“Having something in common” does not mean “being the same”. This is the more true for Paris and Berlin: Both cities have a lot in common. They are global players, defining themselves over art and culture, economy and politics. In these cities dreams are being born and sometimes materialize. At the same time these places symbolize a dream for many people: To visit the city or even live in it is a dream many people share.
What is the essence of these places? Where are differences, where crosscutting relationships?
If there is a verb which characterizes Paris, it is “to be”. With every part Paris is, it is imperturbable across time. Paris is self-conscious, mondane, maybe even arrogant. Paris doesn’t have to proof anything. It is at ease with its past and incorporates it into the present. When the world comes to Paris it becomes a part of the city — integrating, adapting, ready to conquer.
Berlin is different to that. It is the verb “to become”. A city which changes, develops, searches. History is here contemporary history, visible in construction sites, panels and new artificial and often transparent facades. Not Berlin defines the people who come there, but the other way round: The people define what Berlin stands for. Berlin vibrates, changes, adapts sometimes even to the people.
History made in Paris…
Maybe the biggest difference: Paris breathes ancient history, while Berlin is a key piece of modern history. In this regard both cities complement each other perfectly. In Paris it is especially the time of the French Revolution which is mirrored. The motto of liberty, equality and fraternity still is a central part of the French past and present. And not only there! A democratic system with a division of powers, human rights, civil rights, beginnings of a social system, enlightenment — all these are achievements of the French Revolution that shape the picture of today’s Europe.
Interestingly enough, also the Brandenburg Gate was erected during this time, in 1788. 1806 both stories come together: Napoleon and his army conquer Berlin. 1814 the Prussian troops take part in the conquest of Paris. And who wants to see a monument from the German Campaign of 1813 in Berlin will find one in the “Viktoriapark” in Kreuzberg — combined with a gorgeous view on the city.
The move away from an authoritarian system also is visible in Berlin: Probably best at the Brandenburg Gate. Here people embraced each other in 1989 — for the first time the gate was opened on 22 December. This set in motion a complete change across the continent: The Warsaw Pact collapsed, the countries of Eastern Europe acquired new and independent statehood. Hence the fall of the Berlin Wall had an impact all over the continent. After the collapse of the Sowiet Union 2004 and 2006 twelve states became new members of the European Union.
Paris and Berlin, Germany and France have yet not come ever closer in an organic move. French and German history has also been shaped by military controversies: 1813 Prussians fought in Paris, 1870/71 the Franco-Prussian War took place. World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, and World War II are other sad landmarks of a more than difficult Franco-German relationship.
After World War II a time of radically new orientation began. In both states the understanding arose that the future can only be built upon the reflection what we have in common, not what divides us. The European unification began and with it the catchword of the “Franco-German motor”.
Until today this common way of doing things is a key basis for development(s) far beyond Germany and France. The conviction that it is worth to stress commonalities, and to see differences as enriching, not dividing factors.
Places to connect: Paris
- “Square de Berlin” in 8th arrondissement: 1999 the City of Paris decided to name the place near Champs Elysées after the German capital. It is completed by a piece of the Berlin wall and a Berlin bear composed of flowers.
- Co-Working space for the Franco-German community: The TWO near Place de la République. http://two-paris.com
- For culture and language: The Goethe Institute at Avenue d’Iéna offers a wide variety: www.goethe.de/paris
- Currywurst: Also the culinarian highlight is present in Paris. Options are a Foodtruck curry-wurst.fr/, the restaurant Wunderbär (www.wunderbar-paris.com) at Rue Beaurepaire or Café Titon (cafetiton.com) at Rue Titon.
Places to connect: Berlin
- In the city there is a choice of places: The French Cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt reminds of the history of the hugenots who fled in 17th century to Berlin to be able to practice their religion freely. 1814 the place in front of the “Brandenburg Gate was named to “Pariser Platz” . Also in the former French sector in Wedding and Reinickendorf many traces can be found.
- Who is in love with French food should visit the bakery “Du Bonheur” at Brunnenstraße (https://www.dubonheur.de/), as well as Paris Bar at Kantstraße (www.parisbar.net) which is a meeting place for the Berlin art scene.
- For all shopaholics: In Berlin you will find one of the few Galeries Lafayette outside France: Französische Straße 23, metro Französische Straße. In the evening you may want to see a movie in the Cinéma Paris at Kantstraße.
What do you think? What is the meaning of these places to you?