Tegel and Humboldt

Tegel and Humboldt

Most visitors to Berlin associate Tegel with the name of the main airport. But for Berliners themselves, it has always been an area on the north-west outskirts of their city famed for its beautiful lake and dense forests. In 1793, a vicar who fancied himself as a poet coined a phrase still used by Berliners today – ‘mit Kind und Kegel raus nach Tegel’, an encouragement to make an outing to Tegel ‘with the family and a ball’. In those days the journey from the city centre might have taken a couple of hours by farm cart, now the U-Bahn Line 6 gets you to Alt-Tegel from Friedrichstraβe in about 20 minutes.

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Coming in to land at Tegel Airport

The attraction of plenty of space and fresh air is the same over two centuries later, even though Tegel is much more built-up. The glorious scenery around the lake probably hasn’t altered much and there are still endless possibilities for walks and boat trips. In summer, there is also an official lakeside beach with water slides, a diving platform and café – a great alternative to Wannsee. But now is one of the best times of the year to head out to Tegel; the leaves are changing colour and there is usually plenty of warmth left in the early autumn sunshine. Last Monday, I was especially lucky with a temperature of 25°C, a clear blue sky and only a light breeze.

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Strandbad Tegel in late September

I arrived at Alt-Tegel U-Bahn station and walked down the cobbled, tree-lined high street called Alt-Tegel towards the lake. It leads past cafés and ice-cream parlours, the old village clustered around the church and then on to the impressive Greenwich Promenade. Here colourful flower beds, a British red telephone kiosk and old street lamps create an English seaside atmosphere reminiscent of Worthing. The stunning vista of the Tegeler See (Lake Tegel) combined with a series of jetties advertising a variety of boat trips proved irresistible.

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Alt-Tegel

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The ‘Havel Queen’ on Greenwich Promenade

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The British touch

I decided on a two-hour boat trip northwards to Nieder Neuendorf and back. This covered the Tegeler See itself and a stretch of the Havel River in the former GDR, outside the boundaries of Berlin and where I had previously never ventured. It was a magical mystery tour. The ‘Havel Queen’ made its way regally through calm waters, past islands and forest edges interspersed with small marinas and lakeside settlements. It was useful to have a walking map of Berlin and its surroundings in order to follow the boat’s route. There was occasional commentary in German, but not enough to disturb the peace and the top deck was only half-full. Friendly waiters were on hand to supply drinks and snacks, but it was all pleasantly low-key.

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Waterside scenes – including a former border watchtower

Back at the Greenwich Promenade my next destination was Schloss Tegel, the ‘palace’ where Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt spent much of their time in Berlin and which is still lived in by Wilhelm’s descendants – many Berliners now refer to it as the ‘Humboldtschloss’. It is only open on Mondays, from May to September and entrance is with a guided tour. I decided that I would go for the 4pm slot – the last tour of the year. I crossed the Sechserbrücke, a former toll bridge, at the north end of the promenade, continued along quiet suburban streets and turned up at Schloss Tegel just as the guide was dispatching the previous group of about 20 visitors. I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered that I was the sole visitor for the final tour.

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The front of Schloss Tegel

The brilliant von Humboldt brothers are famed throughout Germany. Wilhelm (1767-1835) was a Prussian minister, philosopher and linguist who founded the first University in Berlin and Alexander (1769-1859) was a geographer, naturalist, explorer and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. In September 2019 the Humboldt Forum is due to opens its doors to the public. This exciting, large-scale museum project, named after Alexander von Humboldt, will be a world centre for culture. It is currently under construction on the site of the Berliner Stadtschloss, the former Prussian and Imperial royal palace, demolished in 1950 after being damaged by bombing in World War II, and later the East German Palast der Republik, demolished in 2008. The inaugural Artistic Director of the Humboldt Forum is Neil Macgregor, formerly Director of the British Museum in London. For current webcam progress on the construction of the Humboldtforum follow this link.

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Statue of Alexander von Humboldt in front of the University

To get the full impact of a visit to Schloss Tegel, I would recommend first reading ‘The Invention of Nature’, a recent illustrated biography of Alexander von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf and winner of many awards. It is a treasury of information and takes you into the universe of Alexander’s mind which connected all aspects of nature. Alexander von Humboldt was the first proponent of ‘environmentalism’ and was a huge influence on Darwin. This book also gives you details of Wilhelm’s life and both brothers’ relationship with Schloss Tegel, surrounded by ancient forests and meadows.

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Schloss Tegel has been in the Humboldt family since the mid-18th Century. It was originally a country manor for the Elector of Brandenburg and was given its present appearance in the early-1820s when Wilhelm had it enlarged on classical lines by the famous Prussian architect, Friedrich Schinkel. Wilhelm had been Prussian Ambassador in Rome and developed a taste for all things classical, so the building is not only classical in style but the rooms open to the public are full of Roman and Greek statues and reliefs. The entrance is designed as an old Roman atrium complete with a central fountain that Wilhelm and his cultured wife Caroline brought back with them from Rome.

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Atrium

Although all the paintings from Schloss Tegel were removed for safe keeping during the war, they were confiscated by the Soviets and have never been returned. Much of the furniture is still original though and most of the statues, together with the building’s inventory, found their way back to the GDR in the late-1950s so that the family has been able to recreate the building essentially as it was when Wilhelm and Caroline lived there.

