Monthly Archives: October 2012

Yesterday, some friends and I went to a tiny town called Linum about an hour outside of Berlin to watch an autumn spectacle: tens of thousands of cranes making a stop over in their migration from Northern Europe to Africa.

Every fall, these cranes leave their nesting grounds in Scandanavia, the Baltic countries and Poland to start making their way to southern France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa where they winter. Linum has become a favorite stop-over spot for the cranes in the last twenty years. The birds gather there in huge numbers, eating leftover grain in the harvested fields and resting up for the second-leg of their journey south.

While the numbers are constantly fluctuating, it is estimated that there are up to 80,000 cranes in Linum on the busiest days in October. There are also migrating geese as well as swan, herons and ducks -and you can’t believe the racket that this avian population makes. We arrived in Linum around midday and wandered around the fish ponds that have been created by damning the swampy land. This landscape is one of the attractions for the cranes who like to stand in shallow water while they sleep, safe from predators such as foxes and raccoons.

Several large, elevated bird blinds enabled us to get a better perspective of the surrounding ponds. Masses of birds were swimming and flying around, but none of them were cranes. They only sleep at the ponds overnight, leaving in the early morning to fly to the fields where they eat all day. We killed some time orienting ourselves and picnicking in the warm fall weather. But the sun already sets at around six o’clock these days, so we got ourselves in position by 4:30 to see the cranes returning from the fields.

At first, we all felt a little disappointed by what we expected to be the sky darkening with 80,000 cranes. Dennis had even wondered if we should have brought umbrellas to keep from getting hit by the storm of bird shit from the cranes flying overhead. Instead, very gradually we began to see V formations flying on the horizon. At first, they were made up of ten to twenty birds. Slowly, they grew to be long lines of hundreds of birds. We got good at telling he differences between the flying geese and cranes -the geese tuck their feet in close to their bodies and make sharp, fast strokes with their wings; the cranes let their long legs dangle behind them and flap their wings in an undulating, softer motion.

By the time it was getting to dark to see, there were groups of thousands of cranes in the sky and we were duly impressed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture with my camera the mass effect of seeing these swarms in the sky and hearing the constant drone of a hundred thousand bird cries. But here are a few images from the day.

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My friends Matti und Silke are currently running a temporary art gallery called “Schneeeule” (Snow Owl) and putting up a different show almost every week through the end of the year. Finding space in Berlin for such a project is not as easy as it used to be, but Matti and Silke were able to find a small storefront in Berlin Carré, a 1960s mall across the street from Alexanderplatz that will be completely renovated after December. A lot of the stores are already sitting empty so it’s perfect for a temporary location like Schneeeule. But it also makes Berlin Carré feel like a ghost town, reminding me of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” zombie mall film. My friend Simon has long coined the place “Depressionszentrum” (Depression Center).

Berlin Carré, October 2012

But the site of Berlin Carré has a long history of being the commercial center of the city. Berlin’s Central Market Hall once stood here, after the city decided in 1883 to build a network of 14 covered markets across the growing metropolis. All of the halls had similar architecture -giant, looming spaces below a grid of iron tresses and decorative yellow and red terra-cotta brick facades that helped keep the buildings cool. The Central Market Hall had a large, ice-cooled storage basement and a private rail terminal. The building’s location right next to the Alexanderplatz train station eased the transport of goods from across the country and beyond.

Berlin Central Market Hall, 1896

The floor of Central Market Hall was 16,000 square meters long and had stalls for 1336 merchants who were packed in like sardines along a two-meter wide walkway. Still this new shopping center was quite a success. Previously, Berliners could only shop at weekly outdoor markets or buy food and goods from female peddlers who hawked their wares from house to house. The new market halls offered a centralized, permanent indoor location for all their needs. It’s kind of amazing that it took them so long to come up with this concept! At first, the markets were only open twice a week but soon they switched to daily hours from sun-up to sun-down, with a lunch break from 1-4 pm.

the floor plan of the Central Market Hall, curving to the contour of the train tracks to Alexanderplatz. Berlin Carré stands in the center lot north of Kaiser Wilhelm Str. (today’s Karl Liebknecht Str.).

The Central Market Hall withstood the First World War and the recession during the Weimar years, but WWII destroyed some of the original buildings. The main hall however, was able to be repaired and continued operating as market in the newly formed GDR -despite food shortages and the almost exclusive use of food stamps for sales in the first years. By 1968 however, the hall was deemed too small and unhygienic, and was closed completely.

the interior of the Central Market Hall in 1965 before it was torn down

the exterior of the Central Market Hall in 1965 looking south over Rochstraße; the building used to go right up to the train tracks

By this time, all of Alexanderplatz was under extreme transformation, as the GDR set into motion a grand architectual scheme to modernize the mostly destroyed historic city center. Berlin’s Central Market was part of this plan and was rebuilt in a clean, 1960’s boxy style as part of a residential complex stretching west along Karl Liebknecht Str. It was also rechristened the “Berliner Markthalle” dropping “central” from the name.

looking east on Karl Liebknecht Straße in 1987, the new market is inside the boxy white building before the elevated train tracks on the left

1976: a fountain in front of the new market commemorates the vendors of yore. Note also the stylized “M”s to the right below the S-bahn track, standing for “Markethalle”

After the wall came down, the market was renovated and turned into something along the lines of what it looks like today -an angular mall with an emphasis on openness and light -large glass panes instead of solid walls for the shops and a curved glass ceiling that lets in lots of light. Now, two months before another transformation, the remaining business are a strange mix of usefulness and nostalgia. A bakery, brewery and shoe repair are still open for example, but there’s also a “Museum of Letters” housing the city’s old signage and “Ostpaket,” which sells items that were once produced in the GDR.

2012: the fountain still stands, the “M”s however have disappeared -maybe they’re in the Museum of Letters?

For all it’s weirdness, Berlin Carré is definitely a place to see before the year ends. One can only imagine what new vision for the center of the city’s commerce will come next.

a bamboo and orchid motif attempts to pull together the disparate elements here