Berlin: Just for a Moment
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One of the cities I would most like to return to is Berlin as I felt there was a lot more to discover, not least HANSA Studios and Tempelhof. Berlin as you may know has a long history with music and the avant-garde and I’ll get onto that in due course.
However for a few moments in 2006 and even less on a snowy night in 2018 I was present in the magnificent German capital. Here’s the lowdown…
Regrettably it isn’t Tegal that welcomes me but the lo-cost Schonefeld – flying Easyjet from Bristol where I stop for a Kurrywurst in a novelty carriage next to the terminal. My first mission was to find the hostel whose name escapes me but it was nice save the snoring buffoon and some crappy staff. The power shower drilled pins and needles into me. You could say I was energised to see the city.
First evening’s sortie is to get acquainted with the neighbourhood. I journey to the Berlin Tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city. At night it’s a vision in white and I pay the money to ascend to its nerve centre, the viewing platform. From there I can see the lights of the traffic and the city but I’ve no idea where anything is, it’s merely a kaleidoscope of light.
On his Corona Diaries podcast Marillion singer Steve Hogarth recalled the city before the wall came down as vibrant, arty and a Reichstag riddled with bullet holes (much like the HALA MIROWSKA in Warsaw) and the Adlon Hotel (since refurbished) near the Brandenburg Gate with its super sweet Almond Coffee.
I don’t notice the Adlon or maybe I did in passing but my focus was on seeing the sites and to that end the Brandenberg Gate and Reichstag cupola stood before me. I shoot a reasonable shot of the gate before passing beneath it and towards the famous German parliament building.
There’s a queue to get in but it moves reasonably fast as I go through security. I don’t remember much of the actual building – it was all about getting to the roof and that Norman Foster designed cupola where I’m enthralled by the wonder of its helter-skelter walkways.
It’s all very cool, clean and you’d be forgiven but also mistaken for thinking the Reichstag had never seen a bad day. It had of course, during the riot and burning of 1933.
I have a quick wander through Tiergarten and on to Kurfurstendamm on which lies the famous Ka De We shop (a bit like Selfridges in London). Both Kurfurstendamm and Ka De We are given reference in song; the former by John Foxx and the latter in David Bowie’s Where Are We Now? *website is only in German.
Yesterday’s trauma is today’s tourism. Inevitably my time comes to go in search of what’s left of the wall and there are fragments dotted around the city. I end up at Checkpoint Charlie – now it’s tourism but it would have been fraught with tension during the tenure of the wall.
That story is documented at the 1961 museum – Unfortunately my visit coincided with a bus load of English school kids one of whom says – face palm moment – ‘it’s just a wall, what’s the big deal!?’
STATION TO STATION
On an S-Bahn or U-bahn train we pass the zoo station as referenced by U2 in their song of the same, a killer track opening their Achtung Baby album part recorded in the cities legendary HANSA studios – see below and then something strange happens.
The train stops at a station but it’s not showing on the map. Whatever it is a big, modern and very new. Only then do I notice adjacent to me on the other side of the station construction workers in orange and shrink wrapped lifts – this place was not officially open!
It was the cities new Hauptbahnhoff (Central Station) and it is amazing! The station is nicknamed the glass sausage because of its long elongated design and was conceived by a team of architects: Meinhard von Gerkan and Jürgen Hillmer, the STUDIO HAMBURG Gerkan, Marg & Partners and took 10 years to build. My viewing was merely the end of the process.
It’s a crossroads of Europe station with several levels and like Amsterdam’s Sloterdijk has north/south and east/west tracks. And speaking of trains mysterious Swede Stina Nordenstam’s Trainsurfing video was shot in the city and that would lead nicely to the music…
HANSA BY THE WALL
As promised here’s a selection of some of the albums recorded or part recorded in Berlin’s HANSA studios:
“Heroes” and Low – Bowie *though part of the Berlin trilogy Lodger wasn’t actually recorded there.
Construction Time Again (also at The Garden studio in London), Some Great Reward and Black Celebration – Depeche Mode (also shared with London)
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian (part in London)
Tinderbox – Siouxsie and the Banshees (part in London)
Night Time and Brighter Than a Thousand Suns – Killing Joke
Flame – Real Life (part in London and Melbourne)
Misplaced Childhood – Marillion (still not heard this album shock horror!)
Achtung Baby – U2 (part Dublin)
Tiger Suit – KT Tunstall (and London)
Rewind The Film and Futurology – Manics (part recorded in Wales)
Hotspot – Pet Shop Boys
The good thing is that you can actually take a tour! This is one of the things I’d like to do if ever I get another check in to Berlin. Likewise with Tempelhof.
BERLIN IN FILM
Now lets take a quick tour of Berlin in film, like many uber-cities there’s a great deal to choose from but these are a few that caught my eye.
Berlin Calling (2008) is a tragicomedy set around the cities electronic music scene. 2009 seems to be a particular purple patch for the city and the music theme continues with Berlin – Lost In Time And Space which documents the music scene in West Berlin between 1970 and 1989. Contributions come from David Bowie, Nina Hagen, Einstürzende Neubauten, and others.
Speaking of the time when Berlin was divided by the wall the ever fascinating actress and almost cultural ambassador for Scotland Tilda Swinton gets on her bike to follow the course of the former wall in Cynthia Beatt’s The Invisible Frame. It’s a sequel to Cycling the Frame set 21 years previous – I’d really like to see both.
The same year (see I said it was a purple patch) sees Volker Heise at the helm for 24 Hours Berlin (24 h Berlin – Ein Tag im Leben) – another documentary revealing the personal lives of 50 Berliners.
Now perhaps the most intriguing of all – Fuck for Forest (2012), yet another documentary profiling an environmental organisation which raises money for the rainforest by way of porn! How very Berlin! Directed by a Pole Michal Marczak.
A couple frame the view from an artistic perspective: The City Named Desire is a 2009 documentary of the city as seen by famous artists and Berlin Stories (2014) takes a similar stance from a literary angle.
Berlin, I Love You is more or less the cities version of Paris Je’Taime – a series of ten short stories that take place in the city also featuring a stellar line-up: Kiera Knightly, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson, Mickey Rourke, Jenna Dewan, Diego Luna etc.
In 2018 enroute to Frankfurt I stop in Berlin again, it’s cold, snowy but no less exciting even if all I see is the bus station and immediate surround including another tower. Like Guangzhou it’s a slender neon chameleon changing colours amid the falling sepia snow lit yellow in the night.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
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Flightpath Tegel – John Foxx
Berlin – Lou Reed
Summer in Berlin – Alphaville
Kurfurstendamm – John Foxx
Berlin – Marillion
Cross The Border – Icehouse
V2-Schneider – David Bowie
Dancing in Berlin – Berlin
Zoo Station – U2
Trainsurfing – Stina Nordenstam ft Brett Anderson
The Chase – Propaganda
Save Tempelhof – Alphaville
Where Are We Now? – David Bowie
Just for a Moment – Ultravox