Two cities at the forefront of Europe

Barcelona and Berlin, which often share positions in the rankings of the most attractive or enterprising cities, are what Amsterdam and London used to be in the past. They also share the fact that they are highly advanced cities in cultural terms. Berliners do not hide their admiration for the capital of Catalonia.

Vistes des del turonet Teufelsberg

© John Mac Dougall / AFP / Getty Images
Views of the Teufelsberg hill, made from wartime rubble, where Berliners go to spend a sunny day

If there is one place in Berlin from where you can see Barcelona, then it is Teufelsberg, the highest mountain in the German capital and its surrounding area. Teufelsberg means “the devil’s mountain” in German, although it is little more than an 80-metre-high hill. In actual fact, it is neither a mountain nor a hill; it is the place where, at the end of World War II, the debris – by no means a small amount – from the bombed and destroyed city was dumped. It is now a place where Berliners like to go on clear days to fly kites or simply enjoy the view. You can also visit the remains of the large radar station built by the U.S. military to listen in to what was being said on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Karneval der

© Guim Bonaventura
Posters for the first ‘correfoc’ fire run staged in Berlin, as part of the Long-night of museums in 2010.

We made the most of the height and the site’s espionage tradition to conduct an experiment. It was a clear, sunny morning, somewhat infrequent in Berlin, and the result was stunning. When we asked dog-walkers, couples and newbie paragliders how they saw Barcelona, each and every one of them reacted the same way: their eyes widened and a huge smile lit up their faces, accompanied by an “ooh”, which is quite intense for Germans. They had all either been there recently or planned to visit in the near future. Those who do not have a son or daughter on Erasmus there had prolonged their stay on an InterRail pass or had simply had a brilliant holiday in the city. There are many and well-known positive concepts associated with the city: fine weather, good food, architecture – led by Gaudi –, the shops, the sea, Barça, nights out partying and so on.

However, some made it past the stereotypes and have discovered other sides to Barcelona. Roland, for example, belongs to a wine-lovers’ club and has used Barcelona as a base for exploring Catalonia’s wine-making regions on several occasions. El Priorat is his favourite. Helene discovered Catalonia thanks to the success of the German translations of Jaume Cabré’s work, and has already been to Barcelona twice to learn Catalan. Then there is Michael, one of many people who know Barcelona as the capital of Catalonia, but then got all mixed up because he thought that Catalonia was the equivalent of Bavaria and therefore that Catalan was not a language in its own right. Norbert and Sybille, in turn, bumped into each other last year at the Mercè festivities and made an amazing discovery: the wealth of Catalonia’s popular traditions. They already knew about the correfocs [literally, fire-runs] because they had seen the first one organised by the Catalan Government office in Berlin in the summer of 2010, performed by the Diables d’Argentona. But the castellers [human towers] were such a novelty that they have decided to return to Catalonia some day to go on a route taking in the casteller events.

Actuació dels Bastoners de Llorenç del Penedès

© Guim Bonaventura
The performance by the Bastoners de Llorenç del Penedès

The international scope of the castellers is huge and as yet unexploited, as was demonstrated earlier this year in New York. Of course, the cost of mass travel is the main curb. In Germany, one of the country’s top law and consultancy firms has been using the image of the Castellers de Barcelona as its corporate image for months now. On the internet, in advertising, in PowerPoint presentations… the concepts of unity, group effort and perseverance to reach goals are accompanied by pictures of the group. There are plans, still in the early stages, to invite them to perform in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or in the Bundestag building. Hitherto, visits to the German capital by Catalan popular culture groups have always enjoyed success. Besides the Diables d’Argentona, mentioned above, the giant figures and grallers [wind instrument players] of Corbera de Llobregat and the bastoners [stick dancers] from Llorenç del Penedès took part in two different editions of the Berlin Carnival of Cultures, a festival held in May which draws more than half a million people out onto the streets.

L’hotel Gat Point Charlie

© Guim Bonaventura
The Casa Camper designer hotel, which has just two establishments, in Berlin.

Barcelona is present in several places in Berlin and in many ways, often silently or anonymously. Few of the shoppers in the Desigual Berlin multicoloured clothing store, the largest in Europe at 1,400 square metres, will realise that the head offices of this successful multinational fashion company are located in Barcelona. Or those who shop at the modern shoe store opened by Vialis in the German capital in 2008. It is harder to miss the Bar Raval Barcelona brand, located in the busy area of Kreuzberg, opened just over a year ago under the leadership – and with the capital – of the actor Daniel Brühl. The latter, of a German father and Catalan mother, is known back here for his performance, in Catalan, of the character of Salvador Puig Antich in the film Salvador (2006). He is very popular in Germany, with blockbusters such as Good Bye, Lenin! (2003). A great lover of Barcelona, Brühl committed his love of the city to paper in the recently published Ein Tag in Barcelona [One Day in Barcelona], now adorning the windows of bookstores in Berlin. In the Bar Raval, the name and the decor, the tapas and Estrella beer, and the broadcasts of Barça matches, remind revellers of the city that inspired it. Having said that, the Berlin Culé Barça Supporters’ Club, which this season has new premises, at the Moviemento Cinema, pulls in hundreds of fans for the big games.

There are also some hotels in Berlin that do not hide their relationship with Barcelona: from the luxurious Eurostars Berlin, a five-star hotel belonging to the Hotusa group, opened by the Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, last November; to the designer hotel Casa Camper, which has only two establishments, one in the Catalan capital and another in the German capital; as well as the even more luxurious Schlosshotel Grünewald, owned by the Alma Group and located on the outskirts of the city, with books in Catalan in the reading room and a room decorated in the style of the eccentric fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who often stays there. Less luxurious, and therefore more affordable, in addition to its handy location, is Gat Point Charlie, which also uses the cat as its symbol. The hotel’s restaurant, a gastronomic concept created by a couple of chefs, Paula and Flip, is one of the few places where Berliners can taste real Catalan cuisine. The other one is Mariona, in Kreuzberg, where Joseph Troiano serves up a menu that changes every day depending on his inspiration and what is available at the market.

Barcelona and Berlin often share positions in the rankings of cities, on account of either their tourist appeal or their enterprising nature. Both of them are also culturally advanced, fashionable cities, with a lot of things going on and where you need to go once in a while if you want to keep abreast of alternative culture, video art and the latest music. Barcelona and Berlin now represent what Amsterdam and London once did. Perhaps Berlin more than Barcelona, if only because housing and creation spaces are much more affordable for young people and artists. However Barcelona, particularly in the depths of winter, still elicits that “ooh” from Berliners.

Martí Estruch Axmacher

Journalist. Delegate to the Catalan Government in Germany from 2008 to 2011

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