Berlin’s Talking Streets

The staircase leading up from the U-bahnhof station opens out onto a square shrouded in remnants of a pre-war Golden Age in Germany.  Away from the nearby streaming traffic, scantily strewn pockets such as Rosa Luxemburg-Platz offer spacial respite from the scale implemented in much of the rest of East Berlin. Walking amidst this strange copulation of time and space something of the historical poignancy comes into force. Aptly named, this square and the buildings that flank it are witness to the protests of political activists, and their murders, two earth-shattering world wars and forty years of division behind a wall.

Two great feats of twentieth century architecture stand on either side of the square. On one side is Hans Poelzig’s Kino Babylon, built in 1929, is one of the oldest cinemas in Germany. Its curved façade, mimicked in the door frames, steps and circle stalls of the interior, is a symbol of the Golden Age, the era of kino (movie theatre), ballrooms, cabaret and jazz.

On the other is Oskar Kaufmann’s Volksbühne (‘Peoples’ Theatre’) built between 1913 and 1914. Its empowering modernist grandeur reflects the political strife that was brewing in the years of its erection. History is frozen into the blocks that have built this square; activists rallying against German Nationalism’s vision of a new Germany, murder in the name of Communism, not to mention its three name changes over the course of half a century.

Berlin’s streets are a palimpsest of the last hundred years, its squares and street-names hold onto history as it propels forward in the present age. It’s current name, unchanged since 1969, after the political activist, feminist and writer, Rosa Luxemburg, is a signal of exactly that.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist martyr, was a twentieth century visionary whose skill for rhetoric made her a leader of liberal democracy. A prominent leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany she fought the fateful Nationalism of what was to later become the Nazi party and as a result lost her life. Shortly before her death, whilst rallying protesters she poignantly cried, “It’s either transition into socialism or regression into barbarism!”

Rosa Luxemburg-Platz, in the heart of Mitte, is a symbol of what has risen from the ashes of a city once torn apart. Now stands a gallery, a Peoples’ theatre, an art house cinema, record shops and numerous bars, here we can see a city embracing the future without forgetting its past.

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