Millions of people are on the move every day in Berlin. They get on and off buses, trains and trams, heading to work, shopping or picking up the kids from day care. They often have only their goal in sight and lose sight of Berlin. We want to change that in our new blog series. Yes to getting off the beaten path, no to ignoring our surroundings. So, we’ll be travelling to stops that are less well-known but which have a lot to offer Berliners and guests of the city alike. And we’ll take an especially close look, try things out, have new experiences, in other words, enjoy Berlin to the fullest!
Today I’m leaving the Bus at Olivaer Platz... West Berlin.
The asphalt of the famous boulevards still radiates the heat of a summer’s day slowing making its way to sunset. A warm breeze blows towards me as I get off the bus at Olivaer Platz. I move slowly, leaving Lietzenburger Straße and Kurfürstendamm behind, and enjoy the atmosphere as I make my way deeper into Charlottenburg with its magnificent buildings. As I make my way down a tree-lined street, I am suddenly jolted out of my reverie as I come upon severe grey-green sandstone façades and linear colonnades standing two storeys high. This is Walter-Benjamin-Platz, a good 100 metres long and nearly two blocks wide – it is a very severe, almost cold space, although its symmetry has been disrupted by a single chestnut tree at its eastern edge. Although the shops at the nearby kiosk are still open and there are some children playing in the evening sun, the peace and quiet that radiates from this rather atypical plaza for Berlin begins to take hold in me.
There’s no trace of the hustle and bustle of big city life, of passers-by hurrying to and fro the nearby shopping mall. At one end of the plaza, I note a chic Italian restaurant that seems fitting for the architectural surroundings. Despite the crowded terrace, even here the waiters appear to be calmed by the space as they carry large white plates with filled with delicious-looking antipasti past me. But before I let the guests catch me observing them, I slip quietly behind the colonnade and walk under the Art Deco lights along the brass and wood-panelled display windows of the now-closed shops. I was noting the renowned designer fashions on the shelves when I suddenly come upon an iron gate with its doors flung wide open. Curious, I peek inside and decide to enter. At the end of the passage I come upon a small well-kept green space with a children’s playground. The bikes with child seats parked here are an indication that Walter-Benjamin-Platz is by no means exclusively a place for shopping and nightlife. Rather, it strikes me as a perfect design combination for living and working. As I head back to the granite plaza and glance over the façades, I can even detect the division between office and residential units in the upper floors. As a whole, the high-end materials used here give an impression of the buildings’ massiveness, although the polished surfaces do react to changing light conditions, softening some of the hard edges as the evening progresses. Then I noticed at my feet, chiselled into the stone pavers, the opening lines of Canto XLV by Ezra Pound (in their German version):
With usura hath no man a house of good stone each block cut smooth and well fitting that design might cover their face
Oddly, there is no reference to the author of this quotation, leaving the words as some sort of mysterious incantation in the midst of the rigorous emptiness of the plaza. And they stick in my head as I make my way on the marble floors under the broad colonnade. These words soon strike me as the motto of this modern city square, the existence of which had inexplicably remained hidden from me for so many years. Finally, I leave the “wide opening between Leibnitzstraße and Wielandstraße” and stroll towards Savignyplatz in homage of Benjamin’s famous flâneur.