And this trip, that impression is very strong. Big streets, big spaces between them – all as they were when I was a student here in 1994-5, and on one or two visits since then. As I tell my students when they plan to come here on an exchange program, so that they're ready for that overwhelming experience.
This is of course like New York, London... but because the actual space covered by Berlin is so much larger (there is more park and open land in Berlin, by design, than in other metropolises), and because although there are powerful, well-designed subway and surface trains that go all over the place, but... there are substantial distances between stops. Even the distances between building entrances: most of the world's cities would have three, or five or more, doorways between any two Berlin doorways.
Interesting that this trip, for the first time in all those experiences, it doesn't seem exhausting or depressing that it's so. I still love places such as San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, where you can fit an interesting life between a few hands-widths. But perhaps since I already knew it was like this, I'm enjoying it more this time than I usually do.
And of course, in its BIG, stony, bearish way, Berlin seems remarkably energetic and tidy these days, more than in the past. The streets, the cars, the buildings... The market in Nollendorfplatz is fun, I buy some spices and teas (I'm curious about the honey jars, but skeptical about taking glass jars in a suitcase – I've been lucky in the past but won't risk it). A nearby Antiquariat has three out of four (well you can't have everything) classic volumes by Meier, the rather peculiar man who had been Jung's secretary, who wrote in such a strange, scatter-shot fashion.
And everyone seems so cheerful – Dörte, energetic and full of stories and plans in her big dress and scarf; Herbert, gentle and handsome as always, enjoying a beautiful Japanese meal with me (we enjoyed it much more in fact than the waiter, who seemed to be having a difficult time with our orders). Chuck, chatting with me all too briefly upstairs in a gay hotel – recently redecorated by the owners (those ridiculous plush-silver chairs – he says not only do they look silly, but you can't sit on them because you slide off). Joseph, who always seems to be getting away from his lover to socialize with other people, still going strong.
At the conference, I gave my talk about wisdom and Schnebel, and it went well – in fact I think it was welcome, in a welter of rather technical papers where people proved that various of his compositions had structures (who would have thought it?). The Universität der Künste, which was the Hochschule der Künste when I was last here, seems to be doing well too – and it is interesting to notice (did I realize it in the 90s?) that some of the architecture is Nazi-era. But, like everything else, it is BIG.
What other experiences?... oh, seeing Walter too briefly; and of course time spent with Schnebel and his wife Iris. She seems so fragile now, a bit lost – I had a tendency to make sure I was near her on staircases, and when it was cold outside. He, on the other hand, seems healthier than ever at eighty... I hope I'm doing that well at seventy, frankly.
And the disaster at the start of this trip – when I inadvertently shaved my mustache off – well, you know the plastic doohickey that keeps the razor a certain distance from your face? It had fallen off in my bag, and I didn't notice in time. Ran that thing right across my face and said, hmm, that's a lot of hair that's come off, that's a bit... AAAGH. Two hours before my big speech....
But hey, it's Berlin. I can pass it off as – a facial-hair experiment. You know, a sort of social commentary on the need of non-intellectuals to have some sort of consistent look?....
nah, I wouldn't buy it either.