise depressing ambience of the city. I didn’t anticipate a resurgence of energy from anywhere, let alone from this memorial specifically.
There was a storm approaching. I started backtracking towards “home” but I couldn’t bring myself to call it a day without stepping foot inside one of the museums or cathedrals in Berlin. I opted for the Berlin Cathedral. Like the York Minster cathedral, the building’s outside was covered in scaffolding but the interior was majestic. The enormity of the main room was overwhelming. Vast in scope. I sat down for a half hour observing every detail I could absorb. The altar had a solid gold cross with a skylight acting as a spotlight. I climbed the alleged 267 steps to the building’s roof access and observed the city skyline. Despite the lingering melancholy I mentioned, Berlin is an extraordinarily beautiful city.
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