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Berlin Today

Berlin Today

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Berlin Today

378 pages
5 hours
Jan 7, 2012


Berlin from another perspective: The casual, relaxed atmosphere of the city has become a major draw card for young people seeking to move to Berlin, not just from the rest of Germany, but also from other parts of Europe and even further afield like the United States.
What makes the special atmosphere of our city today? Joseph Hajdu from Australia directs the focus at certain aspects of Berlin life today, concentrating on places, people, and issues that help define the city's present social, economic and cultural character.
Jan 7, 2012

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Berlin Today - Joseph Hajdu





Hajdu, Joseph:

Berlin Today

1st edition – Berlin: Berlin Story Verlag 2013

eISBN: 978-3-86368-725-0

© Berlin Story Verlag

Alles über Berlin GmbH

Unter den Linden 40, 10117 Berlin

Tel.: (030) 20 91 17 80

Fax: (030) 20 45 38 41

www.BerlinStory-Verlag.de, E-Mail: Service@AllesueberBerlin.com

Cover design: Norman Bösch

Title: Potsdamer Platz with the ‘Boulevard of Stars’, 2010




BRANDENBURG GATE Witness to Berlin history

SPITTELMARKT Reuniting Berlin

BONN The Waiting House for Berlin?

REICHSTAG The return of the politicians

PARIS SQUARE Critical reconstruction and the vision for a new/old Berlin

ROYAL PALACE Filling the hole at the heart of Berlin

POTSDAM SQUARE Rebuilding the old Berlin icon

MOABIT AND AEG The death and hesitant rebirth of the Berlin economy

MUSEUM ISLAND The richness of the Berlin arts scene

KREUZBERG A strong flavour of Anatolia

ORANIENBURGER STRASSE 30 New Synagogue and the revival of the Jewish community

PRENZLAUER BERG From Socialism to the eco-bourgeoisie


Source notes

Photo credits


Berlin has been on my mind for most of my adult life. Since my first visit there in May 1964 I have been fascinated by the city, its shattered grandeur, its plethora of relics of 20th century history, and of course till 1989, its clash of political systems, ideologies and cultures. Berlin has seldom been far from my consciousness and I have tried to visit it as frequently as is possible from far way Australia. In between these visits, seeking, finding and reading literature on Berlin became a private hobby of mine, while I pursued my professional reading for the academic career path which I followed. So this book is the culmination of a long involvement with Berlin that I have had. However it would not have come to fruition without the help of a large number of people. First and foremost, my interview partners in Berlin. They gave me of their time, their insights and opinions. I enjoyed meeting them very much, and I feel they have enriched my story of Berlin no end. I would like to thank them, and express my public appreciation to them for answering my questions and for engaging with me in discussions that gave me much more than I had anticipated. They are: Berrin Abali-Böhmert, Ferda Ataman, Eva-Maria Beiner, Abdullah Büyükcaglar, Eberhard Diepgen, Jan Eder, Joachim Fahrun, Lothar Heinke, Brynmor Jones, Andreas Kapphan, Fritz-Jochen Kopka, Jörg Magenau, Reiner Nagel, Peter Raue, Thilo Sarrazin, Lala Süsskind, Christoph Tannert, Richard von Weizsäcker, Harald Wolf. There are also a number of friends, colleagues and others who have given me ideas, information and inspiration that has been very useful in the preparation of the book. Again I would like to say ‘Thank you all very much.’ They are: Klaus Evers, Ulrich Halbach, Cliewe Juritza, Rita Katz, Katrin Kuls, Gert Ritter, Hans-Jörg Sander, Christof Sangenstedt. There is also one person who at first glance belongs to this list, but his help has extended over such along time and has been given in such a conscientious manner that he deserves a special mention. He is Christian Schneider. Christian lives in Berlin and over a period of fourteen years parcels of printed matter would arrive from him twice or three times a year. Each parcel contained a wide selection of newspaper cuttings, reports, booklets, pamphlets and any other forms of Berlinalia which he knew would interest me (and he seemed to know exactly what would interest me!). Thank you very much Christian. Finally, a ‘Thank you’ to Wieland Giebel and his staff at Berlin Story Verlag for agreeing to publish this book. I hope that everybody will be happy with the outcome.

