There are so many alternative aspects to Berlin that the norm seems to be the exception.
After at least four visits we decided this time we would keep away from the famous sights – mostly. One whimsical thought was a David Bowie ice cream, but we didn’t quite manage it after going to the wrong department store at Alexanderplatz. We did notice how much the Platz had changed from the days of early 1989, although the store was very much in the DDR style but with ECCO shoes and digital products to the fore.
A couple of nights previously we had been in the same area at the tram terminus and walked past the Humboldt University to smart wine bars and restaurants. Late at night there is still an atmosphere of old times before you find the lights. Earlier we had been to the Komische Oper, renowned for its quirky take on opera but that night host to two contemporary dance performances of variable quality which at times were brilliant but at others too extended for their own good.
The Ku-damm is in no sense alternative, but that was where we were booked in. Our hotel did its best by having Milton Keynes style sculptured cows on plastic grass on the atrium roof, but in the main it kept to traditional Swiss hospitality and generous breakfasts. It was part of the Swissotel franchise and fairly new in Berlin. (Fortunately we had once had a bargain booking at an Arthotel: the Andy Warhol, which was in the same area and more than a bit alternative.)
Did we do anything alternative? Two meals at Italian restaurants – hardly revolutionary but affordable – and a day near the Charlottenburg palace (not going in) may count. The point of going there was to visit the Berggruen collection, where we found our ticket gave admission to the Scharf-Gerstenberg collection of Surrealist art. Now that really was alternative: one Dali, several Max Ernst and Paul Klee among many lesser-known artists. The surprise of all was find Edouart Manet, with illustrations to “The Raven” – presumably from Edgar Allan Poe. Not just surprising, it was splendid.
A different kind of alternative was the Kathe Kollwitz Museum: how she survived and continued working through the Nazi era was miraculous. They would have had no problem in executing her, either for her Socialist opinions or her resolutely dark art. That they didn’t is no credit to them but of benefit to us. It is good that since her death there have been bronzes made of the sculptures she made late in life but could not afford to have cast.
As the green movement is perhaps the oldest alternative established in Berlin it seems appropriate to end with that. No more than a window box of an apartment overlooking the Ku-damm, it nonetheless brought memories of one of Geoff Hamilton’s last series for television, when he visited a flat in Rotherhithe to show how the tiniest space could become a garden.
Berlin is that for us, a garden city in the midst of many green spaces and with many green spaces in its midst.