July 18, 2002  |  Berlin

In Berlin now, was intending on only a three day visit but extended another day then another... it's a fascinating place. There's a kind of hard edge to it, which somewhat to my surprise suited me--there's not the frou frou of Paris, the faded glory of Vienna, the faded misery of Budapest, the obvious charm of Prague, the obvious money of Zurich... it's what it is, the German nononsense, there are rules in the world and you must live by them... one could easily compare Berliners to NewYorkers.

I visit the Bauhaus archives, the design movement that in many ways shape we know as modernity in physical form. What’s interesting is that Bauhaus had a strong socialist leaning, desiring “art for the masses,” in which they failed, after which its visual language and architecture are widely adopted by capitalist corporations. The exhibitions are unimpressive, the formal experiments with out the messages are dead on the wall, and to honest and direct to be interesting.

Post modern (or is it post-post-modern?)
I happen upon the Sony and Daimler Chrysler complexes, the new commercial center of new Berlin that arises out of nothing into a steel and glass micro-metropolis. I thought the Sony Metreon in San Francisco was over designed… this Sony complex makes Metreon look like a primitive cardboard box. It’s impressive, especially at night with the constantly shifting pink-purple-blue light, and it’s not difficult to envision German style new architecture—the teutonic tectonic—as the design solution for the mega metropolises of the future.

Then outside the complex on the Postdamer Platz, where a new haptbahnhof is being constructed along with many new commercial buildings, I come to a small exhibition of Yann Arthus-Bertrand “The Earth from Above” photos. Taken from helicoptors, these pictures show myriad effects of human habitation on earth and are absolutely stunning. I happened upon the book last year and immediately bought three copies. But on this backdrop of concrete and metal jungle, for global corporations to put on an exhibition with a strong message of environmental and cultural preservation, for people to ogle at natural beauty in far and not so far away places and follow the exhibition into the mall—this is rich. People pause at the pictures… many stop for a long while, as I did. No doubt the irony of it does not escape many of them, and certainly not the exhibition’s sponsors.

A child touches a picture of Toyko, highrises without end with more than 30 million inhabitants. The city is twice rebuilt, the more recent after 1945, just like Berlin, like Dresden. The last half century have seen so many cities rise from the ashes, or from nothing, like Spring bamboo. In the next half century there will be 3 billion more in population—about 160% of current—where will this child live?

The exhibition leads into a mall, a nice mall I’m sure, but I never understand the attraction of malls. Yet they are a part of every new development plan. Are they really necessary? Do we have to keep consuming what we don’t need, otherwise the machine stops and the unspeakable happens? Another picture shows a flea market in Kenya. The artifical colorfulness of the clothes implies these are second-hand fashions donated by the first world, which has replaced indigenous clothing every where—“trickle down.” The shiny people here continue to flock to the sales.

Maybe I’m being too heavy handed with this. Berlin, afterall, is a city full of irony, and such an exhibition afterall is interesting and good. The pictures are sincere. The contrast with the surroundings enhance them in a way, and we all have increasingly sophisticated tastes that need the extra layers, or channels, of messages to satifisfy. Whether irony is a good condiment, or makes the whole thing hard to swallow, is a different story…

Posted by yingzhao 05:17 AM | Permalink
« Previous  |  Next »