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Ernst Dronke: Excerpts from Berlin (1846)

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You look surprised, since none of these names belongs to you, and the beautiful stranger blushes over her error, the result of a deceptive similarity. The next day, however, you will both be seen happily drinking champagne together at Kroll's or in another public establishment, despite Heinrich, Jonathan and Nepomuk. These are sometimes the first experiences of arrival. If you have happily avoided these, you will travel to your lodgings, and on the way, you will observe the large, broad streets and the splendid, palatial buildings. But how should you form a complete impression of this large whole comprised of so many different elements?

You have no time to get to know a single city. Life is short, and the speed of today's journeys is still much too slow. Today Paris, tomorrow London; now Rome, then Berlin; to Petersburg and from there to Texas; migrate north and then return, yawning, from Egypt; mustn't one also use one's time in flight? A quick judgment, a brief impression, and then onwards.

The first thing is the outward appearance of a city, which usually gives us an idea of its inner life and workings. The tall gabled houses, the evening gatherings of families on the benches before their front doors, the gurgling fountain in the marketplace, and everything else that characterizes the southern German cities tell us immediately that we are dealing with the patriarchal essence of Catholicism. In Berlin, seeing the large, straight streets, the new sections of the city marching into the distance like soldiers, and the bright houses, we know in which modern spirit we find ourselves.

In the areas inhabited by the petty bourgeoisie, the houses are lovely and look almost the same as the houses of the nobles, but they are standing on bad ground; it is marshy and swampy, and not infrequently, walls of buildings sink. They then either fall down or have to be torn down after a few years. This situation also reflects the life of the so-called middle class in Berlin. On the outside they glitter while they pursue pleasures in public places, full of opulence and splendor, while their homes are crumbling. You can never be sure if the families you see at concerts and around town in fine velvet and silk had to skip meals and sacrifice necessities like beds and furniture to enable their lifestyle. Out by the Hamburg Gate it is gloomy and eerie. Here are the shacks of misery and desperation. And yet a lot of people from the thriving, pleasure-seeking frenzy of the inner city are eyeing this area. Bigger and better apartments have been built there. It almost looks as though a new city is trying to rise up out of the ashes of the outcast part. Only the future knows (as the past partially hints at, if only seldom and softly) which spirit will rise from here and settle over the city.

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