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Berlin: A City of Nostalgia

It’s now a quarter of a century since the Berlin Wall came down, almost as long as the length of time it was standing for. Twenty five years since the enterprising Mauerspechte, or “wall woodpeckers,” helped to chip away at the wall to sell on as souvenir pieces, even as it was being demolished around them. A city once divided, if you’re planning to spend a weekend in Berlin, you must go and see what remains of the wall.

alexander-platz-II by n3m01983, on Flickr
alexander-platz-II by n3m01983, on Flickr

It’s now a quarter of a century since the Berlin Wall came down, almost as long as the length of time it was standing for. Twenty five years since the enterprising Mauerspechte, or “wall woodpeckers,” helped to chip away at the wall to sell on as souvenir pieces, even as it was being demolished around them. A city once divided, if you’re planning to spend a weekend in Berlin, you must go and see what remains of the wall.

It took some time for the ‘us and them’ mindset of Berliners on either side of the wall to fade away. Many on the western side of the wall resented the huge amount of money that was transferred to the east in order to modernize and improve its infrastructure. Meanwhile, on the other side, they were angered by what they saw as their culture being subsumed by the west. When the wall came down, Berlin was a city of double colonization: two radio choirs, two large concert halls, two orchestras, national libraries, museum complexes, and three opera houses. Gradually, many of the buildings and culture of east Berlin — part of its national identity — were mothballed in favor of those of west Berlin.

Streets were renamed: Ho Chi Minh Street in east Berlin became Gandhi Street and Lenin Square transformed into the Square of Nations. This only made the east Berliners feel that they’re identity was being dismantled even further, and that the west was consuming it both literally and ideologically. It all gave rise to the phenomenon of ‘Ostalgie’, the nostalgia that some east Berliners feel for their former home, the GDR. The phenomenon has also been explored and committed to celluloid in films such as “Sonnenallee” and “Good Bye, Lenin!”

On the surface, however, all this is difficult to spot. Places such as Alexander Platz with its C&A and McDonalds seem like incongruous neighbors to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate a 10 minute stroll away. Youth hostels, squat bars, and superclubs such as Berghain jostle for the attentions of travelers from around the world and locals from all corners of the city.

The city itself is aspray with color, graffiti and murals, street art, and sculptures. Modernity and history sit by side, getting along, embracing, celebrating. It feels like a young, vibrant, forward-thinking city. Yet, if you sit in the bars where the old timers hang out, or just sit in one of the many squares and listen, you can still hear the muttering sometimes of an older generation, speaking wistfully of times gone by.