I recently took a trip to Berlin. The city has a difficult past and was home to many influential philosophers. While many lived and wrote in Berlin, fewer were born and raised there. Walter Benjamin, though, was one of the few. He grew up in Berlin.
I brought Benjamin’s autobiographical essay “A Berlin Chronicle” on the trip. I read the essay each night and circled references to particular streets and parks, as well as phrases, commentaries, and concepts which Benjamin expresses about or close to those locations.
Inspired by the Stanford University mapping project for this essay, I made a walking tour out of it. (I’m not the first to think of doing something like this.)
If you’d like to do this walking tour, follow the directions below. The idea is to amble around the city, find each street or place, and do the activity with friends or strangers. (The numbers correspond to places in the text and not necessarily the order in which you should complete the activities.)
Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Walking Tour
6) At Chauseestrasse, open your imagination to a boundless horizon.
11) Thinking of the people closes to you emotionally, go to Kupfergraben and contract your life into a single, profound symbol.
10) Stand somewhere on Kochstrasse and list five mysteries of your father’s work or job.
8) On Magdeburgerstrasse, find 1-2 examples of how your imagination adorns the edges of your memory with capricious frills.
9) At the Lutzkow Quay come up with an aphorism, an image with a caption, or a first attempt at philosophical reflection on “nobility.”
5) Go to Schillstrasse and talk about a time when you emanated forlornness.
4) Pause life at the Lichtenstein Gate.
7) Find a decisive bench in the Tiergarten. Debate a political question.
3) Either write a poem for Fritz Henle at his street Klopstockstrasse, or, in his honor, turn an insignificant phrase into a magic formula that heals a wound.
1) Go to Carmerstrasse, where Benjamin was born. Remember the place you were born, particularly the colors.