Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Alexanderplatz - Square of Contrast

I'm now safely in Berlin, and have just finished an evening wander around the Alexanderplatz area - perhaps my favourite square in Europe. Certainly from a modern historian's viewpoint, it is fascinating. Centre of the 1989 protests against the East German regime, it has a lot of aspects which very clearly date from the Communist era - especially the TV-Tower (Fernsehturm) which dominates the entireity of the Berlin skyline east and west, and is perhaps the most recognisable landmark. Very useful for getting your bearings! However, it is also taking on a new vitality. Berlin is in many ways the world's largest building site, and the Alexanderplatz is now ringed by several high-rise buildings including one with that ultra-socialist conception, a casino. So, I can say in all honesty that it is one of the areas where the different phases of Berlin's history sit side by side.

Nearby is the Deutscher Dom, which was the Prussian attempt to build a Protestant St. Peter's, placing Germany at the heart of the Protestant world. The links between religious and military imperatives can be seen from the Biblical quotes emblazoned on the front of the cathedral, talking about "belief being our victory" that the rest of the world fails to understand. If you go inside, too, you can see a clear parallel between the entombment of the Hohenzollern dynasty and the Popes.

One of the most enjoyable things about visiting Berlin is that there are so many sites of interest in such a small area. Within another five minutes I'd reached the Bebelplatz - scene of the book-burning, and now home to a moving, yet simple memorial, consisting of a view into an underground library with empty shelves. In another five minutes I was walking past the Foreign Office - interesting to note that it only had one uniformed officer outside of it. If I remember correctly, last summer the British embassy was in a street to which access was denied through breize-blocks. It´s somewhat embarrassing to think that my country's visible presence in one of our supposedly closest partner's land has to be so heavily protected.

Anyway, that's about all for now. I might get some photos up when I get back, but I'm off to watch the football in the hostel bar. Then tomorrow I'll try and see as much of the West as possible - an area heavily overlooked in my many previous visits here. That definitely means going to see the Olympiastadion, and hopefully I'll get out to Spandau, too. Perhaps most famous as a post-war jail, the district of Spandau is actually apparently well-preserved, so should make an interesting stop.