Spring To Come

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 4. The Spirit of Place, Berlin by Ashley Jankowski2 Comments

I grew up in a Catholic household, with prayers before dinner and Church on Sundays. I had been conditioned to identify sacred symbols and objects, and to distinguish ‘Holy’ spaces and people. Spirit was, in my young mind, inherently religious, something felt only in divine spaces, or bestowed upon you through the clergy.

As I matured through study and self reflection, I developed a more individualized relationship with my religion, which includes a curiosity and respect towards alternative methods of seeking out spirituality. But upon my arrival to Berlin, a place where religion lacks modern cultural relevance amongst the lingerings of its painful history, it was not immediately clear where locals went for spiritual refuge. Unlike some of the other European cities I’ve visited which are sprinkled with picturesque Roman Catholic cathedrals and gardens paired with accompanying love stories, Berlin’s landmarks are tense in nature, typically remnant reminders of the violence and devastation of war. What’s more, the sun rarely finds its way to the city streets. It rains. A lot.

The constant rain and the expected grey may frustrate the tourist and the Berliner alike. In my earliest days in Berlin, it disheartened me as well. But after recent reflections through rain-trailed windows, I can’t help but think that there is a larger meaning to it all.

A natural component to Earth’s weather system, rain has the basic scientific function of restoring water to the land in order for plants to grow and animals to drink – a concept we’re all familiar with.  But looking at rain from a purely literary perspective, its appearance within a text can often symbolize a cleansing of a person or space. Taken a step further, rain – especially the emergence from rain – can signify a sense of baptismal regeneration, whereas the person or place rises from the water transformed, forgiven of sins, and thus, ‘reborn’. Let us choose to view Berlin as a story – as many historians and travelers do –  and equate rain not as a forecast, but as a foreshadow.

Towering cranes pause to ponder skyline design plans. Subway rides feel breezy with the circulation of silent contemplation. Night clubs are experienced with arms wide and eyes closed. And all the while, it rains. It rains and rains and rains. It is uncomfortable and unavoidable and it sprinkles our clothes with wet dark tones, ruining our hair and makeup and causing written pages to wrinkle and tear. One drop at a time, the city absorbs the water.

Berlin is a city that is reluctantly moving forward while nervously looking back. What is pride? What is honor? What is memory? What is forgiveness? Each rainfall saturates Berlin’s people with questions held consciously hostage. Each droplet erodes the hardened shell of history bore upon the city’s back. Each quick peek of sunshine strips a layer of apprehension away from the city’s modern reality, bringing us one step closer to answers.

The presence of picturesque cathedrals is not needed to witness and participate in the spiritual growth of a place. The spirit of Berlin cannot be represented by a constant. It is not spoken. It cannot be sufficiently symbolized through a location, or found object. Rather, something that moves, flickers, and works. Rain, a spiritual body that is as much about what is present as it is about what is washed away. Rain is renewal. Rain is restoration. Rain represents the spirit of Berlin; a long awaited Spring is near.


  1. Hi Ashley! I think you did an awesome job of really giving the reader an honest and raw account of your feelings so far in Berlin. It’s interesting how your interpretation of the physical and environmental aspects of the city helped to paint a picture of growth and long term reflection. Metaphorically, your comparison of rain to the renewal of a city that has been through tough times is an undeniably creative element of your piece. I definitely agree with you on the basis that although there may be some things in a foreign place that aren’t exactly enjoyable or ideal, they are still a part of that destination and therefore can at least be appreciated in some regard.

  2. Ashley-
    you are such a lovely writer. The way you capture the spirit of Berlin as a fleeting entity is smart, and I love that you used the word “flicker” to describe it. It’s interesting, because when I first read the prompt for this post, I didn’t consider religion at all. I wasn’t raised with any religious background whatsoever, so I enjoy reading about what “spirit” means to you. I guess a place can both separate and bring together spirit and religion. I also love your line about nightclubs.

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