Germany and Berlin: Contradiction or counterpiece?

brandenburger-torBerlin is more than just Germany’s capital: It is one of the most striking symbols of German history and contains an almost magical diversity of life. Berlin represents Germany in two ways: as a opposite and a reflection at the same time – and even the new U.S. President Barack Obama is aware of that.


The history of the Federal Republic of Germany doesn’t go back a very long way. It is just since 60 years since a whole new chapter in history began. Over those 60 years many things have changed or improved but one thing stayed simply the same: Berlin, because this city keeps reinventing itself over and over again ever since the beginning. There is no better mirror image of the Germans and their history than Berlin.


From East to West!


Berlin central railway station is the linchpin of Berlin. It is the largest crossing station in Europe and a symbol of the mobility requirements of the 21st century. However the history of the railway station began over hundred years ago. With the railways, the whole city began to grow rapidly because more and more people had the possibility to get there. But the postwar period and the separation of West and East Berlin put an end to the progress of the railway. Berlin and Germany were separated, the railways paralyzed. Going by train from East to West was not possible for many years and freedom of travel didn’t become a very often used word until 1989 and the Fall of the Wall. The still quite new central railway station was built in remembrance of those bad conditions and has a new plan: the station combines the traffic artery of the directions North-South and the rail network of the directions East-West. “An old dream came true, that is to say, to combine the East-West and North-South connections in one central station”, said the chairman of the board Deutsche Bahn AG Hartmut Mehdorn during the opening of the station in 2006. Back then, the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel was also taken with it: “The new transparent central station stands for a modern, open-minded and cosmopolitan country!” All of this shows the big influence Berlin actually has. Berlin was the symbol of a divided Germany and now it is an emblem of a new Europe that clings together.


trabbiFrom the touristic point of view, the central station is maybe not the most important symbol for the separation of Berlin into East and West. There are still big parts of the Berlin Wall that remain. By taking a walk along the Wall you can almost travel back in time: you can spot a painted “Trabbi”-car or other famous drawings. What is maybe even more impressive: all the dates written on the Wall: 1980, 1989, 2008. Yes, there are obviously still a lot of people who want to eternalize themselves by writing the actual date on the Wall. A piece of modernity on an ancient structure!


Another face of Germany


alternativenviertelBut while walking through Berlin you might notice one thing: it is not a polished capital. There is graffiti everywhere, some old houses look like they might break down any minute, the streets are very dirty and the young people look rather “alternative”. They ‘chill’ in shabby backyards and party in buildings which are so old they should be monument protected. This is the different aspect of Berlin that doesn’t fit into Germany at all. Germany: where everybody is always punctual, reliable and steady. Where everything has its right order and rules ought to be followed accurately. Berlin is a capital of passion, extremes and provocation. It is not clean and tidy. Berlin has its own very specific lifestyle: a mixture of art, culture and an inspiring youthful enthusiasm which is not easy to understand, especially if it is your first time in Berlin. But like Heinrich Heine said in 1822: “Berlin isn’t a city, but a place where people’s minds meet.” Berlin represents creativity, invention and individualism. Something the rest of Germany cannot provide in this dimension and that is why Berlin is so necessary for the country.


Germany, yes we can?


regierungsviertelOn the other hand, clean and tidy is definitely the administrative district of Berlin. There are many new buildings with a lot of glass, with the Reichstag as heart of the government and the Spree curling through the district in perfect harmony. The administrative district plays a very important role, for both, Germany and Berlin: The political decisions of Germany are made there. But as well, European and international questions are trying to be answered in a German but at the same time cosmopolitan way.


Good examples of internationality are the visits of two American presidents. John F. Kennedy once said in his speech in Berlin convincingly: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” And the Germans were cheering. After all it is said, Berlin belongs not only to those who live there, but to all the people who feel attached to it. Another American president who was fascinated with Berlin and Germany, and who was very glad to visit both the country and its capital, was the future American president Barack Obama. When he spoke to thousands of Berlin inhabitants in 2008, he referred to the history of Germany and specifically of Berlin: “This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life!”


And with those words Barack Obama shows best: Germany needs Berlin to be aware of its past, its present and its future at the same time, because Berlin is somewhere in between of forgetting, remembering and recreating.


Siegerbeitrag für den Duden Open Nachwuchsjournalistenpreis 2008/2009 in der englischsprachigen Kategorie. Thema: „Deutschland und die Deutschen“


One Response to Germany and Berlin: Contradiction or counterpiece?

  1. Lear sagt:

    I have read far more than 1000 articles, features, blogs, comments concerning the state of Berlin and Germany during the last 5 years. Ranging from New York Times editors to ordinary tourists impressions.

    This article here is a fine young piece of observation
    dealing with the Berlin-Germany relationship.

    Lear is the main editor and innovator of Berlin, Germany and the European Union @ Wikipedia.

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