The Brandenburg Gate gets a lot of attention in travel guides on Berlin. From a historical perspective, this makes a lot of sense. It is referred to as the very symbol of Berlin dating back centuries, and also of the Berlin wall, with all the recent social and geopolitical issues it evokes. But from a design standpoint the Brandenburg Gate is not that interesting, really just a 19th Century knock off of a section of the Athenean Acropolis. However, what’s going on around this familiar landmark is intriguing, though oddly ignored by most travel guides.
Looking east through the Gate these days, you will see a small forest of construction cranes. These cranes are everywhere in the former East Berlin, and they are a more apt symbol for the modern city than the venerable Brandenburg. The eastern part of a reunified Berlin is undergoing radical and extensive reconstruction. It has been a magnet to artist and designers and people looking for affordable rent and a dynamic cultural environment. Entire new neighborhoods are being created with an extraordinary range of buildings. Click here to see the Neighborhood.
The area is not, however, a good place to wake up early on a Sunday morning and go looking for a coffee, as I learned. By law, shops are closed, so I found myself walking around to keep warm and looking at stuff on the streets. I got lucky. This area turns out to be a world class destination for people (like me) who like to scrounge around construction sites looking at industrial stuff and the patterns they create. I took all these pictures on one small site, an inner courtyard construction area, while waiting for the coffee shop to open. Click here to see Construction Stuff.
Construction sites are cool places in general, full of raw, uncensored products and materials with no particular organizing principle or pretense about appearance. There is elegance in basic stuff like rusted iron, concrete, rebar, plastic packing bags, and extruded aluminum. The sheer diversity of the things in this area was staggering, made more interesting by the mystery about what purpose these materials serve. But knowing that everything will eventually be transformed into shelters for humans lends it all a kind of dignity. These patterns and ad hoc compositions represent an instant in time. They remind us to seize the moment. They are happenstance studies in geometry and texture and colors. Or maybe my fascination is just a guy thing. But they woke me up in a way that coffee could not that morning.