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When Wilhelm died, Schloss Tegel was passed on to their two daughters and their sons inherited larger von Humboldt properties elsewhere. The elder daughter, Adelheid, died childless and the family name is now von Bülow, after the husband of Gabriele, the younger daughter. The von Bülows who currently live in Schloss Tegel often give guided tours of their home themselves. However, as they were away from Berlin this week, my tour guide was an art historian whose knowledge of the building’s history and its contents was remarkable. Knowing I was especially interested in the adventures of Alexander, he took down one of Alexander von Humboldt’s large original atlases from the library shelves and showed me some of the beautifully illustrated pages. It is not permitted to take photographs of the interior of Schloss Tegel, but I have included some pictures from the booklet giving the history of the house and was able to take a shot out of a first floor window which captures the Arcadian setting.

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The library, the staircase and the blue salon

After the tour, I explored the grounds in the late afternoon sunshine. It is only a ten-minute stroll down to the peaceful family cemetery on the edge of the forest. Here is the memorial Wilhelm erected to his wife and the graves of both brothers and many of Wilhelm’s descendants – Alexander never married.

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View from the first floor window

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The cemetery in the forest

From the cemetery, it’s worth continuing a little further into the forest to see the 900-year old oak tree, ‘DIcke Marie’, reputedly the oldest tree in Berlin. It was given its name of ‘fat Mary’ by the Humboldt brothers as children, comparing it to their well-loved cook at the Schloss.

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‘DIcke Marie’

There are some spectacularly tall trees in the forests of Tegel. If it’s too cold to be on the water, try the walk described in Berlin Unwrapped (Page 101) which takes you through the forest from Alt-Heiligensee to Alt-Tegel. My latest discovery for excellent Kaffee und Kuchen at the end of the day is Café Wetterstein in Alt-Tegel with its wooden rafters and candlelight.

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The coolest of squares

The coolest of squares

There’s nothing like a pretty square in a busy city – a place to sit and chill, take a break from the rush and linger over a meal or drink. Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg offers all this and more, yet remains far from the madding crowd, despite its central location. Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain may be ‘on trend’, but the nightlife around Savignyplatz is just as buzzing, with less hype and more substance. And by day, it’s perfect for lunch at a pavement café and a starting point for a stroll around local shops off the Ku’damm. It’s easy to get to as well – only one stop from Zoo Station on the S-Bahn.

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Arriving at Savignyplatz by S Bahn

Like many other places in Berlin, Savignyplatz has French origins in its design and its name. The square was originally laid out in 1862 as part of the Hobrecht Plan for urban Berlin, based on the boulevards and squares of Hausmann’s renovation of Paris under Napoleon III. In 1887, it was named after Karl Friedrich von Savigny, a well-connected lawyer who played an important role in Berlin political and academic life in the mid-19th Century. In French, the pronunciation of the word ‘Savigny’ puts the stress on the last syllable, but Berliners resolutely call it ‘Sav-ee-gny’.

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Savignyplatz in 1902

Savignyplatz is dissected by the broad avenue of Kantstraβe which runs east-west, and a total of seven streets fan out from the two halves of the square. In 1892, it became a public park and four years later, Savignyplatz S-Bahn station was opened, with the overhead railway running atmospherically along the south side of the square. Herbaceous borders and shaded arbours were added in 1926 and two identical bronze sculptures of a ‘Knabe mit Ziege’ (‘Boy with goat’)  were placed on the northern part of the square in 1931. When they were replaced after the war in 1955, only one was an original – the other is a copy.

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Views of the square today

For much of the post-war period Savignyplatz remained rather neglected, although the surrounding area of Charlottenburg was one of the hubs of West Berlin’s nightlife. This area was also the centre of the student demonstrations in the 1960s. It still attracts students, as well as the ‘Alte 68er’ – a term Germans give to what we call loosely describe as ‘ageing left-wing intellectuals’. In 1987, it was given a facelift for the celebrations of the 750th Anniversary of Berlin. The original kiosk designed by Grenander, the architect responsible for many of Berlin’s U-Bahn stations, was rebuilt and is now a popular currywurst stand. The brick cabin dating back to 1926 wasn’t reconstructed until 2007 and features an eye-catching contemporary art installation illuminated at night.

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The modernised kiosk and cabin 

Savignyplatz has always had an alternative vibe. In the 1920s it attracted scores of artists, writers and celebrities. The Expressionist painter, Georg Grosz, lived at 5 Savignyplatz, before he emigrated to the States in the 1930s and the poet Mascha Kaléko was just around the corner in Bleibtreustraβe. When she also left in 1938, she published these haunting lines in the ‘Aufbau’ journal of German emigrés in America. They translate literally as: “I travelled around the world a lot before those ‘thousand years‘. Foreign lands were beautiful, only a substitute. The name of my homesickness was Savignyplatz.”:

“Ich bin vor jenen ‘tausend Jahren’, viel in der Welt herumgefahren. Schön war die Fremde, doch Ersatz. Mein Heimweh hieβ Savignyplatz.“

There is indeed something nostalgic about Savignyplatz, which finds its echo in many of the surrounding restaurants and bars housed in grand Wilhemine-style buildings. My favourite is the café that never sleeps – Schwarzes Café (‘Black Café’) at 148 Kantstraβe, two minutes from the square. It’s open round the clock and epitomises laid-back, dimly-lit Berlin café society. David Bowie and Iggy Pop hung out there in the late 1970s when it first opened. The more upmarket Paris Bar, a little further along Kantstraβe, has a glitzy cult following and a degree of egotism. Glossy photos on the walls bear witness to all the actors and film stars who have dined there. This was once the West Berlin restaurant to be seen in. By contrast, the wonderful Florian, tucked away at 52 Grolmanstraβe, is where the illustrious go to escape attention. Unsurprisingly, both the food and the service are both outstanding. Everything is organic and the menu has a South German accent. It’s open every day from 6pm and the kitchen serves food until midnight. Booking is essential.

