From Berlin to Babylon

Photo essay: The return of Europe's prime city

by Keyvan Tabari
You go to Berlin for Berlin. This was especially true during the Cold War. My brother had the required permit to fly his plane there through the air corridor from West Germany but, nonetheless, was chased by Russian Migs and forced to land in the Berlin airport designated by them. Such restrictions isolated Berlin. It was an island in the forbidden surroundings of East Germany. Even now it is a destination preferably to be reached without distraction by other “uninteresting” sites on the road. But Berlin is not without detractors >>> more

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Thank You

by 11mashty on

Dear Keyvan,


Thank you for a full and yet intimate portrait of Berlin.  I think your historical review adds much to the wonderful pictory presented here.  I only have one exception and that is the characterization of Berlin as 'Europe's Prime City'.  I have lived in multiple European countries and traveled extensively through many cities and regions.  I am also an amateur historian of some of it.  I think few would argue that much of western civilization was based on Ancient Greece (which borrowed heavily from their Persian neighbors).  But even if you look at the period of middle ages to modern times, one would need to consider the following:

  • Renaissance when modern Europe began to gain 'civility' really began in Florence; without this rebirth, dark ages would have continued.
  • The empires of the French, Spanish and British over the last several centuries resulted in significant inhuman treatment of people on other continents; but also magnificent art and science in Europe.
  • From a cultural or arts perspective, there are many worthy European contenders; Paris, Florence, Vienna....but not Berlin.


Of course, this discussion can be too lengthy for a thread here, and I only took exception to Berlin's charaterization as Europe's prime city.  Again, thank you for a wonderous journey.


Dear Keyvan

by radius-of-the-persian-cat on

Dear Keyvan Tabari,

Thanks for your very intimate travel report to Berlin. You described the city so well that I felt being back to the place were I grew up. 

The Ishtar gate and the Babylon Procession Road are for sure two artefacts which takes away the breath of every visitor. I remember seeing visitors there from Iraq, who broke in tears when they saw the dimension of their ancient culture, and they immediately called home to Bagdad and told their friends with stuttering voice that they are in front of the real "Ishtar Gate" that is twice as big as the reconstruction in Iraq initiated by the late Sadam Hussein. I know there is a permanent debate about who should own these ancient oriental artifacts, like Nefertitis bust or the temple of Pergamon. Somehow, I got the feeling that they are feeling at home already in Berlin, after beeing discovered by archeologists about 100 years ago. I think they should stay in Berlin, just give Germany the chance to show how much it appreciates and adores this ancient cultures. 

Currently, in an extra department of the Pergamon Museum (dept. for near-eastern and islamic arts) a temporal exhibition shows Ferdousis "Shah-Nameh".

I"d like to add some more aspects of Berlin that relates it to Iran. In the recent history the most dramatic event was perhaps the visit of Shah Reza Pahlevi in July 1967. The Shah was confronted with the political loaded atmosphere of the student protesters. They in turn provoked a violent response by about 100 SAVAK agents. When west-Berlin police forces got involved, one of the students (Benno Ohnesorg) was shot dead. His murder had a similar impact on political movement as the killing of Neda in Teheran two years ago.

Just one correction to your post:  The current gay mayor of Berlin is Klaus Wowereit, not Eberhard Diepgen (Diepgen of the conservative party was in office untill 2001).

I very much hope that I"ll manage to visit Iran this year. I am sure that I will discover as many exciting things there as you described on your trip to Berlin.