Melbourne, November 2010

Joe Hajdu



Paris Square, the most popular site in Berlin for spontaneous public festivities and ‘happenings.’



The 12th of June 1987 was a clear, summer’s day. The preparations at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate had been extensive and thorough. The stage was erected as close as reasonable to the western side of the Wall. Behind it was a screen in case the authorities in East Berlin tried to disrupt proceedings from their side of the Wall. However the central panel of this screen was transparent so that those people, seated in the outdoor square to its west, would have a clear view of the Brandenburg Gate. For this site had been chosen for very specific reasons: the Brandenburg Gate was the symbol of Berlin. And since 13th of August 1961 it had been literally at the sharpest and most brutal edge of the division of the city. For it was just twenty meters or so to its west that the Wall had been erected by East German Government to seal the escape routes of its people. Because of this the Brandenburg Gate had become even more than a symbol of Berlin. It was now also a symbol of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States and its allies, for it was at the Brandenburg Gate that communism and democracy abutted each other in the most jarring manner. So on that day President Ronald Reagan’s desire to visit this site and to make a speech there would be the most symbolic gesture of his visit to West Berlin. He commenced his speech in a measured way, but his voice gradually rose and reached its declamatory peak when he uttered the words, ‘Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!’ The West Berliners who were present broke out into prolonged and thunderous applause. However the media reported this speech in a decidedly underwhelming tone. For on that day, on the 12th of june 1987, the fact that the Wall would come down exactly 881 days later was something very few people would have believed.

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was not built to become anything as symbolic as this. Frederick William II, King of Prussia just wanted a new city gate to collect customs duties and catch would-be army deserters trying to flee the city. At the same time he wanted a structure which would form a fitting western end to Unter den Linden, the street that had been laid out as the main boulevard of Berlin. The neo-classical design of the Gate was the work of the architect, Carl Gotthard Langhans, and had been influenced by paintings he had seen of the Propylaea on the Acropolis in Athens. On top of the central archway of the gate Gottfried Schadow sculpted a bronze of Eirene the Goddess of Peace with her Quadriga. So when the Brandenburg Gate was opened in August 1791 it just acted as the main gateway for Berlin from the west. But a decade or so later it was none other than Napoleon who gave this Gate a whole new symbolism, a symbolism that it has never lost. After having defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena in October 1806 he entered Berlin and insisted on marching into the city at the head of his army through the Brandenburg Gate. He then ordered the Quadriga to be taken down and sent to Paris as war booty. Instantly this piece of bronze sculpture became a symbol of Prussia’s defeat and humiliation, the desire for whose return helped fuel the anti-French mood of Berlin. When victory over Napoleon was achieved in 1814 the returning Prussian army also had to make its point: the soldiers marched through the Brandenburg Gate to the cheers of the jubilant Berliners and of course brought back the Quadriga. To sharpen the symbolism of its victorious return the statue was rededicated as Victoria the Goddess of Victory and the artist and architect Carl Friedrich Schinkel was commissioned to place the Prussian Iron Cross and Eagle on the staff she held in her hand. From now on the Brandenburg Gate became the undisputed site for most of the symbolic acts that were to punctuate the tumultuous history of Berlin during the 19th and 20th Century.

In 1871 Prussia became the heart of Imperial Germany, and again the victorious Prussian army having defeated the French returned to its capital and marched through the Brandenburg Gate to the cheers of thousands of Berlin citizens. After that numerous acts of state, ceremonies of the Hohenzollern royal family, and visits of foreign dignitaries involved a procession through the Brandenburg Gate or its use as the setting for the event of state. In August 1914, the army marched out through the Gate to fight the French to the Kaiser’s salute and the cheers of the Berliners. However on their return in 1918 there was no triumphal march to be seen anywhere, just the sight of tired, defeated and emaciated soldiers. Nevertheless the symbolic role of the Brandenburg Gate did not cease. For during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic that followed every political or revolutionary group of whatever ideological hue wanted to march through the Brandenburg Gate. In their eyes this signified legitimacy and a legitimate claim to national power. The German government took the meaning of this symbolism seriously and banned all marches through the Gate. Going through the Gate was limited to cars and pedestrians. However the potency of the meaning of the Brandenburg Gate remained in people’s consciousness. On the night of 30th January 1933 it was displayed as never before.

