I spent last week in Berlin, Germany. Back in 1992, my wife and I moved there while I was working at SOM (Chicago), and we decided to open an office in the new unified Germany. We ended up staying for 18 months during what amounted to an incredibly exciting and frustrating time. The city I returned to last week is a testament to the power of Architecture and Urban Planning.
This has to be one of the great, liveable cities of the 21st century. Not only does it have a vast public transportation system, but it’s the easiest system I’ve ever encountered. It assumes that the public is honest and isn’t clogged with turnstiles and checkpoints that we see in every other transportation system. The streets, subways and parks are immaculate.
One of my first stops was Potsdamer Platz. Back in 1993, this was a barren wasteland. Today it is unrecognizable with all the new buildings: Hans Kollhoff”s Potsamder Platz #1 and Helmut Jahn’s Sony Center, Renzo Piano’s Daimler Benz building and Debis Tower are the star attractions.
Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial is another important site. At first glance, is a one-liner. But one has to walk in and amongst the slabs to really get the feeling of it’s power. There was a certain similarity between the memorial and The Garden of Exile at Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum. I can’t say I really enjoyed the Jewish Museum. The permanent exhibition was fairly extensive but the museum is a labyrinth and there is no-way out (until you get to the end). Perhaps this was the point. Anyway, the best part of the architecture was the void spaces which were marked as black walls within the building. If you looked into the small windows in these spaces – you finally got to appreciate the design. But the exhibitions don’t do anything to promote the experience that I suspect Liebeskind had in mind.
The last time we visited Berlin was in 1995 to see Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstang. While that was an amazing project, Norman Foster really put the “wow” factor into this otherwise, dreary and clumsy building. Alongside the Reichstag are all the new government buildings and parks. A boat trip along the Spree river was a great way to see them and we were fortunate enough to have a perfect day for photography. The Federal Chancellery by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank was the most disappointing. A bad dream where Lou Kahn flirts with Post Modernism. You heard it hear first.
So much more to say, but hey – this is a blog – not a book.