Berlin – City of Lights

1 11 2007

Paris may be usually known as the city of lights, and it is true that most cities look more impressive when night falls, but this year we got a special treat, and came to Berlin during the third annual Festival of Lights.

         Festival of Lights.

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The Lives of Others

22 10 2007

The Oscar winning film “The Lives of Others” from 2006 (“Das Leben der Anderen” in German) is another film about the days of the former German Democratic Republic, very different in ambience from the film Goodbye Lenin!.

The Lives of Others.

Click on the picture to buy the DVD.

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Goodbye Lenin!

20 10 2007

The film Goodbye Lenin!, from 2003, was the most prominent example of Ostalgie to the world outside Germany. The film is basically about a son who, for his mother’s health, tries to create a make-believe world, in which the Wall didn’t come done and the GDR didn’t disappear from the face of the earth.

Goodbye Lenin!

Click on the picture to buy the DVD.

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Ampelmann, the East German traffic light man

18 10 2007

My personal favorite Ostalgie item, as I mentioned before, is the Ampelmann, the man in the traffic lights of East Germany (“Ampel” is “traffic-light” in German).

Ampelmann.

My first encounter with the Ampelmann was actually in a traffic-light. I immediately liked that cute darling. And then I found out about his oh so naïve and sweet history, but also about its outrageous commercialization. I mean, I really wanted an Ampelmann bag, but not at these prices. So I settled for a woolen hat and shirt, and a little green man for my key chain. I also got a small book elaborating on the history of the man, the brand and the various products.

Ampelmann bags Ampelmann ice cubes

The Ampelmann was created by the traffic psychologist (what a weird profession, I’d say) Karl Peglau, in 1961. The rationale was to combat the danger of road accidents by using appealing symbols, since “road users react more quickly to appealing symbols” (well, maybe. I don’t believe it would have worked here). Read the rest of this entry »




Ostalgie

14 10 2007

After dealing with the commemoration of the darker side of the communist regime in East Germany, I turn now to deal with the phenomenon of Ostalgie, also mentioned here before, in relation to the current situation of the German Unification.

Ostalgie is like it sounds – the German word for nostalgia for life in the former German Democratic Republic (Ost is east in German). Everybody knows, most of all people who actually lived there, that the tearing down of the Wall was not a spontaneous whimsical act that happened with no reason. So I think it’s pretty obvious that Ostalgie does not mean wanting to live again under a totalitarian dictatorship and the unbound reign of the secret police.
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Tiergarten

6 10 2007

Tiergarten (translation: “animal garden”) is Berlin’s Central Park (although somewhat smaller than New York’s). It is located in the heart of the city, and is a popular outdoor oasis for Berliners and tourists.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

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Berlin, Alexanderplatz – the novel

28 09 2007

Berlin Alexanderplatz is a novel by Alfred Döblin, published in 1929. It is a story about a small time criminal, Franz Biberkopf, who at the beginning of the book had just got out of prison, his struggle to become a good rehabilitated citizen, and his road back to the underworld. It is situated in the Alexanderplatz district, which was a working class district in 1920s Berlin. It’s really a wonderful book, that besides telling a captivating story, also gives you a very tangible feeling of the time and place.

Döblin was a German expressionist writer. His father, who abandoned the family when Döblin was 10, was Jewish, and he held leftist political views, so when the Nazis came to power, he lived in exile in France, and then in the USA, like many other German intellectuals and writers.

The novel was adapted twice into a movie. The first time was in 1931. The author himself worked on the adaptation, and it was directed by Piel Jutzi. It was 85 minutes long. The second time was in 1980, when Rainer Werner Fassbinder (quite an fascinating character) adapted it to a 15 and a half hours long film. Yes, 15 and a half hours. You read right.

Anyway, I really loved the book, and think it’s very worth reading. If you wish, you can purchase it on Amazon. Just click on the picture to do so.

Belin, Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin




Potsdamer Platz: culture, shopping and food

20 09 2007

Besides being an architectural gem, Potsdamer Platz is also known for its very lively scene of cultural attractions, fancy hotels, gourmet and other good restaurants, and shopping opportunities.

Shopping

I already raved about the Sony Store, but there is also the Arkaden, our favorite mall in the city of Berlin. It is stacked with food joints of all kinds – Chinese, Sushi, Wurst, Pizza, Australian food, fish, bagels and even Macdonald’s. You can also find there many known brands of clothing, such as Zara, H&M, Mango, Benetton, Bonita and many others. I especially liked the Design Forum store (very good for original gifts).

Arkaden Mall.

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Berlin Must-Sees: Potsdamer Platz

18 09 2007

Before WW2, Potsdamer Platz was a very busy square, a central transportation hub, with numerous bars, cafés and cinemas. The place was badly damaged in the war, and after the war, it became a junction of the American, British and Soviet sectors, and was cut through by the Berlin Wall. So it became a no man’s land in the middle of the city.

After the Wall came done, the area around Potsdamer Platz became the biggest construction site in Europe. Between the years 1993 and 1998, a completely new quarter was built there, very modern, with high rise buildings and a lot of metallic décor. The square, together with several adjacent blocks, were redeveloped under the supervision of the architects Wilmer and Sattler.

Potsdamer Platz.

The DaimlerChrysler complex.

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The Berlin Wall is Dying

16 09 2007

The East-Side Gallery is the only part of the original Berlin Wall that is still standing, relatively unharmed, with its beautiful historical graffiti on. Located in Friedrichshain, near the Ostbahnhof railway station, it is about 1,300 meters in length (0.8 miles), covered with over 100 paintings, some of which are real masterpieces.

When we went to see it, we were amazed at its poor condition, though. As it happened, except for a partial restoration project in 2000, the leftovers of the Berlin Wall and the East-Side Gallery were seriously neglected. Vandalism and corrosion did the rest. Read the rest of this entry »