Mittwoch, 24. September 2008


My picture of former East Germany has always been of a grey, soulless desert; dusty, exhausted farmland punctuated by dilapidated concrete slabs, like a well looked after cemetery. Only Berlin is an oasis of culture and progress amongst a barren wasteland of fading, glorious memories. So I was pleasantly suprised by Dresden. Dresden manages a passable imitation of Berlin. Scarred history, patched up, concealed but not forgotten, reduced to postcard perspectives; and an edgy new town, with thriving subcultures and plentiful graffiti.

Beyond the history lesson knowledge of bombs and total destruction, I arrived in Dresden armed only with one fact. Dresden lies in a bowl, and as such was often unable to receive radio and television broadcasts from beyond its topographical limits. In the DDR days, it was totally cut off from West German television, earning it the title valley of the clueless.

Sixty years ago it became a focal point in the climax of a global war which changed the face of civilisation, and today it lies at the geographic centre of New Europe. For years in between it was entirely, dramatically isolated, left to lick its wounds and await distant rumours of an outside world.

Its prouder moniker is Florence on the Elbe, which whilst not entirely original at least belies its cultural heritage. It also allows Dynamo Dresden to make a claim for hosting a higher class of hooligan. Grand rennaissance and baroque monuments frame an era in which economic growth fuelled the ambitions of citizen and aristocrat, vying for the religous and cultural high ground. Today, they have been painstakingly remodelled, brick for brick. Less illustrious neighbours weren't as lucky, so the monuments sit amongst vast empty squares, flooded with pigeons and tourists. Dresden's history is like the photo album of a forgotten childhood.

The Neustadt could be around the corner here in Kreuzberg. Stylish students and the ubiquitous German punks spill across narrow streets, scurrying from kebab shops to atmospheric bars, beer in hand and political ideology firmly in mind. Urban expression is alive and kicking, jostling for space as it fills innenhofs and bursts into street parties. Future is just as important as past here, and they flatten out into a kind of lazy status quo. Its cool to be a pioneer, but its equally important to stare at your feet.

From experience, most people who lived in the DDR have a minor psychological abnormality. Dresden seemed a little bipolar, even schizophrenic to me. On the one hand it presents itself as cordial yet enlightened, a city that has come to terms with ups and downs and is ready to face an exciting future with a measured and approproate attitude. On the other, it clings fastidiously on to an image which never really had much substance, the glitter of a nouveau-riche motivated by pride and symbolism, inspired by fairy tales, past its heyday and reduced to whoring.

On the one hand Dresden has a handsome new synagogue, a proud architectural emblem of progress. On the other, it has a sham of a mosque; an ex cigarette factory, wrapped in branding, an advert that outshone its own product.
N Some thoughts on climate change in Northern Europe.
N And some in Southern Europe.
N The Japanese are way ahead of both.

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