07.12.2014 - 12.12.2014 1 °C
My last five nights in Berlin, I moved out to the East of Mitte, to another really good hostel, East Seven. It was really sociable, and had a happy hour on beer (these two things couldn't possibly be connected), so I'd come in at about 10:00 and settle in with a delicious black lager. One evening I got talking to a mother and daughter- they were probably ten years either side of my age, from the south west of Germany. I'm not exactly sure what I did to provoke it, but when they went off to bed, the mother said she'd never met anyone like me (in a good way, I'm sure!). Another evening, I was most entertained by a young fellow, from somewhere in the North of England, who worked in an office for (I think) a local authority, and he hated his job so much he'd rather die than go back to it, but he was devastatingly funny about why he hated his job - a combination of Microsoft Word and the inanity he had to deal with from others. One big regret was that I wasn't staying just a bit longer - the hostel would provide food and accommodation for people willing to cook dinner for other residents - a Canadian girl was quite keen to do it, and somehow she picked on me to sort out her menu. Quite randomly, a bloke reckoned I look like Karl Marx- now that I've seen some pictures, it might take a little work but I've not far to go.
I'd start each morning with a coffee and pain au raisin at the Impala cafe, just down the street - the decor was sort of concrete 1970's industrial lunchroom, the chairs were a bit like the metal legged chairs from my school, but the coffee was good and the staff were fun: I made the mistake of asking for my pain au raisin in German - I don't speak German, but stumbled through a reading on the label. It was a mistake because every morning after that, they wouldn't give me one unless I asked for it in German. Then I'd walk through a different way to the library, such as past all the very impressive museums on Museum Island, or the shopping streets, or quieter residential streets which would have cool looking bars and cafes and second hand shops crammed full of stuff which I'd wish I had time to indulge myself in.
It was even worse on the way home, when they were open. Each morning, I'd wander off to do some work - I tried the American library (it was funded by the Americans to help Germany get back on its feet after the war) first, because it is huge, but turned out to only occupy the ground floor and have no wifi. I also paid 12 Euro for the privilege of using the State Library, which was very quiet and very white and futuristic but I couldn't get their wifi to work. Then I learned about Humboldt University , which was founded in the early 19th century - given its location and age, I thought the library would be quite special, and it was, but not in the way I expected. It is a monolithic concrete building which opened in 2009. The interior is really well designed, I thought. Each floor is made of three parts - the third running along each wall has books and a staircase, and the central third is a quiet study space, but it is tiered, a bit like the seating in a stadium. The photo will explain it much better than I can.
I think I would enjoy an extended break in Berlin, I felt quite at home here - the only bad experience I had was in a Japanese restaurant near the Humboldt, where they had a very strange interpretation of the dish I asked for but, even worse, neither of the staff I dealt with said a word to me. The most excellent coffee shop next door, Pure Origins, made up for the lack of service.
A few years ago, I read DBC Pierre's wonderful satire on the excesses of modern life, Lights Out in Wonderland. About half of it is set in the former Tempelhof airport where, according to the Guardian review
the novel blossoms into a sort of insane, rococo wedding planner for a tumultuous and orgiastic banquet in the bowels of Nazi-built Tempelhof airport – all organised by Gabriel and Laxalt; they will cater for bankers whose Lear jets taxi to the very gates of Tempelhof and into a double bluff.
It made me curiously nostalgic for an airport I'd never seen and would never be able to fly into, so when I learned that you can take tours through the airport, I jumped at the chance. There has been an airport on the site since the 1920's, before then it was a public park, and the runway area has been returned to being a public park. The building of the main terminal did not start until 1934, as a symbol of the might and glory of Hitler's "world capital", Germania. That being the case, it had to be pretty special, and although it was never completely finished, there was a kind of stark grandeur to the place. It was an odd experience being in a deserted airport, and a building which is among the 20 biggest in the world, but I'm so glad I did it. The tour started underneath the airport, where the baggage goes in and up escalators to passengers in the main concourse, then, despite the cold and threatening rain, we spent a fair amount of time outside, on the apron. One of the great things about Tempelhof is that the planes just rolled up to the back door, where it was covered, so passengers had no distance to walk - no need for an airbridge. This approach was one of the reasons the place closed - modern aircraft don't fit.
The aeroplane in the picture was one used in the early days of the Berlin airlift - the Russians had blockaded Berlin in an effort to gain exclusive control, but under an earlier agreement had left open three 20-mile wide air corridors providing access to the city which not even they would go back on. The estimate was that 3500 tonnes of supplies were needed. Every day. The DC3 could carry 3.5 tonnes, the C-54 had a payload of 10 tonnes, and eventually took over as the only aircraft used. Conditions were problematic - for one runway, the planes had to fly between two apartment buildings and for the the other, fly over an apartment building and then drop sharply. The Russians did not play nicely. And yet the airlift was a success - on one day, as a special effort, they flew in 12,941 tonnes of supplies, mainly coal. In fifteen months, there were 277, 569 flights and 2.3 million tonnes supplied - shared between Tempelhof and Gatow. Our tour was enlivened by having a man on it who flew about 380 of these missions - I'm pretty sure he said it is first time back, aged 92.
Time to go inside, to the main concourse. The original grand vision had required this to be very high, but the need to get it operational meant that a false floor was built by the Americans cutting the height in half, and the pillars had to be marble and just so- almost more palace than functional airport.
The upper half has never been put to use and was never finished off. The top floor was to be a vast open air restaurant, from which the people could watch various spectacles. Again, this was not finished - the Americans adapted it to their use by building a bowling alley (subsequently removed) and basketball court. I can't remember who did it, but the picture represents the variety of life at Tempelhof during the airlift.
I do remember who did the next pictures - during the war, before Tempelhof was liberated by the Russians, part of the basement housed workers, essentially prisoners, who were required to work at the airport, and this is how they kept their spirits up.
The Russians were there for just a couple of months, but they did a thorough job of removing anything they wanted. Down in a another part of the basement, there was a bunker for filing important documents and, more significantly archival films. It was locked up pretty securely, so the Russians thought they'd found a treasure trove so, determined to gain entry, used explosives. Guess what happens when films are exposed to explosions? A mighty fire raged through the bunker and everything was lost.
The day was wet and a bit foggy and it was near the evening, so my photos of the outside are a bit dim: