A beautiful lie – Gendarmenmarkt

by Elisa Recker

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When I first moved to Berlin, the Gendarmenmarkt really caught my attention. I found it very beautiful at first, and interesting as well. The French and the German Church facing each other, the statue of Friedrich Schiller in the middle and the Concert hall are a very interesting organization of space. This square really impressed me more than other places in Berlin because of its interesting architecture, the space between the monuments, and the cobblestone pavement. This square is really beautiful and elegant, and when you don’t know Berlin’s history, you wouldn’t guess that it was all destroyed and a sad place to be after 1945. The tourists walking around, the nice cafés and restaurant, the trees and benches wouldn’t let you think that it was once all destroyed. But when you look closely, you notice some things that will let you know that this place wasn’t always like this and it definitely isn’t the ‘old town’ of Berlin, like some tourist would think. The Gendarmenmarkt reveals its past by details you wouldn’t notice as a tourist walking around and enjoying the nice weather and having a coffee. As a tourist, you would just see the nice, beautiful two churches and the concert hall, thinking it always looked like that.

I find this place particularly interesting because it’s kind of a lie. It’s all beautiful on the outside, but when you look closely, you will see its past.

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[…] After the second world war, the Gendarmenmarkt was completely destroyed and there was not much left to what it used to be. It took many years reconstructing it and making it look like it does today. But let’s face it, Berliners don’t go to the Gendarmenmarkt for looking at the buildings. Berliners know that the Gendarmenmarkt is a place of history, and even if the reconstruction turned out really good and attracts a lot of tourists, the memory of this place is not as easy.

Nevertheless I always enjoy going to the Gendarmenmarkt. Every time I am there I enjoy the nice buildings, that the square is really clean in comparison to other places in Berlin, and the space. There is a lot of space and trees, all this makes it a very nice place to spend time or to cross over when going somewhere. The first time I was there I didn’t know the history of this place, and I thought that it was the ‘old Berlin’. I later understood that there is no such thing as an old town in Berlin. On the one side, when they reconstructed the place they wanted to make it look like an old town, to remake the city livable and a nice place to be. Also to attract tourists, like with the Nikolaiviertel. In my opinion, this is the most interesting thing about Berlin: the past is very much present in Berlin but you only notice it when you look closely. Like the Gendarmenmarkt, the Nikolaiviertel was completely rebuilt after the Worl War II. They wanted to make it a nice place, for western tourists mainly, so that they spend their money. The first time I went there, I had the same feeling as when I went to the Gendarmenmarkt for the first time. I thought it was the only old town of Berlin that remained. After I learned that the Nikolaiviertel was actually completely rebuilt, it felt like someone had lied to me. I had the same feeling about the Gendarmenmarkt. But this is what I find so interesting and fascinating about these two places. After I thought about it, I found it understandable that they wanted to rebuild it so that the tourists go there and spend their money, especially since Berlin is not a rich city, compared to cities in the the south of Germany for example. When I am at the Gendarmenmarkt and see the tourists, I think that probably some of them were like me, they have no clue about the history of this place. And it feels a bit weird, because when you’re standing in the middle of the square, surrounded by the French and German Churches and the Concert hall, you couldn’t guess that it was completely rebuild, and I didn’t find any written explanation on the square. It felt like the people in charge want to hide the fact that it was rebuild. But when you look closely at the buildings, when you pay attention to the details, you can see that there were new materials used, so it can’t be old. […]

The Gendarmenmarkt is still one of my favorite places in Berlin and in my opinion the most interesting. Because it’s a place of history and nobody knows it, unless they do some research about it. It felt like a lie when I found out that it’s all rebuild and new and aimed at tourists, but I think that it represents Berlin in some way, because it’s a city with a sad past, but it’s a great city now. So the Gendarmenmarkt represents, in my opinion, Berlin.

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All photos by Gabriele Offenbroich

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