Finding the Half Moon Contrast Through Yoga and Art
To end my journey through Eastern Europe, I planned a three day stop in Berlin; I had very few expectations. I learned about the Berlin Wall in World History classes and I heard from fellow travelers that Berlin is "really cool" and "up and coming." Other than that I decided to neglect the use of guidebooks and leave this portion of my trip for surprise.
Just like Leonardo Da Vinci claims, "Everything connects to everything else," I found endless yoga and art connections!
Traveling is all about finding a balance between relaxation and energetic inspiration.
Yoga is booming in present day Berlin. There is a movement towards Ashtanga Yoga and it is trendy to eat at new Vegan cafes. This relates to the first limb of yoga, Ahimsa, non-harming. Although it is a controversial topic, some people consider the act of eating meat to be associated with harming a creature, that is why a vegan diet is often paired with yoga asana practices.
I found that the tour guides in Berlin are the best that I've seen thus far: vibrant, well educated actors and story tellers that lead you on an unforgettable journey through controversy and change in one of today's and yesterday's most interesting cities.
The city's center in the past and has been redefined as the new city center again today, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of reunification in Berlin. Nineteenth century Lesser Ury captures this symbol in paintings of these brightly lit, but rainy streets of Berlin's center. Further, Benno Berneis also recollects the Brandenburg gates through his gold leaf victory wings.
After WWII, Berlin became a social and political experiment for world politics and country leaders. Germany, and Berlin itself (the capital of Germany) were divided into two sections. Half was for the USSR, who suffered the most from Hitler's insanity, and the rest for England, France, and the U.S. who also fought back in the war. From 1945 to 1961, young, strong, educated, and aspiring individuals were escaping East Berlin for more opportunity in West Berlin. The leaders of the German Democratic Republic (a nice way to say Communist East Berlin) noticed that they were losing a valuable part of their society, so at 4am on August 13th, 1961, the border became lined with barbed wire and armed guards to attempt to put an end to this possibility of escaping. Suddenly, relationships with family, friends, and lovers were severed in half. Months later the stone walls replaced the barbed wire and guards were ordered to control this "dead man's zone" by stopping anyone who tried to escape. Although the order was made to stop East Berliners from escaping, awards and promotions were giving to the snipers who actually killed escapees. The goal of these actions was to control the people by instilling and developing fear, the opposite of confidence and contentment.
West Berlin became a walled island, similar to the shape of a Half Moon, situated inside of East Germany.
Now, next to this square, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews rises and falls with each of the 2,711 grey concrete slabs shaped like coffins in various heights, possibly symbolizing the various ages of the victims. With an intentionally uneven foundation, this contemporary and interactive labyrinth of an art structure was not left with a specific description or even written explanation, but I found that people tend to disappear around the corners of this grid. The walkways are designed for single file walking and it is easy to lose a partner or family member around any corner. This dark surprise is an awakening experience and connection to the experience of the Jews being separated from their families and taken to concentration camps to disappear forever.
In direct contrast, the Tier Garden across the street is full of life- green grass glistening, forested trees growing, children playing, pedestrians strolling, bikers gliding through, and nudes soaking up the sun! Yes, naked people have found freedom in this oasis! Its called the Free Body Culture that developed and became a popular outlet of expression during the oppression of the GDR and separation of the wall.
The elegant tree branches and romantic pinks and oranges come to life in Berlin's Walter Leistikow's Art Nouveau paintings of treed spaces such as in this park.
On reflecting about these two opposite places residing next to each other, I see that the circle of life will continue. Hatha Yoga philosophy is about spirit and matter becoming one. Similarly, Tantra is about letting go and not clinging to attachments. Inhale, pause, then exhale, pause. Enjoy the moments, then let go.
According to Swami Rama, "You are the architect of your spiritual life."
Speaking of architects, Potsdam Platz has boomed within the last 25 years with cutting edge architecture. Styles designed by the architects from the Pompidou in Paris show contemporary change and contrast to Classical, Baroque, and Renaissance styles. Sony's architects developed a glass and steel structure that resembles a volcano, on top of their new building, as a reminder of their beloved Mt. Fuji. The Reichtag's roof, Berlin's original parliament building (that was mysteriously destroyed during Hitler's rise to power), was replaced with a half sphere, glass dome, that symbolizes the transparent government now. Citizens and sightseers can climb stairs to the top and see what is happening on the inside. This is a stark change to the controlling groups like the Nazis, Communists, and Empires that have reigned tyrannically in Germany's past.
Construction is everywhere in this city. Change is around every corner! Construction can be a frustrating with early loud noises, detours, and interruption of aesthetic scenery and photographs. It is also an excellent opportunity to practice Pranyama, breathing exercises to relax and calm the mind.
