Wednesday 18 March 2009

Madrid: The Parque De Berlin

I was a man with a mission. A friend had a meeting in a part of Madrid that neither of us had been to and suggested that after the meeting we could meet for lunch. I have never been known to reuse an offer of lunch, but the problem was, where? As my friend was busy, I offered to diligently search out a suitable watering hole and report back. It’s a hard life sometimes!

As Madrid expanded, the developers, as now, gave their newly created barrios delightful names to attract buyers. The area I was searching is split into two: The barrios of Prosperidad and Ciudad Jardin. Prosperity and Garden City; they sound wonderful, don’t they?

Perhaps they were once! Now these two barrios are part of the inner city and a warren of constricted streets overshadowed by dingy high-rise apartments and littered with cheap “Chinese” shops, where nothing costs very much and you get what you pay for!

It’s not all like that. There are a few streets where rows of neatly fenced two storey detached houses defy the encroaching apartment blocks as Don Quixote defied the windmills. Squint and ignore the multi-floored giants and these rows remind one of Provincial France, or British suburbia, but over their shoulders the apartments loom and one day, I am sure, will take their place.

Neither, as I found, is it a barrio for the walker. Centuries ago, it was a land of rolling pasture where sheep grazed. Sheep with four legs don’t mind steep slopes. The narrow lanes that radiate out from the main street that divides the two barrios, El Calle de Lopez de Hoyos, need stout legs and a Sherpa guide to negotiate.

So by the end of the morning my legs were sore and weary. I had just walked past a school playground whose level surface ended ten metres above street level, which might give some indication of the steepness of the slope, and, in the spirit of one who was determined to complete his task, was contemplating one final climb when, in this sea of sullen stonework, I had a glimpse of green.
And when I had scaled the mountain, there it was. A park I had not expected to find in this dreary neighbourhood. At first, apart from the trees, all I saw was the flat, dusty area of an inner city basketball court.

Groups of young men in baggy shorts competed with each other while others, with clouds of cigarette smoke hanging lazily over their heads in the still air, watched with varying degrees of interest. In the distance, a grey cement structure that proved to be a small auditorium, plastered in peeling posters, gathered sweet wrappers under its drab concrete seats.

The sun was hot on that barren patch. The players’ feet kicked up swirls of brown dust as they leapt for the hoop. Beyond them stood a file of shady trees where people sat sheltering from the sun. I bought an ice cream from the graffiti strewn kiosk and went to join them.

As I approached, the ground fell steeply away from me. Oh, how the sheep must have loved this rolling landscape - assuming they had two legs shorter than the others! Then I realised this park had two distinct halves. There was the flat summit with its dusty sports area, and a lush, well-watered, green and shady decline of tended gardens and hedgerows. I looked down on to three gushing fountains set in a network of grey asphalt pathways and flowerbeds.

Under the trees the temperature dropped sharply, almost causing me to shiver. There, elderly gentlemen played chess on painted checker board tables. Readers relaxed with their newspapers or books. Young mothers sat and watched their offspring. It all seemed rather peaceful, and just what I needed.

Below me, at the foot of the gradient I saw an irregularly shaped pool of water. Three fountains gushed perpendicular spouts of water that stood like sentries about what seemed to be some modern art sculpture standing on its island plinth. Always ready to educate myself I wandered down. The sculpture consisted of three concrete panels. I thought, “Hmm! Not exactly what I would call art”, and then, “even so, it’s a shame that the graffiti artists couldn’t leave them alone”. Because that’s what it seemed, three grey slabs standing on end and covered with paint daubs. But then I read the plaque:

En memoria del derribo del muro de Berlin. Parte de el queda aquí”.
"In memory of the fall of the Berlin Wall, part of which stands here. "

I was actually looking at historically important graffiti. I am pleased to report that during my researches I discovered that I was not alone in my ignorance and that some of the paint had actually been cleaned off by an over zealous Parques y Jardines worker just before Herr
Brandt’s arrival.
So, I am not the only idiot in Madrid!

This corner of the park is on the busy intersection of the Plaza de la Virgen Guadalupe. There is a quite magnificent fountain in the centre of the plaza. Its view is unfortunately marred by the traffic lights and road signs of a busy junction. It is named for the church that stands opposite the park, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora De Guadalupe. I am told that the church is mostly attended by those of Mexican descent who live here. It is certainly a striking piece of architecture.

Turning back into the park, I became well informed. A sign proclaimed this to be the Parque de Berlin. So now, I knew where I was. With a sense of duty, I did some research. It was opened in 1967 by Willy Brandt, then the mayor of Berlin, to celebrate that city’s ties with Madrid, whatever they are. But when he opened it, it was just a park. The Berlin wall did not fall until November 9th, 1989, long after Brandt was just a memory, and the three slabs were erected as a memorial the year afterwards.

Then further up the slope is a monument to Beethoven, and that appeared in ’81. So I am not quite sure what Willy Brandt opened, except that there is a statue of a bear on a plinth bearing the single word, “Berlin”, which was probably there at the time. It’s curious that both Madrid and Berlin take bears as their figureheads. Perhaps that’s the cultural tie!

I quite like the monument to Beethoven. In the shape of a grand piano, it seems to be made out of a single lump of granite. Installed, as the inscription says, in 1981, it commemorates the ties between the city of Bonn, then the capital of West Germany and Ludwig Van’s birthplace, and Madrid. In a park dedicated to Berlin, this seems rather as if Madrid is hedging its bets. The musical notes inscribed along the front are the strident opening bars of Beethoven’s famous fifth symphony. In this park, I would have thought his sixth; the “Pastoral” would have been more suitable.

Not far away is another memorial. It is for Alvaro Inglesias Sanchez. It’s a simple bust on a plain plinth. It commemorates a simple act. In 1982, when the young people’s hostel in which he lived caught fire, he risked his own life to save others. And he made the ultimate sacrifice. His was the only death from that fire. He was responsible for the rescue of many others before the fire-fighters arrived.

The Spanish singer, Victor Manuel, in 1984, celebrated the park in song with the words,
“En el estanque la luna prendida a un nenúfar empieza a llorar. Junto a Beethoven y el oso un cisne agoniza de felicidad”.
“In the pool, the moon caught a water lily and began to cry. Next to Beethoven and the bear, a swan died of happiness.”
Hmm! It probably loses something in translation!

I didn’t see any swans. I did see people relaxing and taking it easy. It did see joggers and dog walkers and children playing. Just what one would expect to see in a park. A few months after I found it I took some friends there for a picnic one Saturday afternoon. We sat on the grass and arranged our rugs to stop the wine bottles from rolling down the hill. Below us, the harsh slabs of the Berlin Wall looked as ineffectual as the wall had eventually proved to be. Beethoven’s notes, sounding the V for victory in Morse code, reminded us that common sense had won through in the end.
We saw the trees and flowers, the lawns and bushes and ignored the towering apartments that surrounded these ten acres of tranquillity. It’s a little park in a great big city and certainly not worth a tourist visit. Good, leave it for us.

1 comment:

  1. "It’s a little park in a great big city and certainly not worth a tourist visit. Good, leave it for us."

    You`re not right for one thing only - I`m going there for a visit today :)