Before moving here some 10 years ago, I used to think of Berlin as the city of angels Cassiel and Damiel, the characters from Wim Wenders’ cult movie The Wings of Desire. In these 10 years, I have changed a lot — you know, life happens; while Berlin still projects the same two colors — The black and white of a timeless masterpiece.
The Wings of Desire [Der Himmel Über Berlin] was released in 1987, only two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now in its fully restored version, with its slow scenes and poetic dialogues, the movie tells the story of a city that does not exist anymore.
But, if you carefully examine its frames, you may get a glimpse of Wim Wenders’ treasure map — A map that will take you back to that timeless Berlin.
Let’s discover it together.
In 2018, the C/O Berlin proposed a selection of 240 Polaroids for the temporary exhibition entitled: Wim Wenders. Instant Stories — check it out
International Congress Center and the Funkturm
Already in the first scenes of The Wings of Desire, you stumble upon two architectural pearls — The International Congress Center (ICC) and the Funkturm.
The Nord Messe / ICC station, with its beautiful red columns and round lamps, is the starting point of your adventure.
Why am I me, and why not you?
Designed by architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witteis, the ICC, with its 320 meters of lengths and 40 of height, is one of the largest convention centers in the world. Located in the rich neighborhood of Charlottenburg, the ICC hosts conferences, fairs, theatrical productions and concerts since 1979.
In addition to the film by Wim Wenders, the ICC is the protagonist of the musical The Apple, in which it appears as a futuristic concert hall.
The structure of the ICC, futuristic indeed, is definitely worth a visit.
Beyond the ICC, an old West Berlin radio tower rises majestically — it is the Berliner Funkturm or lange Lulatsch, the lanky lad. Built between 1924 and 1926 as an homage to the Eiffel Tower, it was initially designed by architect Heinrich Straumer to serve as an antenna for radio transmissions, but was then integrated with a restaurant as well as an observation point at a height of 125 meters.
Zoologischer Garten and the Maison de France
From the Nord Messe / ICC station, the U-Bahn line U2 takes you to Zoologischer Garten, the famous subway station of Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.
From there, you walk to Kurfürstendamm, the chic shopping boulevard of Berlin, also known as Ku’damm, to reach another gem that appears in one of the scenes of The Wings of Desire.
Why am I here, and why not there?
Sitting on a convertible car, Cassiel tells Damiel the story of a Soviet jet that crashed into the Spandau Lake twenty years before. Damiel stops him when he notices a couple dancing on the sidewalk. At this point, Damiel admits of being tired of his angelic timelessness and yearns for simple humanity.
In the background of the scene, you can spot the Maison de France, the Institute of French culture in Berlin. Art, theater, cinema, music, the cultural program offered by the Institute is rich and diverse.
Even just a short visit to the Maison de France hall is worth the walk.
Potsdamer Platz and Stabi
After enjoying Kurfürstendamm dining options and exclusive shops, you hop on the U2 train to Potsdamer Platz, one of the most characteristic city centers of Berlin.
Potsdamer Platz today has regained the magic charm of its past, with the renowned Sony Center, an imposing space that hosts blockbuster cinemas, shops, hotels, and restaurants.
If you have time to spare, the nearby Museum für Film und Fernsehen, the German film and television museum, is worth a visit.
Wim Wenders’ Potsdamer Platz is an entirely different entity, an alien space lost in time — Still divided by the Wall, that Potsdamer Platz resembles a vast desert rather than the busy crossroads of a Capital.
In that desert, we get to know Homer, an old gentleman roaming around in search of the glorious Café Josty, once the meeting place of the flamboyant artists who used to live in the city, like the Brothers Grimm or Heinrich Heine.
When did the time begin and when does space end?
Within walking distance of Potsdamer Platz, you discover one of the most fascinating buildings depicted in The Wings of Desire — The Staatsbibliothek, Stabi for short, the National Library of Berlin.
There, Damiel and Cassiel hover over between the desks and the stairs to listen to the thoughts of the people reading and consulting books, revealing to us the breathtaking details of the building design — Spectacular! I totally recommend a visit.
Just a few steps away from the library, the fine music lovers will recognize Hans Scharoun’s Berliner Philharmonie — A concert hall with a perfect sound and home of the Berliner Philharmoniker, one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world.
The Victory Column
From the Berliner Philharmonie, take the public bus 200. At a price of a standard ticket, this bus line takes you to virtually any tourist attraction in Berlin Mitte. It is an excellent alternative to expensive tourist buses.
You get off at the Nord-Botschaften / Adenauer-Stiftung stop. There, Golden Elsa is waiting for you.
The Siegessäule, the Victory Column, is one of the major symbols of the city, together with the Fernsehturm (TV tower) and the Brandenburg Gate.
About 70 meters high, the Siegessäule was designed in 1864 by Heinrich Strack and erected in 1873 to celebrate the victory of the Prussians in the Prussian-Danish war. Initially placed in front of the Reichstag (the German Parliament — go visit its marvelous glass dome!), it was repositioned at the end of the 30’s by the urbanists of the Nazi regime in the Straße des 17. Juni — The heart of the Tiergarten.
I now know what no angel knows
In one of the most representative scenes of The Wings of Desire, Damiel stands on the top of the Victory Column and looks at Berlin in all its magnificence.
Climb up the spiral stairs to the observation point of the statue. There and for a split second, with the wind hissing through the protection iron bars, you will feel like an angel flying over Berlin to catch the thoughts of its people.
Now you Know what the angels know
Berlin, I have realized it over the years, is a generous city that knows how to give it all, but never forgets. And in winter, during those gray days, so long that no reflections can be seen on the Fernsehturm, Berlin takes everything back.
It is this taking and giving, this pumping, gentle like a heartbeat, that makes Berlin alive. That makes my city eternal.
All photos in this post were taken by Sebastiano Lora
The cover photo and all quotes are from the movie The Wings of Desire