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BUILT IN BERLIN Creative Writing & Graphic Design Sample

BUILT You step through the glass doors into the early morning sun. Your eyes adjust to the overwhelming brightness of day after being inside for so many hours. The first images that resolve in your vision are cabs – scores of cabs – pulling in, dropping off their human cargo, others waiting, and some carrying dazed travelers to destinations unknown. You see the people that you came here with. They motion you toward one of the vehicles. For a few moments you banter with the driver in broken grammar until you arrange for him to take you and your four companions to where you will all be living for the next six weeks. As the cab speeds away from the airport and enters the city, you see things that look so familiar, yet you have never been here before. “That’s the Brandenbugrer Tor, one of the most recognizable monuments marking the old city.” “There’s the Fernseheturm, constructed at the height of the East regime.” These facts spill from your mouth as you point out landmarks to your fellows in the car. Though you know these structures – though you are certain the facts are true – the tiny captions and black and white images you recall from class do not hold a candle to the impressive forms confronting you against the slate gray sky. It is not until you step out of the cab in front of your apartment that it hits you. You are no longer on the same side of the Atlantic Ocean. You are in a different world with different structures, culture, and atmosphere. You are now in Berlin. This was my first experience in Germany as I began my summer study abroad program with Duke in Berlin. In the mere twenty-minute drive from the airport to Adalbertstrasse, the sights, the

IN by Jonathan Lee

sounds and the textures of Berlin overwhelmed me. I have lived in urban landscapes all my life, but something was different about Berlin. Berlin is a city that shows its scars. Throughout the city you can spot buildings pockmarked with bullet holes, monuments bandaged with ceramic patchwork, and pieces of history still undergoing reconstructive surgery. Many buildings stand as testaments to Germany’s psyche. In the span of a ten-minute walk, one can see a monument to gays and lesbians persecuted during the Holocaust, a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, and a structure honoring Soviet soldiers killed in WWII. Berlin’s citizens and visitors are continually brought into collision with these structures during their daily routine. It is why many have named Berlin “a city of apologies.” While the United States has its own scars, very rarely are we brought into regular contact with them. Berlin is saturated with an intimate understanding of pain, and it is the physical manifestation of this understanding in its structures that makes it so sublime. Berlin has had several different regimes sweep through its streets in the last century and a half. Each new regime introduces

all photos by Jonathan Lee

BERLIN new structures to create its architectural emperors recognized they were beneath identity; and each later regime builds over God, but only barely. pre-existing structures. Buildings from difThe Nazi party had one goal as they referent eras compete to make their messages shaped Berlin’s cityscape: make Berlin known to the people wandering the city’s a crown jewel for the Third Reich. Hitler streets. loathed the Prussian architecture and eradThese messages have many different goals. icated much of it in Berlin. Seeking to make The medieval period saw religion emerge as Germany the new Rome, he adopted clasthe focal point of everyday life. Institutions sical architectural features but abstracted built churches with towering steeples them into harsh, alien forms. Political to display this preeminence. Tobuildings were specially crafted wards the end of this era, as the with massive imposing facades society became more secular, and long corridors to intimi“You are no the Rathaus (a German town date foreigners who visited longer on the hall) adopted this towering Berlin. Few of these cold same side of form to identify itself as a structures remain today, the Atlantic new center of power. however, those that remain As Berlin became the capital are constant reminders of Ocean.” of the Prussian empire, their Berlin’s dark past. emperors sought to introduce As Berlin was divided up betheir own symbol in this dialogue tween the Allied Powers at the end of power. They adopted the dome, a form of World War II, two simultaneous, compreviously reserved only for the church, on peting messages developed. The demomany of their structures, thus establishing cratic West stressed individuality, inviting the emperors as religious leaders. Their architects from all over the world to create iconography on these structures took their diverse vibrant neighborhoods and quarcampaign one step further. Images of the ters for the Federal Republic of Germany. Prussian crown were sometimes Structures in the communist German Demplaced above images of Je- ocratic Republic stressed uniformity and sus, but slightly lower equality. These clashing values coalesced than images of into an architectural arms race as each rethe cross. The gime tried to assert the superiority of their Prussian society. This race culminated in the Republic’s construction of the Fernsehturm (TV tower), which was visible from the western side of the Berlin Wall, as a final display of communist pride and contempt for the West. Now, in a unified Berlin, much of the architecture is devoted to healing the symbolic scars of the past. The Parliamentary Office Building spans across the Rhine River, physically unifying what

was once East and West Berlin. Many other buildings - such as the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and Bundeskanleramt (chancellery) - use glass to convey transparency. This transparency is not just physical; it is a symbol of a promise of political transparency to the citizens of Germany. This notion of transparency inspired the glass dome that now graces the top of the Reichstag. Each of these buildings is merely a piece in a mosaic. It is when you step away from the single structure that you see the image the individual tiles make - Berlin. This architectural vibrancy gives Berlin its urban identity. Any of these buildings would be beautiful or impressive in their own right, but because they are crammed together, piled on top of one another, and coexisting, they make something greater than themselves. They create a certain atmosphere that I felt as I lived in this city for six weeks during the summer. It is this atmosphere that I saw as I rode on the S-Bahn elevated above the city streets. It was this atmosphere that I felt on that first day when I pointed out features to my study abroadcompanions. “See that line of red stone? A section of the Berlin wall was once there.”


Built in Berlin  

A sample of my creative writing and graphic design work; I originally wrote this piece for Passport magazine in Fall 2010.

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