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Looking into the Schwarzes Café and Florian

For a traditional German meal in a cosy pub atmosphere complete with wooden panelling and curios, a visit to the Die Dicke Wirtin (‘The Fat Landlady’) on the north side of Savignyplatz is a must. This Berlin institution has been going strong for over 80 years and has the ‘quaint’ factor, and tends to attract group bookings by tour bus companies, so a table reservation is recommended here too.

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The quaint interior of the Dicke Wirtin

For a retro feel though, I prefer the Zwiebelfisch (‘Onion Fish’) a café bar at 7-8 Savignyplatz, open from midday until six in the morning and still frequented by aspiring bohemians. Time stopped here in the 1960s and it’s still a perfect place for putting the world to rights in the early hours, surrounded by old posters and photos from West Berlin days. The Spectator magazine seems to agree with me. It describes the Zwiebelfisch as simply the best bar in the world.

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Chilling in the Zwiebelfisch

While on the subject of bars, the cool Hefner Bar on the corner of Savignyplatz and Kantstraβe, serves first-class cocktails to start or end the evening. It has that slick lounge bar quality that comes at a price. By contrast, the Gainsbourg le Club Americain, which has now moved to the south side of the square in the Jeanne-Mammen-Bogen, is an old Savignyplatz haunt with all the smoky Parisian hip and great cocktails its name promises, but in a Berlin setting under the S-Bahn arches. There’s live music from Thursdays to Saturdays.

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Inside Hefner and outside Gainsbourg

But the most well-known music venues in this area are the A-Trane and Quasi Modo. A-Trane has a good restaurant as well as being a great jazz club. Quasi Modo, nearer Zoo Station, is a basement club under the Delphi-Filmpalast cinema and next to the Theater des Westens. It opened back in 1975 in what used to be a student pub and has a wide programme of live music as well as some cabaret and comedy. Both A-Trane and Quasi Modo have websites giving details of their music events in English.

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The A-Trane entrance

Facing Savignyplatz itself there are about 10 restaurants to choose from. They all spill out on to the pavement and even in colder weather, people sit outside to enjoy the prospect of the square, huddled under the blankets provided. It’s always fun to walk around the square studying the different menus. I love Brel for its total Frenchness and the AndaLucia tapas café for its Spanish warmth. There are several perfectly good Italian restaurants to choose from, but nothing to beat the pizza at the 12 Apostel in the passage leading to the S-Bahn station. If you like Vietnamese food, I can recommend both Mr Hai and Friends and Pho Nguyen.

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Pavement café society

Finally, you can browse for hours in the shops on and around Savignyplatz. Bücherbogen has beautiful art books and Marga Schoeller in Knesebeckstraβe stocks a large range of books in English. Kantstraβe is well known for its design shops and galleries and there are boutiques up and down Bleibtreustraβe and Knesebeckstraβe. Berlin Unwrapped has all the details in the Charlottenburg section of ‘Buy, buy Berlin’. But here are two additions; at 88 Knesebeckstraβe is Berliner ZInnfiguren, a collector’s dream shop selling antique tin soldiers and cake enthusiasts should head for the colourful Der Kuchenladen (‘The Cake Shop’) at 138 Kantstraβe. This shop and café has one of the best selections of cakes in Berlin and with over 50 to choose from, you may have to go back time and again. It’s open every day from 10am until 10pm.

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Books, cakes and tin soldiers

History set in stone

History set in stone

I hope that last week’s blog about Spandau has encouraged you to visit this special part of Berlin. From now until the end of 2019, the wonderful Spandau Zitadelle has a stunning new exhibition. One of its huge neoclassical barrack buildings has been beautifully renovated to house a unique collection of Berlin monuments, ‘Unveiled – Berlin and its monuments.’ Statues that are symbols of the country’s turbulent past and yet have been removed from public view for years, have been rescued from neglect and despair and cleverly assembled to reveal a highly-charged political story from the 18th Century to the end of the 20th Century.

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Rescued angels

This exhibition has a real ‘wow factor’ from the moment you walk into the first vast room. Here you are greeted by the Prussian monarchy in the form of King Friedrich Wilhelm III, reunited with his Queen Louise who died so tragically young. The monuments erected in Berlin before the founding of the German Empire in 1871 were an expression of the military and political rise of the Prussian monarchy.

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A royal couple reunited

King Friedrich II, ‘Frederick the Great’, was the first monarch in Europe to erect monuments to generals who did not come from the royal house, but who had distinguished themselves in war. There are scores of scarred heroes to admire in the next hall, many of them with limbs broken off or punctured with bullet-holes. Massed together in their spacious new surroundings, they make a commanding sight.

