The Companion Guide to Berlin

First published in 2004, this Guide vividly captures the history and modern energy of this ever-vibrant city. As its blurb suggests, Brian Ladd “pays homage to the familiar landmarks, but he also penetrates into obscure corners of the city and brings them alive with his shrewd and informed comment.”

And I am delighted, thanks to one of these extracts, to finally squeeze a mention of David Bowie into a Boydell blog. If it was anywhere it seems only fitting that it should be in Berlin.

Inside the Jewish Museum

On the Jewish Museum:

Back in the basement, however, you can explore the intersecting corridors, with little to distract from the off angles and slanted floors that make this an extraordinary building. Crossing the Axis of Continuity is the Axis of Exile, which slants upward to a door that leads outdoors (in all weather) to the Garden of Exile, where you can wander among forty-nine tightly spaced concrete pillars topped with willow oaks (supposed to look like olive trees, which cannot survive in Berlin). Ironically, it is here, outside the building, that the visitor can most fully experience the physical sense of disorientation that defines Libeskind’s design. The confined spaces and the tilted floor of the garden disrupt one’s sense of balance (even to the point of nausea) in a way intended to reproduce the experience of exile.

Chapter 20, From the Jewish Museum to Tempelhof, p. 371

On Schöneberg:

In December 1930, this building [Nollendorfplatz 5, a theatre] hosted the Berlin premiere of the Hollywood film based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Joseph Goebbels gathered his Nazis to protest against its anti-war message. Some Nazis bought tickets; then, as soon as the lights went down, they opened boxes of mice they had smuggled in. the ensuing pandemonium accomplished their goal: the film was banned as a public disturbance.

The square itself has lost most of its character, which is probably a good thing if we look at it through the eyes of Stephen Spender, who lived on Motzstrasse in 1930: ‘an eyrie of concrete eagles, with verandas like breasts shedding stony flakes of whatever glory they once had into the grime of soot which caked the walls of this part of Berlin’.

Chapter 21, Schöneberg, p. 391

On Pfaueninsel (peacock island):

The island is kept free of cars, shops, and other facilities, even of smoking, so the restaurant and beer gardens are on the mainland side. The ferry ride takes barely a minute; its ticket opens the entire island to you, for as long as you care to wander without the benefit of the buses and cafés that you can rely on everywhere else in Berlin. You may well be greeted by the eponymous peacocks, a small flock of which is maintained here. Near the ferry landing is the island’s most extraordinary building, the half-ruined castle which is, however, in fine condition, having been built as a ruin, with a fragmentary upper story between two towers connected by an arched bridge. This whimsical house was built for Frederick William II and his mistress Wilhelmine Enke in 1795 and was placed so that it could be seen from the distant Neuer Garten, the king’s main home.

Chapter 25, Between Potsdam and Berlin: Waterfront Palaces, p. 449

Reichstag at night

On Café Megalomania (Café Grössenwahn):

The corner on the other side of Ku’damm has been home to many generations of Berlin café life. The ground floor of a new apartment house at number 18 was taken over in 1894 by a café that attracted the most ambitious members of the artistic avant-garde, so that it soon became better known by its nickname Café Megalomania (Café Grössenwahn) than by its official name, Café des Westens. The brief flowering of literary Expressionism was a Berlin phenomenon, and its center was here. At its peak, in 1912, Rupert Brooke became one of the first of many famous twentieth-century Englishmen who sought out this reputed capital of mindless hedonism as a refuge form their own emotions (later arrivals ranged from W.H. Auden to David Bowie). He soon discovered this café with its newspapers and view of the street, where he composed ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, in which he idealized everything the bustling city wasn’t, but did so with a dose of irreverent good humour – thus proving himself a passable Berliner.

Chapter 14, Kurfürstendamm, p. 281

New National Gallery and Kulturforum

See the complete list here:

The Companion Guide to Berlin
By Brian Ladd
9781900639286, Paperback, £11.70 or $16.22

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