WHAT'S LEFT OF THE WALL, AND HOW IT USED TO LOOK
WHERE WAS THE WALL? This is a question asked by many visitors to Berlin. I know exactly where it stood - I lived in Berlin from 1979 to 1980 - but today, it's difficult to see where it used to be, or to imagine what it was like. A small section of the Wall remains, near the Infobox, but it isn't in the original place. To get an impression of what it was like, have a look at today's scene, and compare it with a panorama I took in 1984. Click on either picture to load the 1998 QTVR panorama and the 1982 JPEG panorama.
It's a grim sight, and yet it made Berlin an exciting place to be, with the atmosphere of a spy thriller. The East German state, supported by the Russians, built the Wall around West Berlin on the 13th of August 1961. They said it was to defend the GDR against capitalism, but the real reason was that too many East Germans were fleeing via West Berlin to the West. For nearly forty years, the Wall divided East from West, families from families, Communism from Capitalism. In 1963, President Kennedy came to Berlin and expressed his sympathy with the city, saying "Ich bin ein Berliner". In 1986 President Reagan stood at the Wall and said "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall". In Autumn 1989, East Germany finally began to crumble, and so did the Wall. By the following year, the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist, and was replaced by the five new federal states we see today: Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen. East Berlin was merged with West Berlin.
Today, differences still exist. Workers in the east are paid less, though rents and other expenses are lower. Many still drive Trabants, the tiny plastic runabout that sounds like a scooter, and whose smelly exhaust brings back memories of the East. All over what used to be East Berlin, Communist-style blocks of flats are much in evidence, as well as statues of Marx and Lenin, and Russian-style murals depicting heroic workers. Other legacies include factory chimneys that rise incongruously above natural beauty spots, as well as many abandoned factories and deserted Soviet Army Camps.
But things are changing fast in the former East. Vast new shopping centres have sprung up on the outskirts of the city, the formerly crumbling Autobahns are being renovated and widened, more and more people are living in new and renovated apartment blocks and houses, whole streets have now been completely refurbished, and look newer, cleaner and brighter than those in the west. Churches, museums, castles and palaces are being rebuilt and restored, and look better than ever. It's all placing a huge burden on the German taxpayer, but maybe in years to come, Berlin, Brandenburg, and the rest of the former east, will overcome their present economic difficulties and once again become the economic powerhouse of Germany.