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Opinion

Lauren in Berlin: A city caught between two worlds

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April 14, 2016

Berlin is a shining glass mecca of modern buildings with colorful graffiti carefully applied to any surface paint can get to. Along with the buildings, the people of Berlin even match their city, their loud and colorful clothes with plenty of metal glint in the city’s warm April weather. It is so different from all of the cities we have visited so far, making me think more of the United States, that is of Minneapolis and of home. I was thrown off by all of the modern glass buildings in Berlin, because in my mind’s eye, I still see Germany as an old European city with a history which far eclipses that of the very young United States. But Berlin’s buildings do not display that part of itself any longer. The city of Berlin it seems, is a place caught between two different worlds.

On one side, Berlin is known for its violent history which is intensely splashed across our history books, most notable due to the actions which the Nazi government took against Jewish people, gypsies, and homosexuals. While on the other side, Berlin is a city is full of color, graffiti, late nights, and people creating a new kind of history with their art.

Perhaps the city of Berlin knows this as there are constant reminders of German history located all around. Near the Brandenburg Gate is an intimidating expanse of grey concrete blocks of various heights that undulate across a giant square. Upon first seeing these blocks I thought it was an unfinished project, as there are no words, no signs, or any clear indication about what these blocks were. When I realized it was a memorial honoring all of the Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust the maze of tall concrete blocks went from a puzzling art piece to that of an ominous graveyard in the middle of the city.

On most of the sidewalks throughout Berlin, if you are lucky that is, you will literally stumble on little brass squares embedded into the cobblestone sidewalks on which the names and information of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust are stamped into the metal. It is a small constant reminder for all of the people living and visiting Berlin of all of the people who no longer walk these same streets.

However, as you are watching where you are walking, you should also be looking up at all of the incredible murals and graffiti with which the that artists cover Berlin with. One of my favorite pieces of art in Berlin is of a cosmonaut reaching out a seemingly empty hand, and it is truly one of the most iconic murals in Berlin. Painted by Victor Ash, the Cosmonaut is also the largest stencil drawing in the world according to Amy, my fabulous Art of Berlin tour guide. While I may have first laid skeptical eyes on Berlin, mostly lamenting about the fact that the city was not full of old historical buildings and that I had to leave gorgeous Italy behind to arrive at my destination in Germany. Although Berlin did not end up becoming my favorite city, it was a most welcome break from the cramped old-world cities our traveling group has toured through so far. Berlin is still a city divided- one half that is keeping history alive and still at the forefront of the minds of its visitors and residents- and the other half which is moving forward and creating a multitude of art work that will be a part of Berlin and Germany’s future for its visitors and residents.

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.