Bicultural Urbanite Luke
Uncanny Beauty: Berlin in 35mm

Berlin is art.
Berlin is art. | © Isabelle Beyer

Treasured for so many of its intangible qualities, Berlin often gets something of a bad rap when it comes to the reality of its visual character. And at first touristic glance, perhaps the reputation isn’t entirely without reason. Lacking the regal grandiosity of say Paris or Rome, and missing that awe-inspiring feel of most modern skyscraper-rich metropoles, Germany’s own capital can all too easily get written off as a drab, flat, and disorderly concrete jungle—a crude architectural hodgepodge, ravaged by history’s dark past and resurrected in disarray.

The spectacular GDR-built radio chambers, Funkhaus Berlin. The spectacular GDR-built radio chambers, Funkhaus Berlin. | © Isabelle Beyer Yet it is exactly the motley nature of Berlin’s cityscape that makes it so special. And many who take the time to explore it come to appreciate and even cherish its uncanny beauty. It’s a little bit lynchian, perhaps a tad bleak at times, and maybe somewhat of an acquired taste. But there’s something strangely mesmerising about an architectural melding of stylistically disparate post-World War Two periods, scattered over an ominous background presence of imposing Soviet-era design.

  • Adlershof at dusk. © Isabelle Beyer
    Adlershof at dusk.
  • Botanic garden. © Isabelle Beyer
    Botanic garden.
  • Lustgarten. © Isabelle Beyer
  • Museum of nature. © Isabelle Beyer
    Museum of nature.
  • Winter delights at Teufelsberg. © Isabelle Beyer
    Winter delights at Teufelsberg.

Throw in a generous modicum of uber-modern urban design with loads of gorgeously austere concrete and magnificent glass and metallics, the ornate charm of the city’s surviving historical landmarks, a plenitude of quaint lakes and moody woodlands in almost every perimetric direction, and a striking collection of cinematic-looking war bunkers and spy towers spread all about, and you’ve got yourself one seriously evocative mise en scène.

Night walks at Bundestag. Night walks at Bundestag. | © Isabelle Beyer It’s not hard to imagine how the raw, brooding sounds of Berlin’s post-punk era and its subsequent derivatives were cultivated against such a backdrop.
  • The frozen Spree around Treptower Park. © Isabelle Beyer
    The frozen Spree around Treptower Park.
  • Bundestag. © Isabelle Beyer
‘My’ Berlin is a heady, affecting mixture of all these visual elements—an unlikely muse for magic and mischief alike. It’s a tableaux that stirs up forgotten primal urges and deeply submerged emotions. It gets right into your stomach. From band rehearsals in the formidable GDR-built radio chambers at Funkhaus Berlin, to aimless roundabout trips on the S-Bahn suspended above spectacular frozen waters and grim industrial sectors, to inebriated hangouts in the sci-fi-esque underground stations of the governmental housing district, and excursions to wonderfully idiosyncratic museums—this is the Berlin I’ve come to know and love.
  • Futuristic urban design at the International Congress Centrum Berlin. © Isabelle Beyer
    Futuristic urban design at the International Congress Centrum Berlin.
  • Wanderlust in Grunewald. © Isabelle Beyer
    Wanderlust in Grunewald.
Words by Luke Troynar; Images by Isabelle Beyer