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Broken heroes

A particular highlight of the exhibition is the set of marble statues commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II to adorn the magnificent Siegesallee (‘Victory Avenue’) in Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. A whole summer’s day in the year 1907 is imitated acoustically by a sound installation, supported by a lighting choreography throwing shadows on to the park bench in the middle of the room. I stood there for a while, listening to the sound of people, carriages and birdsong and was transported back in time and place.

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The Tiergarten in 1907

Germany’s defeat in World War I, which had cost the lives of over two million German soldiers, defined the erection of memorials during the post-war years of the Weimar Republic. The ‘Monument to the fallen Railwaymen,’ is especially touching. It depicts a strong man kneeling and bowing his head in mourning. There were many more such monuments erected all over the newly-created Greater Berlin, but the elected government of the day never realised a central ‘Reich Memorial’ in Berlin, something which would have certainly happened during the period of the Prussian monarchy.

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The Railwaymen’s monument

During the period of National Socialism, it was architecture rather than monuments that played the major role as a means of demonstrating power and supporting the government’s claim to world domination. Adolf Hitler and his architect, Albert Speer, drew up plans to turn Berlin into the Reich Capital Germania. Statues were erected that conformed to classical Greek and Roman art, considered by Hitler to be art whose exterior form embodied an inner racial ideal and was both heroic and romantic. The one in the exhibition is a statue by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favorite sculptor. Also on display in this room is an eight-ton stone, whose purpose was to portray Germanic engineering prowess.

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A rediscovered Breker bronze

In the National Socialism section of the exhibition there is a second sound installation, located in a small, empty, darkened room with a high ceiling. It symbolically depicts the Berlin Ruhmeshalle (‘Hall of Fame’) one of Hitler’s and Speer’s projects that was never realised. This cult hall was intended to hold 180,000 visitors and its purpose was to spread Nazi ideology. The inhumanity and incomprehensibility of this project is conveyed by an abstract sound installation and floor vibrations, which combine to induce feelings of anxiety and terror. It is a disorientating experience.

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The grandiose design for Germania’s ‘Ruhmeshalle’

After World War II, the victorious powers divided Berlin into four sectors and East Berlin subsequently became the capital of the German Democratic Republic. In West Berlin, monuments were used to promote freedom and reunification in the ‘front-line city’ of the Cold War. They commemorated political events such as the blockade of 1948/1949, the people’s uprising in the GDR in 1953, and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But it is mainly East Berlin monuments that are ‘unveiled’ in this exhibition, because so many were removed after reunification. On display is the memorial to the victims of ‘Fascism and Militarism’ from the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden, which I can recall from the 1980s. In the 1990s it was replaced by the more moving and less political Käthe Kollwitz sculpture of mourning mother.

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The GDR’s memorial to the unknown soldier

There are many more monuments and statues in this last section of the exhibition, reflecting socialist ideology and German-Soviet friendship, as well as the struggle of the working classes against capitalism and fascism. But the show’s main attraction is undoubtedly one of its most colossal pieces – a granite head of Lenin, made famous by the 2003 film, ‘Goodbye Lenin!’ In a haunting scene, a piece of the torso of the gigantic statue of the Soviet leader is helicoptered along Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx-Allee), with hand outstretched.

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The ‘Goodbye Lenin’ moment

The 1.7-metre-high Lenin head in the exhibition was part of a statue carved from Ukrainian pink granite that towered 19 metres above East Berlin. But after the fall of the Wall, amid considerable controversy, the first mayor of reunited Berlin ordered its removal to rid the city of an ‘unwanted icon’. The statue took months to disassemble, as Lenin was split into 120 parts, then transported to a secluded forest and buried in sandy earth.

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According to the Director of the Spandau Zitadelle Museum, there were “endless debates” surrounding the decision to integrate the Lenin statue into this collection. There is also a widespread feeling that instead of dismantling and hiding the monuments, it would have been more appropriate to keep them up and publicly discuss their role and symbolism. But it is too late for regrets and this collection of rescued and scarred statues makes for a truly memorable exhibition in a unique setting. All the information is given clearly in English as well as German and you can reach out and touch the exhibits. Entrance costs €4.50 to include the Zitadelle Museum and the Juliusturm. The Zitadelle is open daily from 10.00 am until 5.00 pm.

Spandau Revisited

Spandau Revisited

Stations at the end of the line always have a magnetic attraction.Traveling westwards on the Berlin underground (U- Bahn- Linie 7), trains have ‘Rathaus Spandau’ (Spandau Town Hall) as their destination. If you haven’t yet ventured to the end of this line, I can promise it will be worth the journey. Spandau is the furthest west and the fourth largest of the twelve Berlin boroughs. It is steeped in history and swathes of river, lakes and forest account for 40% of its area.

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Aerial view of Spandau’s historic town centre

This blog concentrates on the Altstadt (Old Town), clustered around the imposing Rathaus (Town Hall) and the 14th Century St Nikolai church. From here, Spandau spreads out into many newer neighbourhoods and surburbs, some of them on the edge of the forest. But the borough’s real gem is the Spandauer Zitadelle (Citadel), one of the best-preserved Renaissance forts in Europe. Parts of it go back to the 13th Century and its ancient tower, the ‘Juliusturm’ has wonderful views across the River Havel.

