When a person walks they calm their soul. It can’t be helped, the mind slows down, the body finds a rhythm and the heart gets in step with the street.
I’ve always walked. Long distances through city streets, going some place just to find out if it looks different than it did last week. Mostly, it will look different, that’s why a walk through your own city, or mine, is always a new experience.
Humans are subjective creatures. We project our thoughts onto everything around us – often, that’s a bad thing, but when out walking in a city it’s probably a good thing to do.
Projecting our thoughts happens without conscious effort. We don’t really know what we are going to encounter when out and about, so pre-conceived ideas often become crushed by the weight of what we see.
What We See, What You see
The weather can change dramatically, the crowds, shoppers and other wanderers shift and move like tides across a street. Groups of strangers who momentarily form a single dark flock, as if pushed by the wind, are dispersed at doorways, steps leading down to an underground station envelope their figures, and others spread out into a large square that leads to their destinations.
Photographs and Capturing the Light and Darkness
Sometimes, I take a camera. I want to capture some of the more interesting sights, shadows and plays of light that make up the geometric shapes of the streets. There is always a corner that offers a photographer a good shot. The camera doesn’t matter, so long as it can capture light and darkness.
To Walk is Good for the Soul
The fascination of the street is an old practice. People used to go for a Sunday stroll, catch some air, or sit on a bench next to the road just to be outside. They still do, but I think these days more people realise that where they live, the city, or town, will always be a jumble of roads, crossings and traffic lights until they get outside and start to walk, to take it slow, not rush towards an objective, but to stroll like a Flaneur.
The flaneur intends on nothing but the joy of discovery, without the objective of discovery. Whatever reveals itself will be the point of interest.
Connections that We Make
The subjective mind, the desire to look and understand the object, a building, a patch of waste land, the location that they occupy and who utilizes it is enough information to allow the wandering mind to make connections between human feelings and objective world.
The connections that we make are often with objects that are fabricated, built, and designed by planners and investors.
A commercial shopping zone or an open space like a park all have a predetermined purpose, but it’s always up to the individual onlooker to make sense of it.
City Parks and Planners
The planners wanted a city park that looked pleasant, green, and had enough open space for residents to enjoy by sitting and enjoying good weather.
The park you are looking at may be greenish with sunburned grass that is patchy and dry. The people who occupy it each day might be rowdy, loud, throw rubbish about and generally “own” the area with unpleasant behaviour. The intention of a place isn’t always played out by obedient actors.
Berlin Parks and Fun Times
The parks in my city are broad, pleasant landscapes that offer space for hundreds of people to enjoy their own small world of thoughts, book reading, private conversations and picnics. Until recent years, this was what the residents of Berlin did, enjoyed the park for its real purpose.
Times change, habits and trends demand new venues and space for residents and a park is now seen as a free-for-all area to practice quick snappy bike riding, dodging and weaving through foot traffic as if each individual was a traffic cone in a road test.
People try and sit and enjoy the sunshine while dogs rush about, small camera drones spin above their heads and groups of drinkers polish off cheap beer bought in the local shop. How I see this when out walking and how you see it, could be quite different – our own needs and points of view of life colour our attitudes from two different palettes of thought.
Potsdamer Platz and Modern Art
When I visited Potsdamer Platz I was astonished by the magnificent buildings. They aren’t overwhelming by modern standards, but they are tall enough to make you crane your neck. The glass facades that reflect all types of sky – depending on what the weather is like – appear like a painted canvass, modern art style, Picasso like cubist squares separated by perfect dark lines, each window reflecting grey cloud, blue sky, flashing golden sunlight. Its own little world all in a window, or hundreds of windows that all seem so tiny when viewed from the street. But then the thoughts run off with ideas of who’s sitting at a desk behind the window. Are the rooms up there as modern and pleasant as the Platz below? Or do the workers sit in cubicles in front of busy screen with black and white digits flickering, paper coffee cup dry and crushed under a pile of printouts?
Tall buildings and open spaces, cinemas, restaurants and cafes. In the annex to the Kohl Center a large shopping mall that offers boutique like shopping, and where more restaurants and take-away food looks like it’ll never end, the mall tapers off towards Marlene-Dietrich-Strasse. Not very inspiring, and nothing to sing about. The streets are more interesting.
There is always a Commercial Corner
A shopping mall is too controlled a space for a flaneur to enjoy, its all about one thing only, parting you from your money; no benches to sit on, no interesting corners to observe or statues to stop and ponder – except for the two mannequin soldiers wearing badly turned out uniforms. They are reminders of Berlin’s divided past, one British soldier, one East German soldier. The British soldier is wearing “No 2” uniform; Parade dress with bulled boots – he isn’t wearing a belt which makes him look ridiculous – the RSM would give him a day in the “corner shop” (jail), for that.
Long Streets, the Tiergarten and more Bike Riders
Strolling away from Potsdamer Platz, along Ebert Strasse, takes you past the edge of the enormous Tiergarten, in the daytime a place to walk and sit, stop and look, to find sights that are good for the soul – I think. As the evening draws in it becomes an inviting array of dark spaces and low street lamps dotted along narrow pathways. Bikes speed along these pathways at such speed that you have to watch your back at all times.
Abandoned for Lust
You can often find bikes that have been dumped in the bushes, or seem to be abandoned. I can only imagine that they belong to the people who have hastily made their way to the Tiergarten to meet a stranger in the darkness, the bike of less importance than their urgent desire to locate the sender of a beckoning mobile text.
Brandenburg Gate and a West Berlin calling to her Folk
During the day time hours Brandenburg Gate is a place to stop and view from all angles. It is so well structured that you could easily spend an hour just investigating the different viewing postions. Stand back, close to Unter den Linden and take it all in with one eye full, move a few paces forwards and everything has changed.
The tall Doric columns that support the plinth above form five passage ways that you can walk through, or stop and notice the different angles and shadows that they form – depending on the time of day.
Photographers can use these columns to create interesting compositions of light and darkness. The sandstone materials used to build Brandenburg Gate have a pleasing texture and colour that reflects the sunlight in rich tones that create a warm atmosphere around the whole structure.
Friedrich Wilhelm II and his new Project for Peace
Built as a symbol of peace for the Berliners of the late 1700s, the Prussian King, Friedrich Willhem II, commissioned the court architect and builder Carl Langhans to complete the project. The project took four years to build and was completed in 1791. It was considered the first structure that would introduce classicism into the streets of Berlin – previously Berlin architecture tended to be based on the ornate Baroque ideas of the Romans.
Calling to the East
If you walk through the columns and head along 17 Juni Strasse, you’ll be able to see a statue in the middle island; a woman, dressed simply, arms raised and hands cupped around her mouth as she calls to towards the East. As far as I know, the statue is of a West Berliner calling to her own people, Berliners, who were locked into the East part of Berlin city after the rapid erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961.
A Building Project that Lasted 30 Years
The Berlin Wall was built as quickly as possible, practically overnight to the astonishment of residents on both sides. After the Second World War, the Russians erected barbed wires and check points around the zone of the city that they occupied, in August 1961 this was replaced by a wall with anti-grappling hook defences along the top. In various places, such as in the wooded areas of Berlin, the Wall was reinforced chain link fencing that was regularly maintained by the guards.
Here is another article about a walk through Berlin during the Coronavirus Lockdown