The Quadriga with Victoria, the Goddess of Victory on her chariot holding a staff with the Prussian eagle at its top.

To celebrate the designation of Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany on that day, Joseph Goebbels, the leader of the Nazi Party in Berlin, organized a march through the Brandenburg Gate that would excel all previous symbolic acts in the history of that structure. It was only at 5 pm on that day that the newly appointed Nazi Minister of the Interior had lifted the ban on political marches through the Gate. By 7 pm many Nazi Party members and supporters, as well as the para-military SA men and SS, were being assembled in the Tiergarten to the west of the Brandenburg Gate. Flaming torches were distributed and then they commenced their triumphal march. With torches held high they marched eastwards through the Brandenburg Gate singing the Horst Wessel Lied and other Nazi songs. The march continued until past midnight and the Nazi press wrote of the half a million marchers who had taken part. Goebbel’s desire to orchestrate the image of Nazi power and popularity knew no bounds, and later he harangued his Nazi colleagues about the cathartic effect of what he had organized that evening. However dispassionate observers who had been among the public spectators from the beginning and watched the march as it passed through the Brandenburg Gate, noted that after an hour or so they were seeing faces among the marchers they had seen before. It appears that the marchers followed a circular route, so that during the course of the evening they were led through the Brandenburg Gate a number of times. Goebbel’s stage management employed every trick in the trade. He was to make the Brandenburg Gate the focal point of other such political extravaganzas on a number of occasions during the years of the Third Reich.

The Nazi torchlight procession on 30 January 1933 to celebrate the naming of Adolf Hitler as Rleich Chancellor.

For example, the day the Olympic Games opened in Berlin, 1st of August 1936, huge Swastika and Olympic flags fluttered from the archways of the Brandenburg Gate, while the airship Hindenburg hovered in the sky above it. Other such events of national jingoism were orchestrated by the government, for example to mark Hitler’s 50th birthday on the 20th April 1939, and in July 1940 to celebrate the return of the victorious Wehrmacht after the fall of France.

In May 1945 the political symbolism of the Brandenburg Gate was also not lost on the conquering Soviet army. By the time of the cessation of hostilities in Berlin the Gate was severely damaged, in fact it was hardly standing. Yet the conquering Soviets insisted that the hammer and sickle should be raised on its top. This it was, and it fluttered limply over a landscape of death and destruction. Soon with the increasing friction and hostility between the Americans, British and French on the one hand, and the Soviets on the other, the Brandenburg Gate entered a totally new phase of its existence. The establishment of a democratically elected government in the western military sectors of Berlin was matched by the appointment of a municipal authority controlled by German communists in the Soviet sector in the eastern part of the city. The Brandenburg Gate fell just to the eastern side of the demarcation line. Between 1956 and 1958 the East German authorities took it upon themselves to repair the Gate in a rudimentary fashion. However the West Berlin authorities saw the Gate as very much the symbol of a Berlin united and indivisible. They wanted to show this by being involved with its restoration and management. So they assumed responsibility for the restoration of the Quadriga, but by the time the repairs were finished official relations between the two authorities had collapsed. There was no official handing-over ceremony. The sculpture was simply loaded onto the back of a truck in West Berlin, driven to a vacant bomb site near the Brandenburg Gate and left there for collection by the communist East Berlin authorities.

The Wall was built on the 13th of August 1961, and this sealed the fate of the Brandenburg Gate. From then on it found itself in the no man’s land in the middle of the divided Berlin. It was geographically in communist East Berlin, but became part of the death strip behind the Wall. It just stood there gaunt and isolated. If at the beginning of its existence the Brandenburg Gate stood for Prussian neo-classical aesthetics, then later German glory and self-confidence, and during the Third Reich aggressive German militarism, then for the forty five years after the end of the Second World War the Brandenburg Gate was left in a kind of pathetic isolation. It became symbol of a Berlin that was no longer. Everybody knew it was there and official policy in the western part of the city clung to it as a symbol of a Berlin that had been the proud metropolis and capital city of a united Germany. But the everyday lives of the Berliners had turned away from it. The Brandenburg Gate had been in the middle of the old Berlin, but now the two halves of the divided city were turning their backs to each other, and what had been in the centre of the city was now an increasingly peripheral wasteland. Life in west Berlin was now centred around the Kurfürstendamm. The West Berliners path to the Gate was bared by the Wall, behind which hovered the Brandenburg Gate. For East Berliners it became a distant silhouette against the setting sun somewhere behind the end of the Unter den Linden to which they were not allowed to go.

