People having their lunch break while resting their feet on the centuries-old dark stones. Alone or with company. Young students resting on a bench surrounded by graves. So Romantic. Nearby, a young lady is snitching a short note on a box set on Brecht's grave. A request for feedback, for inspiration?
And there is me, a little voyeur, camera in hand, for the first visit at Dorothéenstadt Cemetery Berlin, also called the Berlin's Père Lachaise.
Weirdly maybe, I always considered cemeteries interesting places. In France, or Spain or Portugal, in Central and Eastern Europe or the Middle East, I always searched for little stories beind the stones. It is not always about the famous people, but also about those unknown residents which might left some stories about their lives on the stones.
I remember how me and my brother we discovered once in the old country a cemetery of pilots. On some of their graves part of their circumstances - flight accident for instance - was revealed - and we used to set up stories about their destiny.
For Berlin cemetery, you don't have to be that creative: most of the lives of the famous residents are told already in tomes.
The 17,000 sqm cemetery situated in the Mitte area - Chauséestrasse 126 - reunites in dead artists, writers, industralists - like Borsig, for instance - or court architects - like Schinckel, my favorite German's architect.
Compared to the notorious Père Lachaise, there are no orgiastic parties here. No desperate screams of the fans of Jim Morrison. Artists and intellectuals do have a high, often unapproachable status in Germany. You treat them with respect, quietly. Or you leave pebbles on the stones - or even a pen - like at Christa Wolf's grave.
Besides the potential stories - most of them I never wrote - there is the tombal architecture which interests me when visiting a grave. What I've mostly seen here is a very simple one, without glamour and special style. Dorothéenstadt is usually considered an example of 18th-19th century tombal architecture but in my humble opinion someone really interested in good samples in this respect should go somewhere else.
For instance, I've found more glamour and creative patterns in the Jewish cemetery of Weissensee. The emerging Jewish class wanted to copy the style of the successful gentiles and suceeded to pay for impressive works of tombal architecture. Completely against the average Jewish belief that in death, all graves shall look the same, simple, without pictures or any significant identification mark.
You have to walk a lot until you find some interesting corners but they are worth the view. There is some information posted at the entrance - in German - and you might find other tourists - or curious locals as me - wandering near the graves. You can ask about famous people eventually.
Although not exactly impressed, it was a literary visit worth doing it once in a lifetime. At least I've learned something about the local tombal architecture, and even learned something about the easygoing way of munching a sandwich at the shadow of a famous person's grave.
I only have a big regret: why I haven't asked the girl with the note on Brecht's grave about her message. I am becoming too private sometimes...