The Festival of Lights and a city of diversity, Berlin

Unter den Linden, the famous old boulevard in the heart of Berlin, is being ripped up in order to extend the U-Bahn from Alexanderplatz to the main train station, and perhaps it was the squeezing of the space that made the whole centre of the city feel jam packed on Friday night, as crowds wandered with eyes aloft at the various illuminations of Berlin’s Festival of Lights. I can only remember the street that busy during December and the Christmas markets, and so we struggled through the throng without even the promise of a bratwurst or a mug of glühwein as a reward at the end.

Instead we stood at the corner by the Academy of Arts, watching a group step out from the rarefied atmosphere of the Adlon Hotel to sip champagne whilst gazing upon the pretty patterns and animations being beamed onto the Brandenburg Gate. Tripods were jostled for the best shot, and the attraction of the festival for photographers was clear… but otherwise it was all a little underwhelming. There was one major highlight – the open air exhibition Berlin: City of Diversity, installed across the street from the cathedral as part of the 775th Birthday celebrations in the city, and devoted through the means of a huge city map to exploring the history of migration to the city, including “Huguenots, Bohemians, Polish migrant workers, Jews from Eastern Europe, workers from southern Europe, war refugees, contract workers, Aussiedler (ethnic German immigrants) and, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young global artistic and cultural elite” (Do they mean me?). Simple, and wonderfully done, it was far more illuminating than the pretty lights could ever be.

Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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