Down to Earth—With a Thud!

The history of Berlin over the past 16 years—more exactly, since the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989—offers an almost classic example of how wild dreams conceived in a moment of euphoria can so easily collapse into a mood of grudging resignation.

Overnight, the divided city, which had previously had two town halls—one in East Berlin, the other in the southwest-central district of Schöneberg in West Berlin—was administratively reunited in the redbrick Rotes Rathaus, located east of Unter den Linden, not far from the Nikolaikirche, the city’s oldest church (13th century), in the historic center of Berlin.

Galvanized by Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s visionary promise that, within four years, an industrially backward East Germany would be transformed into a “flourishing landscape,” a municipal coalition government composed of Christian Democrats and Socialists embarked enthusiastically on a policy of massive reconstruction.  Famous architects from all over the world were invited to descend like eagles on the still war-ravaged wastes of this new El Dorado in the hope that they could help to make the city—with its 3 opera companies, 5 symphony orchestras, 150 museums, and umpteen theaters (some guidebooks have spoken dithyrambically of no fewer than 500)—what Berlin was supposed to have been in the “crazy” 1920’s: the cultural...

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