Every Friday at 3pm, the Staatsbibliotek (State Library) in the Kulturforum of Berlin holds a little guided tour. It’s not advertised and you have to ask to know about it. Luckily, I’d walked past a few days earlier and found out the details about this exclusive access. They started offering it because ‘so many people wanted to see the balcony that Bruno Ganz stood on in Wings of Desire’. Of course that’s the very reason why I’m here. I’ve seen Wim Wenders’ (mostly) black and white visual poem to a divided Berlin so many times, and am crazy for those scenes where his angelic camera glides up and down the vertiginous spaces of the library. Libraries are some of my favourite places in the world, you can’t beat them, which lends even more magic to these shots.
There are only seven of us who gather timidly at the appointed hour, next to a statue in the foyer. The tour guide appears and asks if we are more interested in the collections they hold, or in the architecture. ARCHITECTURE is the consensus. The building was designed by Hans Scharoun (who also created the Philharmonic on the opposite side of the street, also part of the Kulturforum at the edge of West Berlin, between the Tiergarten and the Berlin Wall). Our guide tells us that most people come here to see the locations from Wim Wenders’ film (none of us fess-up to similar motivations) but unfortunately said-balcony is covered in scaffolding at the moment. This is because the building, constructed in 1967, used asbestos in the ceiling. They’ve been gradually removing it since 2006 (they will finish in 2015 - this is ‘the biggest science collection in Germany so we can’t close it’, so they have to work at weekends, digging it out section by section) but we are told not to worry: the guide has been working here for many years and she feels just fine.
Both the Philharmonic and this building are yellow on the outside. She says this was designed as a provocation - people in the east used to look at the Berlin Wall and miss the beautiful sunset. These buildings, on just the other side, would stand as a sort of blazing sun, towering above the wall. The tour guide asks me - ‘do you want to know why we are one library with two homes?’. Of course I do. There is another building on Unter den Linden, an old historical Prussian mansion that is also part of the Staatsbibliothek. It used to be the single home of the collection, but after WW2, millions of the books were evacuated to holdings in the western allied occupied zones, as the Unter den Linden site found itself in the Eastern soviet sector. The Federal Republic built a home for these books (in this 1960s constructed Kulturforum site), but the two buildings and their collections were ultimately, like the city, re-united under one name when the wall fell.
Our guide also tells us that the spherical origami lampshades, apparently highly expensive and based on designs in MOMA, used to be her favourite objects, until they became copied by IKEA. I get to see the film set, so I am happy.