Berlin Inside Out

By Pellicano, France | Queen's Quarterly, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Berlin Inside Out


Pellicano, France, Queen's Quarterly


In the spring of 2017 Daniel Barenboim was inaugurating the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, which he and architect Frank Gehry had designed together. This concert hall was bound to be a masterpiece at all levels. One of the beauties of living in Europe is to have access to a diversity of cultures within short distances--and low-cost airfares to get there. So we booked tickets for a five-day stay.

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Berlin was on my places-to-see list, and I was excited at the prospect of this brief immersion. In my mind, images from the movie Cabaret were floating, images of war, of the wall, echoes of unimaginable stories ... I was wondering how the emotional weight of the last century would seep through the landscape of 2017 Berlin, how it would present itself to the new visitor that I was.

We had been warned that Berlin was undergoing an important renovation of its infrastructure, but what we saw was incredibly large in scale and in scope. In one photo that I took one can see no fewer than 21 cranes stationed at various construction sites.

Everywhere the tour bus took us there were major construction sites-for roadwork, museums, transit systems, and other projects of all types. The most ubiquitous, eye-catching, and rather awkward one was the infrastructure project whereby buried pipes had been unearthed and installed above ground on stilts, and then painted in different identifying colours, making the urban landscape look like an intricate 3-D subway map. Berlin was inside out, literally gutting itself. And I felt that it was more than that: "Berlin is going through a profound metaphysical transformation, digging the past out and renewing itself ..."

Riding the bus tour circuits was the thing to do during such a short stay, and I felt as if I were riding on a timeline of events: searing sorrows humbly laid bare, marks of admission and apologies, and grace and humanity transcending the chaotic state of affairs resulting from the metamorphosis taking place before my eyes.

FRANCE PELLICANO is a retired senior advisor for the Department of National Defence and an honorary member of the Ontario Association of Architects.

Caption: Berlin at night can take on a special ambiance--calm, sometimes gloomy. Here the spires of St Nicholas' Church tower over this neighbourhood. …

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