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Spandauer Zitadelle

When I lived in Spandau in the mid-1980s, there was some bold white graffiti painted across the railway bridge connecting Spandau to West Berlin, ‘Es war schon immer etwas Besonderes, ein Spandauer zu sein’, which translated into English means, ‘It has always been something special to be a Spandauer’. The pride of Spandauers in their birthplace is well-known in Berlin and has even been compared to the nationalistic fervour of the Bavarians, who see themselves as separate from the rest of Germany.In the latter part of the 19th Century, large industrial concerns, including Siemens, brought wealth to Spandau. By 1913, when the new Rathaus was built, Spandau was an extremely prosperous town.

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Spandau Rathaus in 1913

Then, at the end of the First World War, there were boundary changes in Prussia and – against the will of many of its citizens – Spandau voted to become the eighth borough of the newly-formed Greater Berlin.  Even now, despite being an integral part of Berlin since 1920, people still talk of ‘going to Berlin’ if they visit the city centre, and going ‘into town’ if they are referring to Spandau. Ernst Reuter, the first Mayor of post-war West Berlin, once said that his city had 11 boroughs and one republic, called Spandau.

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The Berlin boroughs today

So what makes Spandau so special? First, it has ancient roots. In fact, it’s five years older than Berlin to which it eventually lost its independence. Officially founded in 1232, archaeological finds have proved that it was an important settlement on the route from the west towards Prussia and Poland long before then. The town grew up around the points where the River Havel meets the River Spree and was a military stronghold, often referred to as the ‘Soldiers’ Town’  and it still retains these associations.  People used to connect Spandau with its military prison, built in 1876 and demolished in 1987 after the death of its last inmate, Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolf Hess, who was incarcerated there for 45 years.  And ‘Spandau Ballet’, the English band, was accidentally named after the ghoulish slang used by Allied troops in the trenches in the First World War, which referred to the Spandau machine gun fire from the German lines.

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Changing the guard at Spandau Prison, 1951

But today, these grim memories of war have largely faded and the pretty Altstadt of Spandau attracts large numbers of visitors.  It covers an area bounded by the Rivel Havel and the Mühlengraben (Millrace) and still contains the original criss-cross formation of cobbled streets with a large open market place (where the Spandau Christmas market is held) and pretty timbered houses, such as the ‘Wendenschloß’ in Jüdenstraße which dates back to 1700. The stone-built ‘Gotisches Haus’ in Breite Straße was constructed at the end of the 15th Century and houses the Spandau Tourist Information Centre and a small museum. It’s well worth strolling around the old streets and along Lindenufer, on the banks of the River Havel.

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The Wendenschloß

The main Church of St Nikolai on the Reformationsplatz was built in the 14th Century. The first Protestant communion service in Brandenburg was apparently held here after the Reformation in 1539. Inside the church are a Renaissance altar and the vault of the family of the Duke of Lynar, one of the master masons who built the Zitadelle. Outside is a statue of Archduke Joachim II and a war memorial designed by the illustrious Prussian architect, Friedrich Schinkel, dedicated to Spandauers who died in the Wars of Liberation. The St Nikolai Church has had a significant role to play in recent history too. During the Third Reich, it was one of the centres of the ‘Bekennende Kirche’ (Confessing Church), which offered resistance to the Nazi reign of terror.

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St Nikolai Kirche

But historically speaking, it is the Zitadelle which takes price of place in the Spandauer’s hearts and makes Spandau such a special part of Berlin. I went back there twice recently, for the first time in many years; once on a rainy April day and then again in glorious June sunshine. There is a U-Bahn station called ‘Spandauer Zitadelle’ but I would recommend continuing to Rathaus Spandau and then walking through the Altstadt to the Zitadelle to get a feel for the town. The U-Bahn only takes 30 minutes from the city centre or you can take the S-Bahn which is even faster. These links didn’t exist when I first moved to Spandau. The Spandau underground stations weren’t built until1984 and the S-Bahn station reopened after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the city rail network was reunified.

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Map of Spandau, showing the stations

On our April visit, we headed straight for the Rathaus and looked around its imperious entrance hall, for old times’ sake. Then we walked through pedestrianised area of the Altstadt, where very little seemed to have changed. This is in stark contrast to the new shopping malls that have sprung up on the other side of the railway lines. We stopped for coffee at the well-named ‘Satt und Selig’ (‘well-fed and blessed’) opposite the church, and noticed that the locals had already moved on to beer and schnapps with their breakfast. The Spandauers have always known how to enjoy themselves.

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‘Satt und Selig’ on Reformationsplatz

Continuing across the main road ‘Am Juliusturm’, into the cobbled streets of Kolk, we walked down to the Spandau lock, below the Zitadelle across the Havel. There are more pretty timbered houses in this small enclave, which is the oldest part of the Altstadt and you can see the remains of the original 14th Century town wall in Viktoria Ufer and Hoher Steinweg. There are a couple of good traditional German restaurants here too; the Spandauer Zollhaus restaurant on Möllentordamm and the Brauhaus on Neuendorfer Straße which has large beer gardens and boasts 13 different house beers.

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Images of ancient Kolk

From Kolk, it was only a short walk along the road bridge to the Zitadelle and its impressive entrance across the moat. We were immediately greeted by scenes of a wedding group enjoying the photo opportunity of the stunning surroundings and saw no fewer than four wedding parties that morning in the Zitadelle grounds.

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One of the happy couples..

