In the middle of February, the view past the metal chain-link fence was of a haphazard stretch of barren ground and pavement, hardly the center of a post-modern, sprawling city. Yellowed grass and ashy green weeds pushed up from flattened patches of dirt, every colour evoking the quality of being suffocated by winter. Beyond it all was the overarching shadow of the Friedrichsstadtpassagen building, its cement and stone façade showing a face with the words HOW LONG IS NOW being the only thing vibrant in a landscape that would strike one as devoid of any illusions.
In Berlin, in the strange thrall of a city that Hitler wanted to rename Germania, a city that was split by a wall for nearly 30 years, there is a constant confrontation with history. Instead of being trapped in the throes of the skyscrapers of New York or the medinas of Marrakech, the sprawl of Berlin seems to belie the existence of everything it’s been through, as if every monument and street corner is whispering, Yes, I’ve survived, and it’s not that big a deal. More than any other place I’ve been to, it has mightily taken its wounds, wearing the scars that may never heal completely – and perhaps, more importantly, don’t need to – like the eternal proofs of battle.