The street corner

The street corner on a sweltering summer's afternoon
The street corner on a sweltering summer’s afternoon

A hot summer’s day in Kreuzberg, gathering, tired, waiting to cross the street.


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© 2021 - Andrew James Kirkwood

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Concrete, where architecture meets climate change

Concrete is a remarkable building material, it’s ubiquitous use allows modern architects almost full rein over their creative visions, the gigantic proportions of the preferred geometric shapes and forms are no longer limited in scale by the antiquated use of the common brick, particularly when reinforced with steel.

The washing Maschine, reflected in the windows of the building opposite
The washing Maschine, reflected in the windows of the building opposite

It’s actually one of the oldest known building materials, dating back over 3000 years, but this chemical marvel also has a dark side, it’s use is responsible for maybe up to 8% of total global CO2 emissions.

Conversing on a concrete pedestrian bridge spanning the river Spree
Conversing on a concrete pedestrian bridge spanning the river Spree

Cement, one of concrete’s main ingredients, is produced by heating limestone in giant kilns, this process requires inordinate quantities of energy, usually in the form of fossil fuels, which is then only compounded by the fact that the heating process breaks limestone down Into its component parts: the desired lime and the unwanted carbon dioxide, which is then just pumped into the atmosphere.

Huge expanses of plain concrete make for very effect backgrounds
Huge expanses of plain concrete make for very effect backgrounds

But modern life probably just wouldn’t be possible without it, it’s everywhere, solving just as many problems as it creates.

A modern city landscape of concrete and glass
A modern city landscape of concrete and glass

And where else on planet Earth is so much of this versatile and yet climate-destroying material on public display than in environmentally friendly Germany, its very own new government quarter in central Berlin, hugging the banks of the river Spree.

Again this huge concrete pedestrian walkway, hanging from the sky
Again this huge concrete pedestrian walkway, hanging from the sky

A mass of bold geometry, the use of basic forms vying with created spaces between, the architecture is visually quite stunning and deceptively simple, only modern construction techniques allow such grace.

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That industrial look

There can’t be many places left in Berlin where you can experience the might of Germany’s industrial past in a very visceral sense, most of it was bombed out during the last world war and now resides as part of one of the many hills surrounding the city, huge mountains of bomb-debris, and it has all since been replaced by more modern structures, but the 50-meter iron rail-bridge spanning the river Spree at Friedrichstraße is surely one of them.

Giant 50-meter arched girders supporting rail tracks above
Giant 50-meter arched girders supporting rail tracks above

The bridge, first built in 1882 to carry four tracks of rail traffic over the river Spree, still largely reflects its 19th-century construction, the original arch-spans were made of puddled steel riveted together with heavy dome-headed rivets, which is still the dominant impression.

21st-century female contrasted against 19th-century industrial backdrop
21st-century female contrasted against 19th-century industrial backdrop

Although only 2 of these original arches still exist, the others having been replaced with more modern girders during renovations to the bridge in the 1990s to accommodate ICE rail traffic, they were however manufactured to closely resemble the originals they were replacing.

60s Hollywood cool
60s Hollywood cool

It’s one of my favourite photography locations, because hidden within is a pedestrian walkway enabling access to the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station from the other side of the Spree at the Schiffbauerdamm entrance.

A reflection in a window at S-Bahn station Friedrichstraße
A reflection in a window at S-Bahn station Friedrichstraße

The riveted iron structure, dark grey in colour,  in almost permanent shadow, creates a very texture-rich and moody backdrop, with plenty of character, perfect for edgy black and white street photography, offering a perfect background to contrast against a wide variety of foreground subjects.

This is where 60s Hollywood cool can meet industrial downtown Berlin and shine.

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City glass, a very public gallery

“How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty?”

When Alice asked this of her kitten, glass and especially mirrors were not as common as they are today, to Alice a reflection in a mirror was something special, to be pondered over, it appeared to offer a whole other world beyond the reality of her own.

If only she could get there . . .

The distorting effect of a rail carriage door window at Bahnhof Zoo
The distorting effect of a rail carriage door window at Bahnhof Zoo

But life moves on, and science now has an explanation for almost everything,  with refractive indexes, glancing angles, incidental light etc., and has gradually but inexorably taken the mystery out of most of the things Alice encountered in her Wonderland.

A shop full of wicker products, just as a girl cycles past on the street outside
A shop full of wicker products, just as a girl cycles past on the street outside

But that very same science and resulting technological advance has brought about a revolution of the modern shopping high street, modern architecture and the abundant use of glass has transformed most towns and cities into a gigantic funhouse, a stroll down any high street can quickly become an optical adventure such as Alice could only have experienced while on a visit to a travelling fair staring into victorian carnival mirrors.

A set of windows high above street level
A set of windows high above street level

Gigantic sheets of glass have now become the reflective environment which we confront ourselves with on any shopping trip,  weird amalgamations of partially reflected exteriors together with brightly lit interiors, all struggling for attention.

It can often resemble ambling through an ever-transforming public art gallery, displaying works ranging from the psychedelic to that of surrealism and even occasionally nightmare-inducing visions of the disturbed. 

A set of glass panes at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin,   repeatedly reflecting oncoming pedestrians
A set of glass panes at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, repeatedly reflecting oncoming pedestrians

If you so choose, wherever the eye wanders, works of art hang ready framed for those who care to recognise and indulge its charm, and it’s all free.

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The Hauptbahnhof, a monument to success

A neuron, or nerve cell, is an electrically excitable cell that communicates with other cells via specialized connections called synapses. It is the main component of nervous tissue in all animals except sponges and placozoa. Plants and fungi do not have nerve cells – Wikipedia

But replace the word “neuron” with “main rail station”, “synapse” with “tracks” and “nervous tissue” with “nation-state”, and it almost perfectly describes the workings of a modern rail system.

The metaphor makes clear as to the importance a good working transport system has to the modern developed state, and it could be argued that without one, there is an increased danger of political turmoil, occasionally leading to a failed-state: anarchy.

The Cube, opposite the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin
The Cube, opposite the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin

And so not only is a good transportation network of strategic importance, but it’s also something that a State often uses to display a sense of national pride, of its political and accompanying economic success. 

And Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, a steel-framed palace of glass is no exception, there is no doubt as to its importance as it imposes its presence on the sky-line, dominating the area, towering over everything far and wide. 

Inside the station itself
Inside the station itself

The station entered the planning stage shortly after the fall of the wall in 1989, as part of the plan to reunify Berlin, work took place in several phases, and the station was ceremoniously opened in 2006.

And what a hub of energy it has become, the constant hustle and bustle of travellers arriving by bus, tube and taxi, others leaving by the same means, while some just wait until a much-anticipated connection becomes available, the station is almost a small town in its own right, catering for the weary traveller’s every imaginable need.

Triptych: The family travels - 1
Triptych: The family travels – 1
Triptych: The family travels - 2
Triptych: The family travels – 2
Triptych: The family travels - 3
Triptych: The family travels – 3

The station is not only a symbol of progress, it embodies the very nature of progress itself, as every passenger, and therefore every idea, is distributed effectively and efficiently throughout a nation, guaranteeing it’s very future.

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