Berlin - From Somber History to the Joys of Urban Living
Heading to Den Haag Centraal Station early in the morning, we felt a bit sad to be leaving the Netherlands. In the two months we had lived in Delft and Den Haag, we had come to love this flat, low, watery land of expansive green fields with grazing cows, compact towns of brown brick houses with red tiled roofs, cheeses of inestimable flavorfulness, beer of dependable drinkability, and cheerful friendly people.
Yet, as the train sped east across the border and into Germany, we began to look forward to the next urban exploration - Berlin!
Schoneberg - Our New Home
We had an open living - dining room and kitchen, a separate bedroom and a bathroom that included a washing machine. It was clear that someone had lived here and all the features that made it home were still in place.
This setting offered us the opportunity to discover life in a quiet urban neighborhood with a tiny cafe that sold pastries, sandwiches and coffee right at the corner, a cozy Italian cafe just across the strasse.
Bus halts were an easy 200 or 300 meter walk away, and a retail center with cafes and shops selling everything one might need was a pleasant 10 minute stroll away.
There was also a major U-bahn station there to provide additional mobility options. In no time at all, we were settled and ready to begin exploring Berlin.
Dem Deutschen Volke
The views from the dome offered a perspective on the modern city, a rich mix of grand and elegant 18th and 19th century structures, utilitarian buildings from the era of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), thoroughly innovative Bauhaus inspired edifices, and soaring contemporary glass walled towers.
On the ground, outside the Reichstag, we discovered the rows of stones marking the path of the Berlin Wall that had separated the city into East and West from 1961 until that thrilling night of November 9, 1989 when thousands of Berliners converged on Brandenberg Gate. With the growing crowds, the Volkspolizei simply gave up checking documents and allowed East Berliners to walk into West Berlin at will. A street party broke out (historic picture below right)! The next day, the wall began to come down!
The removal of the wall was just the beginning of the East German Peaceful Revolution. The SED government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was unwilling to abandon its absolute claim to power and it took demonstrations and negotiations to convince them that the times had changed. On March 18, 1990, the first free ballot in the GDR was held and people voted in favor of the "Alliance for Germany" the party that promised rapid reunification.
Then the work began to negotiate the reunification agreement between East and West Germany and, amazingly to us, an additional agreement between East and West Germany and the WWII Allies: Britain, USA, France and Russia! On October 3, 1990, the details of Germany's reunification were finalized.
Now, after twenty years of hard work, Germany's story is a true success story! Berlin has bloomed into an exceptionally livable city, once again the capital of Germany, glowing with a rich mix of newly built architectural extravaganzas and fully restored historical monumental buildings. The basic philosophy that continues to guide the process is one of conservation and preservation. Structures are preserved and restored whenever possible. Yet, Berlin's revival is still a work in progress.
The Old and the New
Reconstruction was sometimes impossible, opening the opportunity for great contemporary architcture to flourish:
Historic Gloom and Glory
Our life in Berlin was filled with the joys of urban life - easy mobility with many choices, shopping for daily needs within a pleasant walking distance, outdoor markets twice a week, plenty of cafes and pubs, the vast Tiergarten Park for lovely walks in greenery. Then there were the many museums, monuments, and neighborhoods to visit and explore.
Add to this, the opportunity to understand more fully the challenges that the Berliners faced during the whole of the 20th century!
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