Having grown up mostly in megalopolises around the world as a privileged expat, I am a spoiled urban princess who thrives on the offerings of a multicultural city of millions where city bibles (i.e. guide books) abound by the hundred but everything opposite to what is written is equally true. Small towns where nothing has changed for the past 150 years are not my cup of tea (to live in), and a village is great for a holiday but I suffer from withdrawal symptoms after a week. By blood has been poisoned over the years from the fast-paced CO2 to the extent that every doctor who examines my lungs is inclined to tell me to stop smoking if I want to live longer, until I tell them that I am a staunch non-smoker!
Be it Mexico City, Manila or Delhi, I am beginning to discover that Berlin definitely belongs among the ranks of difficult megalopolises where there are so many wonderful things to say about it, but the opposite is also true. For example, it has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in Germany, but also the rudest and unfriendliest bus drivers. You have stage shows and concerts to cater to every genre and generation, but there are corners of Berlin I will never ever venture into as an Asian woman, for fear that I might not come out alive or unharmed.
There is so much to do and see in Berlin that I often forget to take out my camera, maybe because I live here and at the back of my mind know that I will pass by that corner or scene again. Berlin has recently been proclaimed to be the photography capital of the world, which I can attest to on many levels. Just look at how many photos there are online featuring Berlin exclusively, which is actually rather insignificant. What is more important are the established galleries and institutions where photography features prominently. Yesterday alone I visited four photo exhibits, in one afternoon! That isn’t even the tip of the iceberg by Berlin standards because there are so many other photo exhibits to visit. My favourite haunts are C/O Berlin and The Museum of Photography, owned and run by the Helmut Newton Foundation.
The C/O Berlin is currently featuring the Life Work of Nicholas Nixon, a photographer par excellence who raises the standards of street photography by any means. Many of you must have seen the featured series of The Brown Sisters, a series of 41 photographs taken of four sisters each year for the past 41 years. I had read about the series last week but didn’t quite register the name Nixon to it, so when I walked into the hall with the entire collection tears welled up in my eyes. The videos or articles online do not do justice to the actual collection. Similarly, Nixon’s series on people with HIV and senior citizens is heart breaking and will leave you breathless.
Helmut Newton is a very edgy fashion and lifestyle photographer who may not appeal to too many, especially the more conservative groups. The Museum changes the featured artists on a regular basis, so you never really know what to expect. But one thing is for sure, regardless of the artist, there will always be one photograph that will stop me dead in my tracks in awe.
My love affair with Berlin is work in progress. I cannot in all honesty say that I love this city, but I will admit to the fact that the multidimensionality of it fascinates me.