As before 1945, the Brandenburg Gate stood for something profound about the city, only this time more and more people were finding it too painful to think about. At best a reminder of the self-confidant, booming pre-War Berlin, and at worst a reminder of the catastrophe that had befallen the city as a result of the Second World War.

Nevertheless the German Federal Republic (West Germany) and its American, British and French allies held fast to an official policy of German reunification with Berlin as the capital of the reunited country. This meant regular visits by Western presidents, prime ministers, and other political figures to West Berlin. This always included a look at the Wall and a stop near the Brandenburg Gate. All US Presidents made this pilgrimage. The two most memorable were the visit of President Reagan, and much earlier, on the 26 June 1963, the visit of JFK. President Kennedy’s stop at the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate was recorded by dozens of photographers. It showed him against the backdrop of the Wall with large black drapes covering the archways of the Brandenburg Gate. These had been hung there by the East German authorities, no doubt to stop Kennedy from seeing the wasteland of the deathstrip around the Gate and to shut-out any awareness of his presence among the people of East Berlin. However the Wall came down much quicker than anyone had expected.

A reporter at the Wall surrounded by milling crowds, 10th November 1989.

Suddenly on the night of the 9th of November 1989 the government of the communist East Germany began to unravel and the Wall between East and West Berlin was breached. As ever, the Brandenburg Gate had a magnetic attraction for people from all parts of Berlin. Stories abound of East Berliners streaming down Unter den Linden, at first approaching the death strip timidly, but on realizing that the guards were not going to shoot, pushing on until they could walk through the Brandenburg Gate and then breach the Wall. By midnight thousands of East Berliners had walked through the Gate and then climbed on top of the Wall to look into the West. One woman with tears running down her face turned towards her partner and was heard to mutter, ‘Günther, pinch my arm! I think I’m walking in a dream!’ Twenty eight years of incarceration behind the Wall had ended. That night images flashed around the world of throngs of people crowding around the Wall, with many others sitting on top of it, cheering, hugging each other, and drinking whatever they happened to have laid their hands on. In the background, stood the Brandenburg Gate with the flag of the German Democratic Republic or East Germany still fluttering on top of it.

After the tumultuous night of the 9th of November 1989 that flag with the German national colours of black, red and gold and the hammer and sickle did not flutter on top of the Brandenburg Gate for long. For less than a year later the government of Berlin was reunited, and on the 3rd of October 1990 the German Democratic Republic voted itself out of existence and joined the German Federal Republic, or what had been the old West Germany. The reunification of Germany had been achieved. Since then the Brandenburg Gate has again become the centre of Berlin and one of Germany’s best known national symbols. All marketing campaigns of the city of Berlin feature the Gate in its entirety or incorporate elements of it into logos created for this or that commercial purpose. It has been impeccably restored, and being photographed in front of it or walking through its portals is an obligatory experience for anyone visiting the city.

The Gate is now floodlit on many occasions and becomes the focus of sound and light shows. If before 1945 it was used to provide the setting for Imperial German royal ceremonies, state visits, military parades and intimidating political spectacles, then now it has become the main theatrical prop of popular happenings. These can be the annual New Years Eve celebrations, pop concerts, gay and lesbian parades, Berlin city marathons, not to mention events such as the 2006 World Cup. On the occasion of this sporting spectacle a huge screen was erected near the Brandenburg Gate that enabled thousands of football fans to scream, shout, jeer, clap and moan as the fortunes of the national team went up or down as the championship matches progressed.

The Brandenburg Gate has been a mirror of the fate of Berlin, its triumphs, its arrogance, its achievements, its resilience, its downward spiral, its catastrophies….The Gate is still there after two centuries, and at the beginning of the 21st Century it stands for a Berlin that is full of bare, exposed reminders of its recent past. All major cities are like a palimpsest containing the multilayered record of their past. But in Berlin this record is exposed, clashing and unprocessed, rather like an exposed archaeological site. The cultural historian Svetlana Boym described Berlin at the beginning of the 21st Century as a ‘city of exposed intestines’. There is considerable truth in this. Berlin today has no integrative visual narrative. Instead, Berlin is a city where the fractious components of the recent past sit in clashing juxtaposition next to each other. Each one bare and harsh, as if to provoke the visitor by shouting, ‘Look what happened here!’

