I have never been to Berlin or Germany, maybe its because of the language barrier or cultural differences, who knows but thanks to the invite of a new friend the opportunity was too hard to reject. I arrived at the district of Schoneberg to be received at a stunning turn of the century apartment and was welcomed by my host with schnitzel for dinner and a cold glass of Riesling.
Unlike other European cities the first impression I got was the street and road planning, how modern it all felt. Not only modern but clean. Interestingly, earlier I had read a travel guide from 1907 by Charles Haud that quotes “Paris is a stable, London a sewer and New York a pigsty compared to Berlin. I must admit I think this description could still be used today.
Walking over the pedestrian bridge over the River Spree overlooking the Berliner Dom we headed to our first compulsory visit, the Neues Museum to explore the breathtaking Gates of Babylon and her majesty the iconic Nefertiti. But rather than describing my agenda I would like to highlight how this city has impressed me.
Its impossible to avoid the impact the Second World War had on the city, you can even feel its presence. There is an energy of quiet stillness as if the ghosts knew that something terrible had happened not so long ago. My grandmother was posted here as a Fany ( First Aid Nursing Yeomanry ) and after reading up on her I discovered their importance in the war as drivers, nurses and even secret agents. Coincidently she was also a keen photographer and I clearly remember her vintage camera very much like my new mirrorless Olympus. Today, sixty years later since she was here I feel Im seeing Berlin through her camera lenses.
There is something sober and a “no frills” feeling about Berlin very much like my grandmother and her generation. A lack of attitude and a certain coolness that seems to envelope those who live here and even those who are simply visiting. There is no room for brash, flashy bling or glam something which in this world of low cost travel and cheap thrills is very unusual. After reading vintage travel guides from the early 1900s of Berlin this description is nothing new to the city. Its seems it was always ahead of its time without trying to make a statement of it. As if to say: “yes there is another way of living but we don't need to brag about it so come and discover it for yourself”. To refer Berlin as the so called “Birthplace of a Modern Identity” fits perfectly even today. Somehow these so called new cities like Dubai don't seem so modern after all.
Finally, I want to thank our host and friend Isah for his kindness and generosity. I will now let this all sink in but I feel something is cooking and its just a question of time before I take it out the oven.