Autumn leaves drop in the gentle air, blanket the pavement, fall on cars, crunch under bicycle tyres, yellow on yellow post boxes. This year – because of the hot spring, cool summer or dawning of the Age of Aquarius -- Berlin’s autumn colours are spectacular. Deep gold, rusty red and earthy brown leaves seem to cover much of the city, at least until the orchestrated gangs of road crews sweep away the moving display.
Apart from the leaves, and the end-of-year bicycle rides which feel as if stolen from time and before the onset of the snow, one of Berlin’s greatest autumn pleasures is the Festival of Lights. Every evening for two weeks the city sparkles as more than 70 landmark spaces and buildings, including the Brandenburg Gate, the Funkturm and the Dom are illuminated. Laser figures pirouette across the Europa Center. Schinkel’s dignified Altesmuseum is swathed in colours more suited to a Brazilian nightclub. In Alexander Platz the Television Tower seems ready to blast off into orbit.
This year the finest show was in the heart of town on Pariser Platz. The Brandenburg Gate was bathed in rainbow colours, then in a painterly autumn sunset of deep blue and silver light, and then in a sensational – and apt -- animation. Against the night sky the monument became a screen on which swinging construction cranes erected stacks of Berlin apartment buildings. The every-changing facades were from east and west, from Wilhelmine Wilmersdorf to the Khrushchev boxes of Marzahn, and – as evening fell across the animation – virtual Berliners appeared at their windows to watch the street below, to dance, to kiss, to play badminton. A paper aeroplane took flight between the buildings. Flowers bloomed on a balcony. Lovers ran into a darkened bedroom. The tens of thousands of real Berliners assembled around the square watched the celebration of their lives in light (at the same time as being reminded of their worries about rising rents and the increasing paucity of affordable accommodation).
Meanwhile across Pariser Platz the Adlon Hotel’s façade was distorted, twisted and rebuilt in a geometric light show which would have been even more impressive had Volkswagen been subtle in its sponsorship.
The Festival of Lights is the brainchild of lighting designer Andreas Boehlke, whose ideas were developed and organised by Birgit Zander. At the opening of this year’s show Zander said ‘Light is life, light is energy, light is able to speak all languages of the world and light connects people.’ Her ambition has been to establish the festival as an international public event, transforming the city into a stage, making stars of its landmarks and buildings, drawing people from all over the world.
The morning after the show, away from the crowds and ‘lightseeing’ tours (on the Light-Liner bus; during the festival there are also Light-Ship boat rides and tours by rickshaw on a flashing Light-Velo), I watched the autumn leaves drift down from the blue sky, then on to the pavement, and felt a moment of deep happiness to live in this illuminated and illuminating city of colour and light.