The Online Home Of John Moorhead

Daily Archives: April 7, 2012

Walking the Streets of Berlin

I hadn’t realised that most of Berlin was bombed to pieces during World War II. One wonders whether this wasn’t excessive even in military terms, for the war ended when Soviet troops occupied the city, and it hard to see how this was aided by such things as the destruction of the Neue Synagoge by British bombing in 1943, an act that deserves to be placed next to the detonation of an atomic bomb directly above the Roman Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki by the Americans in 1945.

This said, some surprisingly interesting early buildings remain, my favourite among them the beautiful Gothic Marienkirche, its exterior made of pieces added at various times which form a whole that is oddly satisfying and its white interior, illuminated through plain glass windows, full of light. It has little in common with its neighbour, the tall TV tower known as the Fernsehturm, a piece of Socialist architecture that seems to work. There is the famous Brandenburger Tor of 1791, and from a slightly later period some interesting buildings in the classical style by Karl Friedrick Schinkel, while the Berliner Dom, the chief place of worship of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, occupies a central place. I wish I could find something positive to say about this building, which stands proudly aloof from its environment (its Umwelt, to use the handy German word)  and conveys nothing spiritual. More successful is the glass dome that has been erected over the Reichstag, which immediately made me think of the London Gherkin, and sure enough it too is the work of Norman Foster. There’s not all that much to see from the Nazi period, and surely wisely little is done to draw attention to the site of Hitler’s Bunker.

But for most visitors to Berlin interiors will be more interesting than exteriors, and three of its museums are stunning. In addition to the collections from the ancient world for which it is famous, the Pergamonmuseum has a floor devoted to art from the Islamic world that has many beautiful and thought provoking pieces. The contents of two other museums prompt thoughts that will be better left to subsequent postings.