Monday, June 20, 2011

Berlin: People, Places, and Spaces; Past and Present: May 23rd - May 31st

The journey begins in Berlin, examining vast park spaces of Berlin while at the same time taking in a bit of history to have a better understanding of the people.

For the first portion of the trip we are staying on Schonhauser Alle, a major road in the Northern Berlin area of Prenzlauerburg. After just walking from the subway to the apartment it is quite apparent that the area is full of young successful families. Every third bike that goes by is accompanied by a toddler along for the ride.

Other immediate differences between Berlin and Rutgers backyard of New York City are the bicycle systems, and oddly enough the dog owners. Each road has either a bike lane on the street, or a separated bike lane on the sidewalk. Took some getting used to ,to have to look both ways before crossing the edge of the sidewalk, but nearly getting hit by a biker going at quick clip is enough to make you remember from then on. The portion of the population that rides their bike as their major form of transportation is staggering. The inner courtyard of our apartment complex is lined with bicycles, and if I had to put a figure on it id say that cars as a method of transportation within the city is probably under 20%. The strong bicycle infrastructure is complemented by one of the most efficient and convenient public transportation systems. By buying a weekly pass for about 23 euros, you can use any light rail, bus, or subway line within the city, which made exploring the park system of Berlin very easy. Tickets aren’t checked on subway or often other means either, it is just assumed that you would do the right thing and purchase your ticket despite not having anyone check up on you. This idea of civic responsibility and common decency among the population was something very refreshing to see and was very apparent in Berlin and surely the other stops on our visit.

Onto the other anomaly of Berlin, dogs more often than not go unleashed, and are trained so well that they often stay right at the heel of the owner, and if they stray far from them, they catch up on their own without being called. This was a shock to see since in America more often than not dogs are usually dragging their owners around.

We initially always begin our stay in a city with a walking tour of the neighborhood to better understand the people and area in which we are staying. From there a week of park tours began. The Mauer(Wall) Park was first visited, and constructed in memory of the wall that fell in 1989 The first thing that stuck me was the fact that a park like this would exist in the US. There was no real maintenance of the park going on, grass was growing tall and wild but did not appear to affect the usage at all. Had it been in the US the lawn would surely be neat and tidy because, well, actually there is no real good reason for that, people are just accustomed to it and expect it. But when you still see people using the park to its fullest extent on a Tuesday in the early evening, maybe taller grass isn’t so bad. It reduces maintenance costs exponentially, which is very important for a city like Berlin that is struggling economically.

We went up in the Berliner Fernehturm, which is comparable to the Seattle Space Needle. It stands at 368 meters tall, about 1100 ft. It has a upscale restaurant at the top, and also 360 degree look out point for all of Berlin. It was interesting to get a glimpse of how the city was laid out, the way the green spaces were interconnected, and gain a new perspective of the landscape that is a living breathing city at work.
Tiergarden was next, and was everything Central Park is to New York for Berlin. This is a statement that some people may have a problem with, as many Landscape Architects consider Central Park to be one of their favorite examples of Landscape Architecture. While Tiergarden may not equal Central Park in the attention to detail Olmstead paid to each individual bridge when he was designing it, but in topics of circulation and the feeling you get from walking through it amongst others it could be said to eclipse the Manhattan escape. The circulation paths are wide enough that bicycling is easily accommodated, contrary to central Park where bikes only to be used in designated areas. There are winding streams that carve more private areas out of the park, and also provide nice places to rent a row boat and not have to encounter anyone. Boat rental in central park is limited to the one major lake, and is very exposed to the sun and elements and offers no real retreat or point of privacy.

The Holocaust Memorial was a stop whose scale and grand size really gave a perspective to the place. It occupies a block and is a grid or square columns, roughly 3'x3', that vary in height. From the street they appear to be the same height, but the ground plane in the center of the memorial is 10 feet below the entrance. When you are in the center of the memorial it very quickly brings an overwhelming feeling to you. It does in some ways challenge the idea of what a memorial is and should be. There is no real entrance or point that actually says what it is. Whether a memorial like this needs those things is debatable, the important thing is what the experience is like for the user. However, while I was walking through, there were children running through and playing tag and hide and seek with in the more central imposing part of the memorial. This was distracting from the experience and seemingly quite disrespectful. It interesting from the standpoint that there will always be unforeseen aspects of a project like this.

Other interesting places visited include: the rococo palace Sans Souci, the Neuer Garden, the neighborhood of Patz Damn, the German History Museum, a personal tour and presentation of Berlin Templehoff Airport and the recent results of their international design competition for the future of the park, a guided tour around the inner city promenade around the river Spree, Nordbanoff park, Natur Parkand countless other places around the city and the surrounding ever.
The food is amazing, although there seems to be a widespread phobia of vegetables, and this has nothing to do with the recent Ecoli break out here. Tomatoes and cucumbers are being avoided by everyone as they appear to be the source of the recent attributed deaths here. But aside from that, everything has been delicious. Bratwurst on a bun is sold the way hot dogs are in the states and they only cost about 50 cents more, and is basically a larger more flavorful hot dog. Usually the lunchtime quick meal for people working in the area. The same way we would go grab a sandwich from a deli or a hamburger, they eat Bratwurst or Currywurst chopped up and served with pommes (french fries). We visited a few very traditional restaurants, small places where you could get the meal mom used to make, if your mom was an amazing German cook. The first authentic meal I had was goulash with boiled potatoes and horseradish sauce. Goulash is a type of beef stew, with a nice thick gravy, that will surely be something I keep an eye out for in restaurants when I get back. The first place we went to was more of a local spot, people were outside drinking beer and wine, having a light meal and talking with friends. We were pegged as tourists from first sight, and they didn't look like they wanted to share their own little place with outsiders. But the staff was excited to have a group of 13, something they surely don’t get too often. This was made clear by the fact that by the time half of our group had ordered, 3 things were taken off the menu. But that was comforting, as you know the menu is decided everyday, and made with only fresh ingredients. The food elsewhere did not disappoint, although our professor did advise us of things that would be better in different regions, like the potato pancakes in Dusseldorf and the Bavarian meatloaf.

1 comment:

  1. Such interesting observations! All fascinating. Actually your description of the Holocaust Museum reminds me of Foucault's explanation of the panopticon used in penitentiaries.
    I am looking forward to your next post as well as some images! Keep up the astute observations. I feel like I am seeing Germany through your eyes.