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BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ

I could not have even dreamed that I would visit a wall-less Berlin in a reunited Germany in my lifetime. Conventional wisdom told us that short of a Nuclear Holocaust the Wall was there to stay - just like the Greyness, the Stasi and Honecker of GDR. How ironical that the International Tourism Bourse more famously known as ITB, the world's largest showcase on travel and tourism, was organized in West Berlin every year in the month of March while just a stone's throw away Berliners in the east could not even cross over the Wall to the west, far less travel to exotic destinations around the world!

I remember crossing over to the east of the city in my earlier visits to West Berlin. A Nepalese gentleman married to a Polish lady and living on the other side of the wall played host. He was working for Siemens and enjoying the best of both worlds! For all its dullness East Berlin was inexpensive and earning the mighty Deutsch Mark while spending it in the east was an assured way to riches. I visited him along with my nephew by getting a day pass at Checkpoint Charlie to not only marvel at the historical center of the old city but to also juxtapose its underachievement with the affluence of its western part.

Berlin Alexanderplatz was the city's heart then misleadingly carrying the name of the Russian Czar Alexander I in tribute to an opulent era long gone by but was actually built more in the dour image of the Soviet cities such as Moscow. At the end of WWII the whole city was turned into rubble as the Soviet Red Army took over the city from die-hard Nazis in house-to-house fighting. Imperial capital of Germany was eventually re-built by the victorious Soviets in an euphoria of Socialist Triumphalism. The 365 m. high TV Tower was built as one of the largest and most prestigious structure in Europe with a revolving restaurant on its crown. The World Time Structure (Weltzeituhr) kept time of almost all capitals of the world in anticipation perhaps of the eventuality of the world going Communist, one time zone after another. The Fountain of International Friendship reminded citizens that the Soviet Union was GDR's best friend among the socialist fraternity. Brandenburg Gate was where the wall happened, bisecting Berlin with a scalpel-like incision. The "Gate of Peace" commissioned by Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1791 was ironically the dividing line between the East and West Berliners warring over mindless ideology. Unter den Linden, the avenue lined by Linden trees, was the showcase of Socialist renaissance one again as it was in Hitler's Nazi Germany.


It was a pleasant surprise to me that during my recent visit to Berlin for another installment of the famous ITB tourism fair, I was staying in a hotel not far from Alexanderplatz. The square was redeveloped after Berlin commissioned a competition among its architects to beautify it. Capitalism's competing commercialism has lifted the city out of its former greyness. Right at the square itself there is a huge shopping mall named Galeria and next to it a C&A Department Store. One does not notice policemen any more, the GDR's teeming militia are no doubt more gainfully employed in capitalism's rough and tumble enterprises. For a visitor witnessing these changes after a gap of a decade I can say that Berlin Alexanderplatz has come a long way in reclaiming its prideful place in the cityscape.       

Comments

  1. Having seen only the post-wall Berlin, this piece was very interesting to me.

    I also enjoy living vicariously in Berlin through John le Carre's and Sidney Sheldon's novels.

    ReplyDelete

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