A No-Longer-Broken City

It is a strange experience, after an absence of 25 years, to revisit a city with which one was once linked by ties of solidarity.  Stranger still was it to discover that Berlin, while it has been extraordinarily transformed in many respects, has remained extraordinarily unchanged in others.

Probably in no other European capital today is this contrast between a recent, crippling, hemiplegic past and a relatively healthy, unfettered present more pronounced than in this still war-scarred city—as though its present, hesitant predicament (What kind of city should it strive to become?) had been foreseen by Goethe in Faust’s troubled confession to Mephistopheles: “Zwei Seelen kämpfen, ach, in meiner Brust.”  (“Two souls, alas, battle in my breast.”)

But first, a few words of explanation.  On August 13, 1961—not for nothing was it a deliberately chosen Sunday in the middle of Europe’s somnolent holiday season—I was aroused from my torpor on France’s Côte d’Azur by the dramatic news that the East Germans of the so-called German Democratic Republic (GDR) were now doing what had long been thought impossible, by cutting the city of Berlin in two.  A few weeks before, Walter Ulbricht, the GDR’s communist boss, had blandly declared, “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten.”  (“No one...

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