Berlin, December 2016: Life goes on, optimism back on the agenda
This week has been a strange one. It started on a extremely sad note but I intend to finish it in a spirit of optimism. The past few days in Berlin have been a rather surreal experience. I arrived in time to witness (but from a safe distance) the terrorist attack on the Christmas market in Brietscheidplatz.
Since then the atmosphere in the city has been understandably subdued. There is perhaps a feeling of guilt at enjoying these last few days before Christmas when so many innocent lives have been lost to yet another act of barbarity. Locals and tourists could be forgiven for avoiding the the streets, department stores and the remaining markets throughout the capital but it has not been so. Even the Brietscheidplatz market has reopened in a show of defiance.
In Europe we have become accustomed to outrages of this nature, whether in Paris, London, Munich or Nice. But being on the spot to sense the local atmosphere is a different matter. Somehow it all becomes more real, not just an item on the news, and reminds us all just how close we are to unfortunate coincidence. Still life goes on.
Yesterday I took a camera to my favourite little Christmas market in Gendarmenmarkt at Stadtmitte — once the very centre of Berlin and now reclaiming its rightful place 26 years after the reunion of the two halves of the city. This is an annual ritual for me. I like the compact Gendarmenmarkt event, largely because of the stunning architecture surrounding the site: The Berlin concert hall and the French and German churches provide a highly unusual and stimulating backdrop.
In the centre of the market stands the memorial to Germany’s great poet, Friedrich Schiller, whose words ring out in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy: “Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning, daughter of Elysium….Every man becomes a brother where thy gentle wings abide.”
While I do not subscribe to any religion, Schiller’s words — even more emotive in the original German than in the rather ponderous above translation by Wilhelm Wertz — serve to remind us once again that there is more good in the world than is often obvious these days. The corrupted individuals who perpetrate such atrocities as Monday’s attack remain a very small minority. And far from being abandoned, the Christmas markets are again full of people determined to demonstrate defiance and their belief in the essential goodness of humanity.
But back to earth and the Christmas fair at the Gendarmenmarkt. It is decidedly compact, small enough to keep me amused for the regulation hour or so. More baubles and kitsch I cannot abide. But I love the odd pancake with sugar and cinnamon, the occasional jar of Glühwein and a curry wurst with pommes. Food and drink, after all, are the two most important aspects of any Christmas market.
Yesterday I took along an Olympus PEN-F fitted with the new Olympus 25mm f/1.2, fast becoming one of my favourite ‘standard’ 50mm-equivalent lenses. In retrospect, for this location, I would have preferred something a bit wider — possibly, even, the 24mm-equivalent 12mm Leica DG Summilux. But I’m travelling light this week and didn’t want to pack too many lenses. I can say one thing with certainty, however: Cameras, lenses of whatever focal length, mulled wine, sugared pancakes and sausages do not mix well.
Here are just a few random shots to show Berliners and tourists continuing to make the most of life, undaunted by events of the past week.