A Palace of Tears
In front of Friedrichstraße station, along the Spree River, the Tränenpalast or ‘Palace of Tears’ has reappeared out of the construction dig of the much criticised (brutal and severe) Spreedreieck office development.
The Palace of Tears is what Berliners called the departure terminal from which travellers left by rail from East Berlin to the West. It was here that families were separated, where a traveller granted a visa to exit the Soviet zone might leave behind a spouse and children as guarantee of return. While the wall was the symbol of the physical division of the city, the Tränenpalast must be the symbol of the personal tragedy –of how ideology and international politics tore people from one another.
It is March 2010 and I can finally look in from outside, after many years when the Tränenpalast was off limits because of the nearby building of Berlin’s newest (and I think heartless) Spree-side skyscraper. This office block is sadly reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe’s designs, like a slap to the face to recall his exquisite and unrealised plans for the same site. Ernst and Young have installed themselves inside, the barriers have been taken away. I can now walk right up to the windows of the disintegrating ‘Palace’ nearby:
The clock stands stopped on the wall. A light fixture unravels from the ceiling to the ground. The floor is swept clean, but I think I can see the scuff marks of so many people rushed through controlled lines and police checkpoints. Customs officers worked from the windows in the sheds, counters where documents were scrutinised, decisions made. I can imagine an irregularity noticed, a woman asked to wait, and a phone call made. She looks to one side, and notices the guards discussing. Then one detaches from the group, and approaches, her way.
At the end of the terminal is the descent, the tunnel which leads underground and then back up to the railway platform. Imagine crossing that threshhold to somewhere where only the chosen are allowed to go. It is now boarded up.