This construction is possible because of both privatization and the equalization tax. Every working German pays a temporary 5% tax of their income to the reconstruction of East Germany and East Berlin. This is a highly controversial topic because 75% of West Berliners say that they were happier before The Wall came down, and 35% of East Berliners say that they were happier too. How can this be?
Today, East Berlin is attracting more young and international artists than ever before. Artist tend to attract new cafes and restaurants. Therefore, gentrification has been occurring within these boheme communities and it attracts the flair of certain quarters. For Berliners, property has always been something in a temporary mindset. Because of different governments taking control, property has been constantly taken and redistributed over the past 100 years. Politics in Berlin today are still an area for controversy. The Neo-Nazi party is almost at 5%. They post advertisements about Giving Gas on a motocycle, but in reality this is a very disturbing metaphor for their desire giving deadly gas to victims in a gas chamber.
In the former East Berlin neighborhood of Freidrichstein, one third of the population is on social welfare. Whereas unemployment totals in Berlin are at 11%. Some Berliners believe that life was simpler in East Berlin when the wall was up and they were controlled by the GDR. This nostalgic philosophy is compared to fogged up glasses. People are not remembering the big picture of oppression. They are simply noting that there was little competition. No drive to keep up with the Joneses. Further, they would have to wait in line for very simple delicacies like a banana or pineapple, which only came around every few months.
On the flip side, apparently some things were better in East Berlin before the Wall came down. Women were treated as equals in the work world. There was no glass ceiling like there can be in capitalism today. With this kind of freedom, a strange statistic shows that the divorce rate was much higher in East Berlin during the GDR because women did not have to stay in dependent relationships. They now how the power and choice to leave when the relationship is no longer meeting their needs.
In contrast to The Holocaust when the Third Reich was eliminating Jews in all of Europe, today young Israeli immigrants are on the rise as they have the opportunity to receive citizenship in the EU through Germany. Other prominant international communities in Berlin include people from Poland, Itlay, Serbia, Russia, Bulgaria, France, United States, Vietnam, and Spain. In 2008, it was noted that 25-30 percent of the population was of foreign origin. During World War II, Berlin lost 2,000,000 people and even with all of this immigration, it is still not back up to 4,500,000 people.
During the summertime, one third of Berlin's population is tourists. Berlin is now the third most visited city in Europe, just behind London and Paris.
The Turkish community is also growing as there are now 200,000 living in Berlin. It is the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey. Turkish influence can be seen with the fast food industry and the art world. Some Turkish/German art sculptures have been popping up around Berlin. These sculptures represent isolation. Perhaps they don't feel as welcome as they would like. On the flip side, Germans use this Turkish influence as Turkish beaches are a popular vacation destination for Berliners.
Berlin today is a UNESCO "City of Design" and recognized for its creative industries and start-up environment. Berlin's economy is dominated by the service sector, with around 80% of all companies doing business in services. Some of these services include advertising and design, construction, media and music, hotel business, transportation, communication technologies, medical engineering, biotechnology, e-commerce, retail, and environmental services.
The creative industry contributes to about 20 percent of Berlin's gross domestic product and consists of new music, film, advertising, architecture, design, fashion, performing arts, publishing, software, radio, video games, TV, and street art.
Although street art is not technically legal in Berlin, there are a lot of grey areas of expression like drinking alcohol on the streets, biking without helmets, and walking your dog without a leash. Well known and appreciated street artists were assigned areas to give a signature on the Berlin Wall; this is considered an example of a social contract for freedom of expression. However, 5% of the police force is assigned to controlling graffiti in Berlin and they look for similarities in signatures and styles; there is a 3,000 fine for each spray painting or tag, but poster art is only 30-40 Euros per poster. Some well-known and developed artists recieve permission and permits before creating a largescale painting on wall.
Similar to yoga asana practice, Berlin is working on aligning its parts (neighborhoods and different political viewpoints) into one cohesive whole, just like the parts of your body working together to hold a pose.
Through yoga philosophy we can ask ourselves: Who am I? Where am I from? What makes me, me? How can I be happy? How can I meet my needs on the deepest level to enlightenment? As my journey comes to an end, I remind myself to enjoy the moments and then let go. I do not know what tomorrow will hold. There could be many more adventures, inspirations, and surprises waiting for me back home.
I'd love to hear from you about any or all of these questions and more:
Did you see contrast and connection in Berlin?
Where do you find the yoga and art relationships in your life?
Where do you see spirit and matter come together as one?
How do you enjoy the moment and then let it go?
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