An hour spent browsing in the wonderful Bucherhalle (: a bright, one roomed & spacious antiquarian bookshop. A staircase leads to a balcony floor that encompasses the main area below, giving the place an airy, lofty feel. There is a wide selection of new & second-hand fiction & study aids, art & film posters, rare editions & ephemera. I end up buying a great looking arts review pamphlet from 1934 (De Delver) for 5 Euro.
North from Kleistpark. Potsdamerstrasse is wide; wide & busy. It is late morning. The last of the magic of Schoneberg slips quickly away: the shopfronts are larger, slightly more corporate. There is more glass to be kept clean. The eateries, clothes shops & hairsalons are bigger, too; although, everything is slightly more staid; that sense of (fading, jaded) formality, that is peculiar to dated & once moneyed hairshops & restaurants: skinny boys & girls with elaborate hairstyles stacked or draped over their heads, dressed in black pinafores, black tee shirts, hang around the reception areas trying to look busier than they actually are. Potsdamerstrasse reminds me a lot of London’s Tottenham Court Rd area – Business continues (booms, possibly) but the charm, the individualty, the soul has been throttled out of it. This is an area for office workers & tourists seeking lunch. I slip off down one of the side streets (Alvenslebenstrasse?) & leave it all behind.
Tucked behind Potsdamerstrasse, heading north, the older Berlin mixes with the newer: the 19th century townhouse apartments share the streets with muraled 1960/70s blocks. At the intersection of Bulowstrasse mid-day hookers hang on the corner, leathered bike couriers lean into corners, businessmen sweat, the eyes of the coffee drinkers harden a little; faces are either fatter or thinner (there are noticeably less cyclists). It is, perhaps, a cousin to London’s Kings Cross. Further north, surfacing again onto Potsdamer, the vista gives way to a brief area of building development; scrapland & scaffold. The traffic is less forgiving. There are more economy hotels, tour coaches, tourists (Americans, mostly. But, maybe, their voices just stand out more?), guides, wheeled luggage! Glass buildings shimmer on the skyline; it is a little more claustrophobic. I cross Potsdamer/Leipzigerstrasse just shy of the centre of the city centre. A blimp hangs near the Potsdamer Tower. The bells of St. Matthew sound the noon & I drop into the cool shade of the Kulturforum for some respite from the street heat.
The Tiergarten is peaceful. How could it not be? The greenery, the ponds, the fountains, the sunlight, the shadows, the cyclists, the strollers, the sunbathers, the lunchers, the statues, the quiet avenues, the birds, squirrels. Midges thread the air above the streams. I wander in a vague clockwise direction, crossing Strasse des 17. Juni: it stretches east to west & is empty of traffic except for occasional walkers. On a Sunday there is the city’s largest flea market held here (next visit!). It is always a joy to be able to walk on roads devoid of cars! The Victory Column in the east, Brandenberg to the west. I picnic on the southbank of the Spree & watch the ferry boats & the people.
The Bundestag/Reichstag buildings & grounds are busy. The tiny fountains that rise up from the grass are beautiful & mirror (somehow… deliberately or by chance?) walking figures. More coaches, shimmering, in car parks. Gaggles of tourists herded by guides. Souvenir shops, over-priced food vans, machine-pistol toting police. I escape, briefly, onto Dorotheenstrasse &, inevitably, onto Friedrichstrasse & south. Although the street/the city centre is busy, it is far less cluttered than London. This is true of all of Berlin. Friedrichstrasse is the equivalent of Oxford Street – but smarter. As with all of Berlin there is no litter & little in the way of extraneous street noise: it is rare to hear blaring soundsystems.
Now, we’re in the heart of the beast: Checkpoint Charlie. There’s no need to particularly search it out; walk the length of Friedrichstrasse & when you reach a faux-guard box & camp sentry attachment you have reached your destination! Tourists stop for a photo with the pretend soldier & fake barrier. It’s all pretty tacky, but what, I suppose, does one expect? As I say, this is the heart of the beast.
Friedrichstrasse finally fades into Mehring Platz & then Hallesches Tor. The u-bahn is thronged. It is late afternoon. I cross the bridge & join the cyclists & pedestrians on Waterlooufer, Barutherstrasse, with its graphics, its graveyard & then, welcoming Johanniterstrasse, Kreuzberg again.