The 2006 World Cup – ‘Public Viewing’ at the Brandenburg Gate

The Marx and Engels statue from the Communist era of East Berlin is overshadowed by the 19th century city hall of Imperial Berlin. The building that housed Göring’s Ministry of Air during the Third Reich now houses the Finance Ministry of the reunited German government. But on its outer wall is a large, now heritage-listed tiled mural showing idealistic workers marching into the bright Socialist future. This is a reminder that on the 7th of October 1949 it was in this building that the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) was proclaimed and various departments of that government had used this building until 1989. So here we have a building constructed to reflect Fascist German grandeur, having on it Communist symbolism, being used by civil servants of the democratic German state. Finally, there is the old Berlin airport in the southern suburb of Tempelhof. Here between 1936 and 1939 Hitler ordered the design and construction of the largest airport complex in Europe. During the War Luftwaffe bombers took-off from Tempelhof on their bombing missions to strafe, among other targets, American positions in Europe. But today there is a large curved Airlift Memorial in front of it to commemorate the American and other Allied aircraft that ran a shuttle fight service to feed West Berliners and to heat their homes during the Soviet blockade of 1948-9. What a tortuous political path Berlin has trod!

The concourse of Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. At the time of its completion in 1937 it set the standard for airport design for the next few decades.

The upheavals it has undergone during the last hundred years have left Berliners little time to absorb and evaluate what had gone before. More often than not, each regime in power wished to place its own unmistakable imprint on the city and ignore or even eliminate what those in power before it had created. This process of eradication and conscious amnesia may be in the psyche of the Berliners, but much evidence of this or that era still remains in the city. This is so in spite of the physical destruction of the city during the Second World War. After 1945 a largely new city had to be created, but instead of it being a fresh start for the city, the Cold War divided Berlin into two cities, each one seeing the other as a bitter rival. Hence today the period between 1945 and 1989 provides many further signs of the city’s controversial and fractured past. Some manifestations of the recent urban past have become the subject of dispute even today. This means that whatever is done with a building, memorial, or even street name, may displease parts of the Berlin population. For there are few cities in the world in which the imprint of the major events 20th Century history is so clearly visible even today.

On the 19th of October 2008 the Berliner Morgenpost reported that a pile of items were found in a rubbish dump in the village of Klandorf, just outside Berlin. In December of the year before an Israeli writer called Yaron Svoray was researching artifacts once stashed in the nearby hunting lodge of Hitler’s commander of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring. He bumped into a local 73-old man who happened to mention to him that the night after the infamous Kristallnacht on the 9th November 1938 trainloads of personal and religious items arrived in Klandorf and were thrown into the local rubbish dump. Svoray pricked up his ears and returned a few months later with three friends and picks and shovels. Amongst other items, they dug up a green bottle with a Star of David embossed on it, mezuzas, and the burned armrests of chairs found in synagogues. Evidently these were items that were ransacked from Jewish homes, shops and community buildings on that night in 1938 and then brought to this site for disposal. Subsequent scientific dating of the relics at the Ghetto Fighters’ House, a Holocaust research centre in Israel, confirmed that they were from that period. The Klandorf rubbish dump has now become a site of archaeological interest.

Meanwhile within the densely built up areas Berlin itself the potentially deadly effects of the Second World War still keep appearing. In July 2008 in the district of Wilmersdorf nearly five thousand workers and residents were evacuated for a number of hours. The reason for this was to enable experts to decommission a 500 kilo bomb that had been buried in an architect’s back garden since November 1943 when it landed there during the mass British air raids on Berlin. The owner, an architect, had just finished renovating his home and a bulldozer had started to re-landscape the layout of his garden when it exposed this deadly bomb. ‘To think that for over sixty years we were walking over that bomb!’ the architect commented. It is estimated that over 400,000 bombs were dropped on Berlin during the Second World War. So it is not surprising that such ‘finds’ occur at regular intervals within the city area. Hans-Jürgen

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