Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Synopsis

In the political history of the past century, no city has played a more prominent -- though often disastrous -- role than Berlin. At the same time, Berlin has also been a dynamic center of artistic and intellectual innovation. If Paris was the "Capital of the Nineteenth Century", Berlin was to become the signature city for the next hundred years. Once a symbol of modernity, in the Thirties it became associated with injustice and the abuse of power. After 1945, it became the iconic City of the Cold War. Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has again come to represent humanity's aspirations for a new beginning, tempered by caution deriving from the traumas of the recent past. David Clay Large's definitive history of Berlin is framed by the two German unifications of 1871 and 1990. Between these two events several themes run like a thread through the city's history: a persistent inferiority complex; a distrust among many ordinary Germans, and the national leadership of the "unloved city's" electricatmosphere, fast tempo, and tradition of unruliness; its status as a magnet for immigrants, artists, intellectuals, and the young; the opening up of social, economic, and ethnic divisions as sharp as the one created by the Wall.

Excerpt

During a stay in West Berlin in the fall of 1989 I decided, as I often did on visits to that city, to take a day's excursion across the Wall to East Berlin. At that time both halves of the "Siamese city" were tense because thousands of East German citizens were demonstrating for greater freedoms, including the right to travel freely to the West; some of the protesters, hoping to settle permanently in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), had gone so far as to take refuge in the West German embassies in Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw, refusing to leave without the promise of safe passage to the Federal Republic. To complicate matters, the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, was scheduled to arrive in the East German capital in a few days to help the German Democratic Republic (GDR) celebrate the fortieth anniversary of its foundation. On that cold early October morning when I took the S-Bahn over the Wall to the Friedrichstrasse station there were relatively few passengers on the train. As I handed my passport to a glowering border official I said cheerfully: "It looks like I'm the only one dumb enough to be traveling in this direction." Of course I should have known better than to attempt a lame joke with an East German official—one never joked with these fellows—and I was immediately subjected to an extended tongue-lashing for insulting the majesty of the East German state. Then I was made to sit by myself for a while in a small room so that I could contemplate the enormity of my impudence. Only after an hour or so was I allowed to retrieve my passport, pay the fee for a day's visa, and begin my short visit to the "Capital of the GDR." It would have considerably buoyed my spirits that day had I known that the Wall I had just crossed would come down within a matter of weeks and that the state I had just "insulted" would itself collapse a year later.

Of course, I was hardly the only one who did not anticipate the incredible upheaval that was about to transform Berlin, Germany, and Europe. Virtually everyone, including the people who were supposed to know about such things, was . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.