Once inside the Zitadelle, there are plenty of attractions on offer. You can wander around the ramparts and climb the 32-metre high Juliusturm, with great views of the moat and Spandau town, as well as the forests to the west, once divided by the Wall between West Berlin and the GDR.

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View of the moat from the Juliusturm

There are also two large exhibition halls; one with armaments including cannons from the early days to the large field guns used until recent times, and the other displaying the various trades and businesses from around Spandau. But for me, it was the museum in the former Commander’s House which held most interest. It tells the story of the Zitadelle from its 13th Century beginnings to the present day and has a wealth of fascinating models and exhibits. The large information boards are in English as well as German and each chapter is absorbing.

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Model of the original fort

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An impressive display of military helmets 

During the Second World War, Spandau was heavily bombed because of its military and industrial importance. It also suffered terribly during the Russian attack with fierce fighting around the Rathaus and the Charlottenbrücke. A small group of leading Spandauers, including civilians, managed to defend the Zitadelle for a few days and hold out against the besieging Russian tanks. Then, in the years that followed, when Spandau had to rebuild so much of its infrastructure, it became part of the British Sector of West Berlin and contained the main British garrison. Relations between the British and Spandauers were always very friendly – another reason that makes Spandau so special. It has also had close links with its partner towns of Luton, England and Asnière-sur-Seine, France, since 1959.

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We rounded off our April visit to Spandau with lunch in the ‘Zitadelle Schänke’ located in the cellars of the fortress. The rain had started to fall quite heavily, so we were very happy to be under the medieval vaulted ceiling and ordered some Alt-Spandau fare of Boulette (meatballs), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and mead. The Spandau service was as friendly as ever and, as added entertainment, we were treated to the arrival of a wedding party, led by a lute-playing court jester.

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A medieval meal

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Outside the Zitadelle Schänke

More about Spandau follows in the next blog. It will feature the must-see new exhibition, ‘Unveiled. Berlin and its monuments’, which opened in the Old Barracks of the Zitadelle on 29th April and runs until the end of 2019.

A Temple of Consumption

A Temple of Consumption

I’m not a great fan of shopping malls. In fact, quite the opposite. But curiosity eventually drew me to the crassly-named ‘Mall of Berlin’, the largest and newest shopping centre in Berlin. It opened last summer to great razzamatazz and also some controversy, as the Rumanian construction workers claimed they had not been paid and dubbed it the ‘Mall of Shame’.

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Construction workers on the march

My main reason for seeking it out was its location on Leipziger Platz. Before the war, this was the site of the biggest department store in Europe. This jewel in the crown of the ‘Wertheim’ chain was built in 1896 and featured 83 lifts and a glass-covered atrium. Georg Wertheim, the owner, was Jewish and his stores were expropriated by the Nazis in 1937. The Jewish workers lost their jobs and the Wertheim family was forced to sell all their holdings. They tried to avoid losing control of the company by making Georg’s ‘Aryan’ wife, Ursula, the principal shareholder. But in the end, this was unsuccessful, even though the couple divorced to keep the shares in purely ‘Aryan’ hands.

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The Wertheim store in the 1920s

The Leipziger Platz building was badly damaged in the war, its ruins were demolished in the 1950s and then the site ended up in no-man’s land between East and West Berlin when the city was divided. After reunification, the area soon sprang to life again and in 1991, one of the world’s most famous techno clubs, ‘Tresor’ (in German, ‘safe’ or ‘vault’) opened in the only remnant left of the Wertheim store, its giant underground vault. The club closed in 2005.

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‘Tresor’ in 2003

In the meantime, the Wertheim site had become embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute between the family’s descendants and several German companies and was finally settled out of court in 2007. For many years there were two remaining stores in Berlin which operated under the Wertheim name, even though they were owned by Karstadt. The flagship store, built in 1969-1971, was on the Kurfürstendamm and converted into a Karstadt store in 2008. The other store, in the West Berlin district of Steglitz, was demolished in 2009 for construction of the glitzy new Schloßstraße shopping mall.

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The Wertheim store (lower right) on the Ku’damm in 2003

The €1bn ‘Mall of Berlin’, an entire new quarter of the city centre with 270 shops, a Hard Candy fitness centre owned by Madonna, a hotel, offices and flats, marks the spot where the grand Wertheim store once stood. At the opening ceremony in September 2015, the then Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, paid tribute to its original Jewish owners. “It’s really great that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve finally managed to close the gap where the great Wertheim store once stood … Leipziger Platz has a historic importance in Berlin. Wertheim stood for quality and innovation and we’re looking forward to continuing that tradition.”

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Grand opening of The Mall of Berlin in 2015

Harald Huth, developer of the three-storey structure, has also paid tribute to the Wertheim store by including giant pictures of it on the walls of the mall and modelling the glass-covered arcade on the one in the original building. These historic touches are, for me, the best thing about the ‘Mall of Berlin’.

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Old photographs of the Wertheim store  on the walls and around the top of the escalators

I also like the political sayings embedded into the flooring; they literally make you stop and think. Barak Obama’s words in the photograph below translate as: ‘Peoples of the world, look at Berlin where a wall fell and a continent united, And the course of history has proved that no challenge is too great for a world that stands together.’ Little did I imagine when I read these words that the United Kingdom was about to vote to leave the European Union.

