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« Of course it’s not the Seine…» What Barbara sang about Gottingen applies a fortiori to Berlin: the German capital is not a beautiful city. Its ancient monuments no longer exist, except as vestiges of the past, like the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which, right in the middle of the commercial thoroughfare of Kurfürstendamm, is testament to the violence of the Allied bombardments during the Second World War. Its jagged facade symbolizes the complicated relationship Berlin has with its own past. Wherever you go, you are walking on ashes.
The partition of the city, as well as a diffuse feeling of guilt, explains why the reconstruction has not taken the form of a return of Berlin into history. The first priority was to re-house an exhausted population, and the architectural niceties would come later. Before 1989, there was no «after.» Some buildings, particularly in the east of the city, were designed in a monumental style, to convince people that Berlin still had a future. But this history did not belong to them, as shown by the immense buildings constructed in the Stalinist style along Karl-Marx-Allee, which once housed the government bodies of the German Democratic Republic. Today, the main building, a symbol of socialism’s grandeur without beauty, is home to one of the few McDonald’s in the city. Here, capitalism has not triumphed but has found a niche in the remains of its former enemy.
Since reunification, rehabilitation efforts have been considerable. In the eastern part of the city, at least in the central areas of Mitte and Prenzlauer-Berg, color has replaced the greyness of «real socialism…


The Berlin experience is a city that seems to live by a different rhythm to that of other European metropolises. Neither “museumized” nor financialized, it preserves intermediate spaces and makes room for both creativity and unproductivity. Whether it is a city of nostalgia or a city of the future, Berlin is a case apart in the European urban landscape.

Michaël Fœssel
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