Travel Tuesday: Berlin, Germany
By: John Rattray
The coexistence of the old and the new is perhaps the most unique characteristic of the city of Berlin. Elegant and grand, neo-classical forms stand resolute amidst a multitude of modernist structures and the array of skyscrapers. This juxtaposition is, however, far from discordant. Rather, the two coexist harmoniously, and so breed a rare vibrancy quite unlike anything found in other european cities. Its mix of history and youth fuse to form a truly remarkable diversity which permeates every aspect of the city, from nightlife and food to architecture and art.
Berlin’s variety of architectural form is as magnificent as it is distinctive. This splendour is, however, indicative of a troubled past; many of the city’s assorted museums, memorials or state structures, hold echoes of past plight, echoes which reverberate from decades and centuries past. Beyond this rather unfortunate commonality, though, these buildings share a more pleasing aspect; their distinct and marked architectural design. Easy as it is to focus on the troubles of Berlin’s past and their present manifestations, one can always derive pleasure from the beauty of its form – not least in cases where form and history merge.
The Jewish Museum is perhaps one of the most salient articulations of this union; the baroque Kollegienhaus houses the museum reception, and leads visitors into Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructivist design for the rest of the museum, which houses the bulk of the exhibition. In a masterful marriage of form and function, Libeskind’s design remains poignant throughout your journey into and around the building. Upon entering the museum, visitors are first directed down to the basement where three corridors, or axes, represent the three routes of Jewish life in Germany; the holocaust on the axis of evil, emigration on the axis of exile and the place of Jewish culture in present day Germany on the axis of continuity. Installations like Menashe Kadishman’s Fallen Leaves ensure that the emotional affect is not lost as you move through the building, which is itself, in its broken, deconstructed design, an allegory of the fragmentation of the Jewish race.
Though a visit to Jewish Museum will almost certainly leave you in low spirits, the rest of the city offers plenty to lighten one’s mood. A trip to the Neue Nationalgalerie, for example, is more than likely to help bring calm to your mind. Housed inside a striking, single-storey building characterised by its minimalist design is a varied and merited collection of predominantly 20th century modern art. In the unlikely event that the building itself – designed by the father of Modernist architecture, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – doesn't impress, the collection inside will certainly compromise. In the more likely event that Mies’ design does rouse you, the collection – including pieces by Picasso, Kandinsky and Kirchner – will only provide complement to its modernist charm.
As one leaves the gallery, the calculated consonance between its form and function comes to mind. With this thought considered, the Neue Nationalgalerie comes to stand as an embodiment of the central feature of much of Berlin’s architecture, which, in turn, serves as the most important source of the city’s vibrancy.