Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Berlin, between Paris and St. Petersburg

Cambridge, April 30, 2013

I was about to write that the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) reshaped Europe, just as I remembered (all the way from grade school in Buenos Aires!) that they were also the match that lit up the independence movements in Spanish America.  In any case, if you look carefully at a map of Berlin dated any time after 1814 you can see how the city was at the very center of Napoleon's path, midway between Paris and Saint Petersburg.

Literally.  Alexanderplatz to the east--at the end of K√∂nigs Strasse just past what was left of the fortifications--and Pariser Platz to the west, where Unten der Linden reaches the Tiergarten.

The area of Alexanderplatz served originally as a cattle market for Berlin, and was named by the Prussian King Frederick William III to commemorate the visit of the Russian Emperor Alexander I to Berlin in 1805.  At the other end of the map, Pariser Platz was one of three formal squares created as part of the Baroque extension of the city in the 1730s.  It was known as "Das Vierek" ("The Square") until 1814, when it got its name to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon and the triumphal entry of the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies into Paris, with the very Alexander I and Frederick William III at the head.

That's the beauty in many names of streets, squares and other urban spaces, that carry extensive historic and geographic information in the most compact of ways.

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