The Architecture of Cities: Berlin in 30 Seconds

Brandenburg Gate.

“Merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream”.

The time was about 10: pm I was sitting in the Berlin overnight train. I cannot possibly remember where I was headed: I do remember the ride was going to be long. I thought this was a good idea. I thought to see the morning sun rise the next day would be exciting. The idea was not my best: But somehow it still felt genius; Since I never sleep on trains or planes, I could rewind the extraordinary time in Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin.

I was dropped at the station by a Mercedes Benz corporate honcho. We had just spent the past 2-3 hours talking about how he was responsible for choosing  Architect Ben Van Berkel for the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart. It was an uneasy chat: I was shooting his portrait for my book; But the conversation was heartily monitored by a communication assistant.

I made the corporate honcho look very handsome. He offered to drive me to the train station so I would not miss my train. I thanked him for sitting for my camera: He said, “I will see you again in New York. He became my best friend. I never saw him again.

Before I arrived at the corporate offices, I had spent an extraordinary day. Before the portrait session, I remember standing in the middle of the Potsdamer Platz. The legendary light pipes glowed with the setting sun. My moments were waning. I knew I could not own Berlin that day.

But standing in the Potsdamer Platz and looking as they say in Westerns “look yonder”; I saw a huge gathering outside the Berlin Film Festival. So many beautiful people posing for pictures. I almost pulled out my camera. But I am dedicated to my photography: I had needed to make like Secretariat trotting, to make my Mercedes portrait session.

But before the Potsdamer Platz. And the cinema festival and the Mercedes honcho, I had rendezvoused with the German Chancellery designed by Charlotte Frank. In fact every walking moment was a rendezvous with architectural destiny. How was I going to make it to Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philarmonic? Was I going to make it on time to Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum memory of the dead. Should I go there first? Or commune with Peter Eisenman’s funeral procession among the dead at his Holocaust Memorial?

Peter Eisenman’s Jewish Memorial.

I had decisions to make. I was attempting to absorb eight hundred years of existence in “30 seconds”.

I love to run and I was running. No time to “trot”. “Run” said the gods. It is a race against time: I run as the intellectual amphetamines kick in. Not a single second was wasted or disappointing.

Before any captures of the above, my camera framed  Mies Van dear Rohe’s Neue National Galerie.

But I had more running before that.

I stood completely alone with the Brandenburg Gate. Before that my Nietzschean eyes espied the DZ Bank Building. Who would miss Frank Gehry’s (lets call it a skylight hovering over a giant fish) beautiful interior design elements.

I had a single meal in Berlin: Breakfast with Norman Foster’s beautiful glass domed Reichstag.

If I were to calculate the walking distance with camera bags in tow, I would make myself faint. But it would not make a difference? To amass maybe 50 Km’s in a day is about the most aesthetic cultural attention I am qualified for.

My story really begins when I land in Berlin from Porto and Lisbon Portugal.

Norman Foster’s Reichstag.

It is the mind that matters. Or are the eyes more important?

I do know that the entire time on the plane I was rubbing my hands together with excited anticipation. I had a thousand questions to ask: To ask Germany, to ask Berliners. I wasn’t seeking answers, I was seeking an experience.

If I could tap into the cultural young ghosts of Billy Wilder, Leni Riefenstahl, Fritz Lang, Werner Herzog, Fassbinder and more, I might end up with more questions and fewer answers. But that is what experiences are all about.

I merely wanted my camera to zoom in and zoom out: I wanted my lens to absorb a history.

The world will fade away before my eyes one day. I want it all before that day comes: My camera needs to see it.

Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philarmonic.

All photographs by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.