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A New Sense of Platz

Postcard from Germany

By Julie S. Greenberg

BERLIN LOVE PARADE 2003—For the fourteenth consecutive year, the celebration of techno music and wild partying took place in the center of Berlin, this year as the past seven around the Victory Lady in the area of Tiergarten. The parade was established in 1989, just four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a demonstration for “freedom, love, unity and respect.” This year, as I waded through the beer and vodka bottles on the street and saw the people dancing and camped out around the Victory Lady—erected in 1873 after Prussia’s victory over Denmark—it wasn’t clear that anyone remembered the purpose of the huge party they were attending. The Wall has fallen, the construction cranes dotting the landscape are farther apart these days, but where has all of it left Berlin?

There is no longer as much international attention focused here, yet Berlin continues to be a city in transition. The cranes, noise and dust are part of the grand attempt to make this city whole again, and each time a new project is proposed new controversies arise. The square that was home to the book burning of 1933 is on its way to becoming an underground parking lot. And as much as some may miss it for nostalgic reasons, the German Democratic Republic-era steel and concrete mammoth which caps the baroque classical central street Unter den Linden, replete with columns and draped statues, will probably be replaced by a new castle perhaps much like the one torn down by the Soviets.

The arguments over the future of each parcel may seem unimportant to an outsider, yet to each Berliner, every one of these places is crucial in determining how they (and I) see their city. History continues to weigh upon the city relentlessly.

Berlin is fond of remembering itself in the 1920s when it became the cultural center of Europe. The film reels show the Potsdamer Platz of that era bustling with activity, commerce and culture. Can there be a return to that time after what the twentieth century has wrought upon the body and soul of the city? Potsdamer Platz was destroyed during and after the war and became the no man’s land between the walls. It presents the unique opportunity to start completely fresh and to revolutionize the conception of its urban center. To revive the spirit of progress and modernity infused with the unique character that once existed once existed in the space is like trying to transplant new organs into an aged body. Yet Potsdamer Platz hopes to become at least the modern equivalent of its former self and has begun on that path with an incredible set of modern high-rises (including Sony and Deutsche Bank). Its detachment from the other urban centers that comprise Berlin makes it mostly a fodder for tourists and home to besuited businessmen. Eventually, however, the connections will be made, the synthetic feeling will wear off and the Deutsche Bahn will bring people streaming directly into this new life-force of the city.

With time, the people too will forsake their conception of the old Berlin. During the time of the city’s separation, the capital of West Germany was moved to Bonn, a move designed to be strictly temporary. And while the capital has since returned to its rightful home, time has yet to heal the more subtle wounds of remaining prejudice and animosity between the people on either side. Berlin is the only city where East and West meet so intimately and thus it affords an invaluable opportunity to begin to aspire to the motto of that first Love Parade. Then the Victory Lady, which has witnessed all of this city’s modern history, may come to be a symbol of everything that it has overcome.

I arrived here eight weeks ago expecting a set of images more iconic of the notorious history of the place. This was, after all, the headquarters of the Third Reich, whose secret bunkers are now on display as part of the “Topography of Terror.” It was The Wall. But the true identity of the place is not taught in history or German courses. I will leave with a host of completely different engravings in my mind, a feeling for the essence of the place and a lighter heart. Despite the past, this is a city with a definite future and a tangible beauty in the mixture of the somber old and the ambitious new.

Julie S. Greenberg ’05, a Crimson editor, is an applied math concentrator in Leverett House. For three more weeks she can be found wandering the streets of Berlin, buying postcards with pre-war photographs and wondering what it will all look like in 20 years.

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