|The Siegesallee, or Victory Avenue, goes through the Tiergarten (animal garden) from north to south. Its side-alleys are adorned with statues of 32 German sovereigns, erected from 1898 to 1901, at the expense of William II.|
THE CHARACTERISTIC OF BERLIN
Asking myself, questioning others, and without success, I persisted in trying to find where in particular Berlin could assign itself. Some said to me:
“What distinguishes Berlin is the overall militarism of the population. The first coachman you see will tell you when the next military maneuvers will be, and the names of generals who will take part. Listen to them talk to each other at their stations of the changes to the garrison or the value of their leaders. Should a regiment pass by, even in the most socialist of neighborhoods, you will see the crowd rush out after them, beaming.”
“Berlin does not exist,” wrote one of Germany's most prominent writers to me. “It lacks individuality.”
And he added: “The phenomenon I still find strange is that they work so much there (more than elsewhere) and yet the streets, the restaurants, the cabarets, and cafes are full right into the morning.”
"The Siegesallee perfectly characterizes Berlin,” a lady of the aristocracy told me. “These thirty-two marble Hohenzollern show well what the visitor should expect to see in Brandenburg.”
I asked some charming fellow French citizens that nostalgia brought together about their impressions, people that I had the pleasure of meeting.
“What characterizes Berlin,” said one to me, “is its uniformity.”
“It's the trams and pretty streets of the West,” contradicted another.
“I think it's its cleanliness,” said the third.
“For me it's the modernism of the city. There is little or nothing old in Berlin,” said the last. “And the little that remains of the past has little of interest: the castle, a few royal and princely palaces that are very ugly in appearance, stiff and heavy, and so sad with their black fronts.”
A lady whose reason and moderation of mind I liked said the following of Berlin:
“Two things strike me here: first the poor appearance of the street (I mean the central streets), and the bourgeois and common allure of the people. At first it amused me. I felt like I was walking in the middle of live caricatures, those of Lustige Blätter... I know that in Paris there is no shortage of such neighborhoods, without elegance or beauty. But we have other places in Paris to breathe and rest, especially to give us a different sensation of life: the boulevards, le Bois, the avenue Champs-Elysées, with their brilliant luxury and happy splendor.
What strikes me again is the obsession with warlike things, the obsession with the Hohenzollern and the army, which is found everywhere.
Compare the walk a newcomer makes to Paris, London and Berlin, and see what the Berliners offer when going from the imperial castle to the Siegesallee:
Cathedral Square: equestrian statue of King Friedrich Wilhelm III;
In front of the castle: a statue of Wilhelm l;
On the bridge of the castle: eight war-related figures;
Where the Linden begins: the statue of Friedrich the Great;
The corps of the King's guard;
The arsenal; the trophies, the guns that surround it;
The statues of generals Scharnhorst, Bülow and three others;
Finally, further on at the end of the Linden, behind the Brandenburg Gate, we have the Siegesallee and its thirty-two armored Hohenzollern, fierce and clad in iron, and its Victory Column with warlike bas-relief scenes.
If you make a small detour from there and pass the Moltke Bridge to go to Ausstellungspark (Exposition Park), you can see as the decorative motif of the bridge the toddlers around the gaslights, helmeted, armed with shields, lances and pikes. If someone takes you to the brand new Friedrich-Wilhelm Museum, instead of finding a Victoire de Samothrace or a Venus de Milo to welcome you, you run up against a collection of marble generals.
The gymnasiums are named like the kings and queens of Prussia: there is the Gymnasium August, the Gymnasium Friedrich, the Gymnasium Friedrich-Wilhelm, the Royal Middle School, the Emperor Wilhelm Middle School, the Hohenzollern School, the Sophie Middle School, the Queen Louise Middle School, I could go on!
There is Emperor's Drive, Friedrich Square, Friedrich Wood, Mount Friedrich, Emperor Friedrich Street, Friedrich Street, Empress Augusta Drive, Emperor's Gallery, Wilhelm Street, Wilhelm Square, Queen Augusta Street, Emperor Wilhelm Square, Karl-August Square. There's the Royal Road, New Royal Road, Royal Square, Royal Drive, Royal Way, Royal Gate, Royal Roadway.
The museums, the hospitals, the orphanages have been Hohenzollernized.
Not to mention the statues, the Denkmäler dedicated to the kings of Prussia and to the modern generals, those of Roon, of Moltke. And it seems there are still Germans who do not know the history of the Hohenzollern...”
As for me, I changed my opinion several times on the character of Berlin. And I finished by recognizing that this characteristic, that I searched for for so long, is just that of not having one.