I love Berlin, and its vibrant life. But sometimes, it tends to suck you up and make it part of its infrastructure, making you just like the city itself: broken, dirty and hectic. Of course that was a gross dramatization, but it is nice to get away from the city sometimes, and experience that there are things like fields and horizons behind all the concrete and traffic. So I did a trip to the city of Brandenburg. Brandenburg is also the name of the state around Berlin and the two are often taken together in discourse and named Berlin-Brandenburg (Berlin itself though is a city-state in Germany). Brandenburg, the city in the Brandenburg state, has around 70.000 inhabitants whereas Berlin has around 3~5 million, depending on your definition of the city boundaries. I decided to pay the city of Brandenburg a visit and remind me of what life is like in the small-/middle sized city.
After getting reminded that yes, indeed there exists such a thing as horizons and fields, I got off at Brandenburg’s station. The station and its direct surroundings were ugly but I soon found myself in cute, quiet streets, that were painted in happy pastel colours and with nicely maintained streets. In a way it reminded me architecturally of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, just zoomed out 2x, with the houses here 3 stories high instead of 6, streets narrower times 2. However, one difference: the yuppie mommies/mummies with baby carriages, whose faces air a confused mix of sleep deprivation and urban upward mobility-pride, were not present in Brandenburg’s Prenzlauer Berg.
Ctrl+Stretch Brandenburg, and you get Berlin: via http://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/
On my way to the old city centre, I encountered a very nice canal with some restored-warehouse style apartments and a nice pedestrian walkway. It had a pleasant atmosphere, and a very nice view on some old churches. What struck me most though, was the level of quietness on the streets. It was nowhere near as full of people as Berlin, a city I still consider less hectic and crammed than, for example, London or Paris. It just seemed nobody was on the streets, a welcome feeling: you can just stand on the pavement, look at something for a while and don’t worry about getting shouted away by some hurrying urbanite.
Anyway, after my walk along the canal I made way for a hill in the middle of the city, from which, apparently, there was a nice view to be grasped. I almost fell into the trap of the commercial new city centre, which seemed very unappealing. I decided to avoid as much as I could. Before I could though, I found two signs that this city might have a little bit of an illusion about its size. First, I encountered a pharmacy called Germania Apotheke (Germania is the name Hitler was going to give to his capital city of the world – Berlin). Then, another shop, called Happy World City. For a moment, I thought: “eh world city?”, then I realised Happy World City did not actually mean that Brandenburg likes to think of itself as a happy and huge city, but actually that this shop brands itself as a city in which they sell happy worlds. I’d like to buy myself a happy world, why has nobody ever told me that you can just buy them in Brandenburg?!
Soon I found myself at another waterfront. And had it not been winter, meaning 5 degrees Celsius, I would have taken a few hours and taken my book to read a bit by the waterfront. But it was – although I prayed to Madonna all winter for better weather – only 5 degrees Celsius – and so I had to keep moving to make this citytrip bearable. I got a coffee at this lovely bridge-annex-café and got reminded of what a good coffee tastes like. Then, I noticed a church that I could see through: it looked a bit as though it had one of its four walls missing. I decided to check it out and, although it looks a bit kitschy on the picture, this actually looked very cool in real life. There was nothing inside the church but the sign said the church got bombed in WWII and subsequently semi-collapsed in the 1980s after which it got restored. Now it had served as a greenhouse for an exhibition.
The area immediately behind the church almost tricked me into believe I was in a provincial French city. It somehow had a very Mediterranean feel to it, with curvy streets, little squares and such. I imagine life must be quite nice here in summer. Also, I was almost at my destination, the hill with the view.
Before I got there, though, I got distracted by a very cute line-shaped park with a walkway-hill in the middle, and houses on either sides. I kind of got thinking about urban patterns and how it felt like this was a pattern very typical to Brandenburg – the linear walkways without traffic. It also reminded me of a project by citizens in Antwerp, Belgium, who are fighting for the circular highway around the city to be made underground, with park area made on top of it. Not a new concept at all, because it has been done in Hamburg and Madrid too. I could imagine my street in Berlin getting such a transformation, being closed off for traffic and just made into a green zone. How great life could be.
In the end, I made it to the hill-park and got rewarded with a stunning view of the city and its surroundings. On my way back I summarized the city for myself in my head: quiet and nice, well maintained, children playing on the streets, and nice linear-shaped parks that worked well for the city, making me walk a route largely traffic-free. Life did not seem bad in Brandenburg at all, but I was also kind of missing my busy Berlin…