"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
“Noisy, matter-of-fact Berlin, the city of work and the metropolis of business […] has more – not less – than some other cities of those places and moments when it bears witness to the dead.”
-Walter Benjamin (SW2: 613)
In my daily meanderings in Charlottenburg, I often find myself on Krumme Strasse (or ‘Crooked Street’). As I posted earlier, the street is largely remembered today as a key flashpoint for the new social movements which emerged in West Germany in the late 1960s. But it is also the ‘crooked street’ whose paved stones absorbed the footfalls of Walter Benjamin on his way to the municipal swimming pool for lessons he would soon come to dread. The pool was renovated in the 1970s and 1980s (it was severely damaged during the Second World War) and is located right at the slight turn or kink that has given the street its name.
For Benjamin, to find oneself on a ‘crooked street’ was to also take leave of the linear and hard-edged one-way street that he explored in an eponymous text of 1928. Benjamin famously commented in the Berlin Chronicle on his desire to find appropriate spatial form for the performance of his own autobiographical corpus. “For a long time,” he writes, “I have toyed with the idea of structuring my life- bios – graphically on a map” (SW: 596). Indeed, it is hard not to understand Krumme Strasse as a structuring device for the complex topographical (even perhaps topological) space through which Benjamin’s remembered self unfolds itself in both the Berlin Chronicle (1932) and the later and more stylised Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1932-1938).
Benjamin has always been one of my more faithful companions in Berlin. His books are never far from my side and have been sadly reduced to the status of so many dog-eared well-worn Baedekers especially as I, like Benjamin before me, try “to get hold of the images in which the experience of the big city is precipitated” (SW 3: 344, original emphasis). But to follow Benjamin down Krumme Strasse is to ultimately follow the lead of Vanessa Berry’s excellent posting on her blog. I leave you to check out her own words as a suitable retracing of Benjamin’s earlier wanderings.