Berlin, October 1999Still a city of contrasts: Yesterday the monarchs from Sweden and Denmark plus other Nordic dignitaries took part in the official opening of the joint Nordic embassies in Berlin while at the exact same time a 50,000 strong demo of civil servants marched against the proposed cut backs in public spending. The march took them along Under den Linden towards Brandenburger Tor passing the newly found and in great part intact remains of the huge cement Fuehrer Bunker. From our vantage point near the new Sony Building we could see not only the original old house of Checkpoint Charlie and a preserved part of the infamous Berlin Wall, but also the newly restored Reichstag Parliament building, and - above all - the image of the real victors: the building cranes celebrating the multi-national conquerors with money to spend.
The former no manís land around Potzdamer Platz and northwards toward Brandenburger Tor is now an architectís paradise: predominantly glass and steel in adventurous and daring curves in a presumed attempt to create a varied whole, however not quite escaping the dangers of impersonality in these rather futuristic facades. This is no place to live.
Admittedly, in the ten years from the fall of the Wall, the center of Berlin has experienced a remaking beyond oneís wildest dreams, but outside the center - where the millions live - the houses are almost the same, especially in the old eastern part of the city and in the Turkish ghetto of Kreutzberg.
In the late 1600s one in four (!) Berliners were French Huguenots, and near the end of the 1800s 160,000 Jews put an everlasting stamp on the special German spoken in Berlin. The French and the Jews coined expressions such as: Muckefuck (French: mocca faux = false coffee - made in part of a coffee substitute), and Hechtsuppe (not a soup, but Yeddisch: hech supha = a strong gust of wind, thus the expression "itís blowing a gale, strong as a pike soup."
Cosmopolitan Berlin may be exciting, but never charming.
A recent survey has it that one in six Germans want the Wall back. Unemployment in the former East Germany has risen to an alarming 20%, and despite the enormous and successful effort of privatizing 14,000 factories and enterprises, a growing number of people feel as trapped as before, the new rulers being banks, insurance companies, and the multi-nationals.
Another recent survey claims that to compensate for inadequacies in education and skills, the former easterners attribute to themselves a difference in morals. Unaccustomed to the economic "law of the jungle" they look back to the good old days when opposition to the Wall meant more than freedom of consumption. Like in so many other fights for freedom the combatant dissenters fought for a higher quality of human life, a life without oppression of any kind, the freedom of choice being something other than the right to choose among a variety of cereals.
Now they are disillusioned at seeing their countrymen worshipping Mammon - This is not what we fought for, they say. The sad truth is that the fall of the Wall was in great part caused by the persistent pressure of various groups of dissenters who organized rallies, often at great personal risks. Apparently, the camp followers didn't all share their beliefs in a society devoid of exploitation; or they have simply been devoured by forces much more powerful than the Stasi secret police.
So far, Germany has spent close to $1 billion on the re-unification, none of which seems to have been aimed at the changes the leading dissenters had hoped for.
On the more humorous side new restaurants in the now old-fashioned east style have opened. Here customers can experience things as they were: slow and sloppy, even rude service. The saying goes that the staff have to be trained, so perhaps after all things do have changed over the past ten years. Or, as it was put recently in a satirical program: Let the GDR-nostalgists have their way - but only for a couple of days - to experience the shortage of goods and the mind control. Perhaps they'll stop longing, then.
October 20, 1999 Erik Moldrup
Addendum: In the recent elections for the Berlin Senate a majority of West Berlin voters supported the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) whereas voters in the former East Berlin gave their votes to the Party of Democratic Socialism, successor to the former Communist party that ruled East Germany. Not very surprising as the number of people living under the official limit for poverty in the former iron curtain countries has risen from 13 million to 170 million in the ten years since the fall of the Wall.