~open-air gas lantern museum~

August 21st, 2009

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Above is the silhouette of the Victory statue Siegessäule, the column of which is made of the pieces of the cannons of the defeated enemies of three wars: Denmark, Austria and France, the “Goldelse” ( Golden Lady) of which was made famous by Wim Wender’s Der Himmel Uber Berlin. (I was so moved by this film when it was released {cough} twenty-two years ago. This and Down By Law within months: cinema was looking good.)

The picture was made from bicycle, waiting for the roundabout traffic light to change, on what our dinner companion called “the last true night of summer”.


It’s been a fine summer, much of it spent on my “Amsterdam” 3-speed beater, traveling with Alfonso through Tiergarten (Animal Garden) Park. Living in the West, anytime I travel to the East I go via the Siegessäule roundabout in Tiergarten.

The park was once a hunting ground, but its current incarnation began in 1830s thanks to landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné. Like much of Berlin, the land is dense with political significance: the body of Marxist Rosa Luxemburg was found in the canal, the Reichstag building is here, as well as the digs of the current Bundespräsident. But we’re just in it for the bunnies.


Our bike repair shop has a balustrade: Little John’s, Schöneberg (below). Once a 1920s department store, now two floors of leaded glass and dangling industrial air pumps, stacks of beat-up bikes, super-friendly grease monkeys, and this sweeping 180 degree staircase. You come for the ratchet set, you stay for the mise-en-scène.

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I’ve never seen human-powered bike lamps before. My very old Dynamo headlamp looks like a cluster of fireflies leading the way. Alfonso’s brighter lamps makes it easier to chase tail.

At the foot of Prince Otto von Bismarck, oracular seeress Sibyl rests on a Sphinx, reading from the book of history. Dig her casually prophetic hand.


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The Tiergarten cafe (panorama above), of rowboats, lounge chairs, and long wooden tables, is often shoulder to shoulder Berliners. Here you can find Kirschtorte and a very fine Gewurztraminer served in carafes by friendly youth, but might not find a parking spot for your bike (left, my basket, showing off a recent addition of flowers).

Like my childhood signpost of Disneyland’s Matterhorn from the 5 (Santa Ana) FWY, I know I’m nearly home again when Unter den Linden becomes Straße des 17 Juni. Mismatched vintage gas lamps light this route, which was used as an emergency landing strip at the end of WWII, and is also known as the open-air Gaslaternenmuseum.


…When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful, and all souls were one…

Peter Handke, Song of Childhood, Wings of Desire

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