Best of Berlin 2020

Time has corners

West Berlin has always been modern. 

The district that spread into the countryside as the new late 19thC industrial middle class wanted to flee the crowded old town and expanding smoky factory zones, it was originally villages along a sandy, country road to the royal hunting grounds.

The spine of the new residential villa district is still the famous Ku’damm boulevard, the ‘dam of the elector’, originally a mid 16thC wooden causeway through the marshes to the forests beyond, today’s Grunewald.

After WWII, this became the heart of ‘Bizonia’, the merged British and US sectors of west Berlin, and was rebuilt as a show -case city of the bright democratic future. This new style lay in stark, symbolic contrast to today’s Memorial Church, a ruin remembering the old stone district centre around zoo station, destroyed by WWII.

One of the most peculiar constructions celebrating the brave, new modern world is the electric ‘set clock’ designed by watch maker Dieter Billinger in the 1970’s, imaginatively christened the Berlin clock.. This is one of several devices in both east and west Berlin ( the world clock of communist Alexanderplatz, the water clock of the 1960’s western Europa centre) used to count the beats of the future in two very different worlds.

Billinger’s clock was a world’s first, earning a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. Originally positioned on its 6m pole on the Ku’damm itself it had to be re located for cost reasons as traffic vibration meant the expensive bulbs had to be replaced too often.  Now opposite the famous Elephant Gate entrance to the Berlin Zoo, it’s feels hidden and easily missed

His design breaks down time into sets of Base 5. 

A flashing ‘second’ light on top, a first group of 4 lights for sets of 5 hrs, a third set of 4 lights for single hours, a third set of 11 lights for sets of 5 mins (every third light in red for a set of 15 mins) and a final row of 4 lights for individual minutes.

Sounds complicated but once deciphered a novel and gratifying way to spend a couple of minutes working out what the time is, before checking you’re right on another handier device, which is weird as it was so popular at the time that miniature version was available for household use and you can still download a Berlin Clock app for your phone,