An Inaccurate Guide To European Manhole Cover Art: Berlin

Today’s manhole cover comes from Berlin, Germany. Berlin is one of Europe’s smelliest cities , but it is also one of Europe’s sexiest cities (according to t-shirts sold in Berlin). It is also a city with good food, good museums, good history, and great manhole covers. (A quick suggestion for the manhole cover makers in Berlin, if you didn’t drill holes in the cover it might reduce the sewer smell.)



Before we dig in to the cover, let me apologize for the shoes, I realize that they are a distraction and there is no excuse for buying shoes this bright, but it happened, it was nearly unavoidable, and I now like them. (If you are curious about how they got on my feet you can read about it here: TSOJ: Berlin–Ugly Shoes, Horrible Hotels, and How Germany Won the War of Breakfast.)

This is a pretty busy manhole cover so starting at the bottom it goes: Reichstag, TV Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, Mystery thing, No Idea thing, and Kaiser Wilhelm Church.  I think some of the better places have been left off the cover, but that might just be me. When the artist planned this cover out I am sure there were a few tough decisions to make. For example, they were probably told to get an equal amount of stuff from both sides of the city;  this theory might also explain the two mystery objects on the cover. It is also possible that one of the mystery objects is the Pergamon Museum (the one closest to my left foot), but I don’t recall the Pergamon having any big, tall towers. Is it possible the museum had towers at one time? Yes. Where did the towers go? That is something that requires research and therefore that won’t be happening this morning. Just for fun, let me say that the towers were put in a museum in Turkey after WWII.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot see an image of the Brandenburg Gate without thinking of David Hasselhoff singing Freedom, which should be reason enough to remove the image from the manhole cover which would leave space for some other stuff that wouldn’t remind me of David Hasselhoff. It is one of many oddities of German/American relations. We (USA! USA!) dropped a number of bombs on Germany and then said, “You know, let’s be friends.” Then we spent the next 50 years hating half of Germany and loving the other half. We expressed this love by inflicting David Hasselhoff on them. They now pretend not to know who he is and people like me continue to remind them.  Germans don’t forget embarrassing stuff, I still remember getting perms in high school, as well as every junior high dance; I’m talking to you, Tammy Carroll…too tired to dance, sure. (Yes, I am a little German.)

The TV Tower is also know as Fernsehturm Berlin, but since English speakers have no chance of getting that pronounced correctly we call it the TV Tower; if there is one thing we know how to pronounce it is TV. The tower was on the wrong side of the wall back in the day, but today you can go up to the top and see the whole city. (These views are always overrated in my opinion. Seeing a city from up high is pretty disappointing. I end up looking at a lot of parking lots and wondering how much it costs to park there.) The TV Tower is also the default wide-angle-arial shot used by all movie directors to indicate that the setting is Berlin. It simplifies things. If you had a shot of the Reichstag people would wonder where it was, if you had a shot of Brandenburg Gate people would wonder if David Hasselhoff was in the movie (which, like yelling “Fire” in a theater should be illegal), and if you had a shot of the Victory Column people would get super confused…it has been a long time since Germany finished a war with a victory.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is really not named well, but it looks good on the manhole cover. The cathedral should be named something else since it is really a cathedral and a half. There is the old blown up part, and then there is the new tower and church that holds the biggest, scariest, gold, flying Jesus I have ever seen.  I think the church ended up on the cover more because of its location (“West side represent”) than its value as a historical landmark in Berlin. It is cool to take a peek inside the church and see all the blue stained glass and flying gold Jesus, but I can think of several locations that are better.

I have avoided the mystery object long enough, let’s tackle this thing now. I have no idea what that thing is. Is it a map of the park? Is it the food court at KeDeWe? Is it a palace garden? Is it a piece of toast that has its own children’s television show? (You heard me right, look this up on YouTube: Bernd das Brot. You’re welcome.) Whatever it is, it doesn’t belong with the other buildings because I am sure it is not a building. I don’t make the rules for what can or cannot be on manhole covers, but I think a rule should be made. Either you go all buildings, or you go no buildings. It seems very un-German to have something this inconsistent on the cover. Maybe some of those German engineers I hear about all the time should devote themselves to straightening out Berlin’s manhole cover.

The final detail on the cover is for the sewer workers. The words say, “Berliner Wasserbetriebe” which I believe means Berlin Water Company or something like that. The arrows are there to help the workers know which direction to put the cover back on correctly. I think the arrows are a good idea, more manhole covers should think about having some directional arrows to help out.

Well, that’s enough learning for today, you have my permission to take a nap and call it good.

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10 replies »

  1. For the longest time, I was looking at the negative space in the middle and trying to figure out how it represented all those places. “They sure have some indistinct buildings in Germany,” I was thinking. Then, my inner German kicked in, so I’m better now.


  2. You’ve got to love German with its 18 syllable words. I wonder if their See Spot Run books for children only have modest words with 8-10 syllables …


  3. The two unidentified things are the Olympic Stadium and the Chancellor’s Building. Took me forever to figure those two out, so I thought I’d share the knowledge.


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