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The Barak Obama quote, in German

Once you are inside the ‘Mall of Berlin’, you could be anywhere in the world. There are all the usual international high-end brands alongside the high-street chains and the layout is pretty predictable too. In general, the ground floor and the first floor are all about fashion, the second floor is dedicated to shoes, children, and a food court and the basement is home to various stores selling sporting goods, electronics and food. I found a couple of shops selling something unique to Berlin and then we headed to the highlight of the mall – its elegant and airy piazza.

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‘I’ve looked around and we are the trendiest people here’

This open space, with its perfect view of the front façade of the Bundesrat (German equivalent of the House of Lords) has hosted two fantastic classical music flashmobs. There was one last September and another only a couple of months back when 1,000 amateur musicians joined the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester to play Wagner, Verdi and Berlioz under the baton of Kent Nagano. Follow this You Tube link to hear how they sounded.

Teilnehmer des "Symphonic Mob" musizieren am 19.09.2015 in Berlin unter der Leitung des Dirigenten Manuel Nawri (M) in der Mall of Berlin. Der Musik-Flashmob war von dem Deutschen Symphonie-Orchester organsiert worden. Foto: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Flashmobbing in the Mall of Berlin

Another good thing about the Mall of Berlin is its central location on Leipziger Platz, so close to many of Berlin’s historic sites – only a ten minute stroll from both the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. The main entrance to the mall is just by the exit of Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station, while the Wilhelmstraße entrance is very close to the Mohrenstraße U-Bahn station. Buses M48 and 200 stop in front of the mall at ‘U Mohrenstraße’ or ‘Leipziger Straße / Wilhelmstraße’, while all the S-Bahn trains and buses stopping at Potsdamer Platz are only a couple of minutes’ walk from the mall. The Mall of Berlin also boasts 1,000 underground parking spaces, open 24 hours a day.

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A view of the Bundesrat from the piazza

People often ask me where to go for ‘good shopping’ in Berlin. If you are short of time and want to find everything under one roof, then the Mall of Berlin is the obvious choice. But this cathedral of consumerism, beautifully-lit and with classy shop fronts, lacks any true Berlin feeling, other than the fact that it stands on such a historic site. We emerged from its bright lights into the early evening sunshine, and contemplated its essence from a pavement table at a great little Italian café on Leipziger Platz. The verdict was ‘decidedly dull’.

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Restaurant tip on Leipziger Platz

But the scene outside had its merits. The sleek, high buildings of Potsdamer Platz punctured the blue sky and there were groups of locals setting up picnics on the grass in front of us. On the face of it, life felt good; the wasteland of the Berlin Wall death strip has almost disappeared. But I worry that these areas have now been filled up with ministries, embassies, office blocks and hotels. And lots of shops – too many of them. On the plus side, no armoured vehicles on the streets and a United Europe……

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Remnant of the Berlin Wall on Leipziger Platz

A Poignant Wilderness

A Poignant Wilderness

The Jewish Cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee is one of the largest and most beautiful Jewish cemeteries in Europe. Earlier this month, I was strolling along its many sun-dappled paths together with Berlin friends. Stopping to read the inscriptions on the headstones, we reflected on over a century of European history. We all felt fortunate to be alive in a united Germany that welcomed people of all races and nationalities, and a Europe trying to work together for peace and stability in the global community. It seemed as if we had come such a long way along the road of cooperation and enlightenment since the terrible events of the 20th Century. And now, in late June 2016, Great Britain has decided to distance itself from the European Union. It hardly seems credible.

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At the entrance of the cemetery is a Holocaust memorial. Translated into English, the inscription on the central headstone reads, ‘Always remember what happened to us. Dedicated to the memory of our brothers and sisters 1933-45 and to the living who are to fulfil the legacy of the dead.’ This headstone is surrounded by further stones, each with the names of concentration camps. Next to it is a memorial, dedicated in 1927, to 12,000 Berlin Jews who lost their lives during the First World War, and also a commemorative plaque to those who resisted the Nazis.

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The Holocaust Memorial at Weissensee

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In 1995 the Bundeswehr paid tribute to the 400 Jewish soldiers buried in Weissensee, who fought and died for Germany in the First World War

The graves of Berliners who died in the Holocaust cannot, of course, be found in Weissensee but there are many individual memorials to them scattered amongst the actual graves and their names have sometimes been added to the headstones of family members.

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A memorial to a father and his sister who both died in Ausschwitz

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A 1971 headstone with a dedication to a mother murdered in Riga in 1941

On the map, the Weissensee cemetery looks like a Renaissance garden; a geometric pattern of rectangles, trapeziums and triangles. The avenues criss-cross each other in circles and squares. But when you enter the grounds, you feel you have stepped into a place of enchantment. Among the high trees and thickets there are columns, stones, mausoleums, ivy and lilac. And it is all so peaceful. Few people are aware that the cemetery grounds are classified as a historical monument.

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Photo taken in 1907

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‘Section 1, Field B’ photo taken in June 2016

The significance of the cemetery lies not only in its extraordinary graves, whose variety and splendour today seem almost incredible, but also its fate, which is so closely entwined with that of Berlin. When you explore the cemetery on foot, it is like walking through a history book. The list of famous artists, philosophers, lawyers, architects, doctors, religious teachers and publishers who are buried here is endless. The Berlin department store founders Adolf Janert (KaDeWe) and Herman Tietz (Hertie) are among them, the artist Lesser Ury, whose works were banned by the Nazis, the publisher Samuel Fischer (S. Fischer Verlag), Berthold Kempinski, who gave his name to the famous luxury hotel chain and Rudolf Mosse, who once owned the largest publishing house in Europe.

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Grave of Lesser Ury (1861-1931) painter of Berlin landscapes

The Weissensee Cemetery opened in 1880. The old Jewish cemetery in Große Hamburger Straße, opened in 1672, had reached its full capacity in 1827 and the second cemetery in Schönhauser Allee, opened in the same year, reached its capacity in the 1880s.The very first person to be buried in Weissensee on 22nd September 1880 was not a celebrity, but Louis Gruenbaum, the former director of an old peoples’ home. On the side of his gravestone is a large number ‘1’. The fact that it is still standing is because a Jewish cemetery is created for eternity. The graves are not levelled and there are no expiry dates, as in other German cemeteries. On every gravestone in Weissensee there is a sequential number.There are also many gravestones where the date of death is given according the Jewish calendar which starts on the day Adam and Eve were created.

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The Landecker brothers died in the years 5,661 and 5,678 …

Over 115,000 people are buried in the cemetery. Simple headstones stand alongside splendid mausoleums from the art nouveau or art deco eras. Some graves were designed by Bauhaus architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Some of them seem fanciful, others impress with their monumental style. Yet, although the money available to spend on the creation of each grave must have varied greatly at the time, today they are similar; mostly crumbling, overgrown, forgotten. In places, hardly a ray of light can pierce the massive treetops to reach down on to the graves. The Holocaust not only destroyed the lives of millions but also destroyed the memory of them. In the 1930s there were 170,000 Jews living in Berlin, at the end of the war only 5,000 remained.

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One of the larger mausoleum-style family graves

Yet Weissensee cemetery was never closed during the war years. Jewish children played there when it became too dangerous for them on the streets of Berlin. Martin Riesenburger, who later became rabbi of East Berlin’s Jewish community, survived the Holocaust with his wife by hiding in the cemetery. Between 1943 and 1944, he not only buried the Jewish dead there, but conducted religious services in the grounds. He was also able to rescue religious ritual objects, including numerous Torah Scrolls and silver ornaments, by hiding them in the cemetery. Many other Jews were able to save themselves by hiding within the vast grounds, including inside the burial vault of opera singer Joseph Schwarz. Details surrounding the Gestapo’s discovery of this hiding place came to light through a report written by Christoph Hein. He described the Gestapo’s gruesome torture of those whose hiding places were discovered.

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These happy photos were taken in 1942 in the Jewish Cemetery. The boys survived the war, but the girls were deported and murdered.

As Weissensee Cemetery is situated on the outskirts of the former capital of the GDR, after the war it fell into further oblivion. It wasn’t possible for the tiny Jewish community of East Berlin to control the spreading wilderness. In their helplessness, the administration decided to leave the main part of the cemetery to nature and just have a few representative plots near the entrance where burials could still take place. Since reunification, the cemetery staff are trying to restore the individual graves one by one.

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GDR children playing games along the tops of graves in the 1970s

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Some current low-key clearing and renovation taking place

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The beautifully-restored Hall of Mourning

With an estimated 40,000 members, the Jewish community in Berlin today is the largest in Germany. This is partly due to the number of Jews who have immigrated from the former Soviet Union. The customs and traditions these families have brought from their old homeland are the latest and most exciting chapter in the Weissensee history because funerals are still taking place in these historic grounds. On our walk, we saw several family members tending recent graves where the headstones were mostly in Russian or Hebrew.

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Newer graves with Hebrew and Russian inscriptions

Weissensee is now a thriving suburb of north-east Berlin, just beyond trendy Prenzlauer Berg. When the Jewish Cemetery opened there, it was a small village. There are still those who jokingly say that the cemetery is ‘just outside Poland’, although in 1880 family members thought nothing of making the journey by horse-drawn tram from Alexanderplatz. Today the M4 tram whisks you out to Weissensee in no time. The cemetery is only a 5 minute walk from stop 14 at Albertinenstrasse.

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One of the prettiest graves, with metalwork freshly re-painted

In 2011, a wonderful film was made about the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee: ‘Im Himmel und unter Erde’ (In Heaven and under the Earth). Follow this link to see the trailer – the narration is in German, but you get a real feel for the atmosphere of the cemetery and its historic significance. There is also a captivating book about the cemetery, ‘The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery – Moments in History’, published by be.bra verlag. The photographs are truly beautiful (I have used a few for this blog) and the text is in both German and English.

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Cover photo for the book

Finally, you can read more information about the cemetery – including contact details and opening times – on the website of the Berlin Jewish Community. It was here I discovered that the famous writer and former GDR legislator Stefan Heym, who died in Israel on 16th December 2001, was buried in Weissensee five days after his death. In November 1994, Heym said, “People expect us to deal with and establish acceptable, socially just conditions… a coalition of reason… This, however, requires a coalition of reasonable people…” (“Die Menschen erwarten, dass wir uns als Wichtigstes mit der Herstellung akzeptabler sozial gerechter … Verhältnisse beschäftigen … eine Koalition der Vernunft, die eine Koalition der Vernünftigen voraussetzt”). How these words resonate today.

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