A photo-essay on the German capital in six parts.

2. Die Neue Welt

I was twenty-one when a wall came down on the far side of the world: the defining moment of a year already of moment, already defined by the blood on Tiananmen Square. The political plates were buckling, the fault zones heaving and shaking. Sitting together on the wall that November, East and West Berliners dangled their legs in the possibility of a world free of divisions, free of Evil Empires and Banal Bureaucracies, a world of movement and freedom of movement, thought and freedom of thought. A new world, before there was a New World Order.

It was an exhilarating time for a young adult raised in the Cold War. Time to imagine an adult life free of childhood fears; a life that would mean something, with a future not arbitrarily cut short. Those Berliners were proxies for us all, their city an ever-changing symbol of how we saw one another: ideological construction, conversation and confrontation made concrete.

It was November—exam month in Australia. Warm spring evenings, the smell of freshly-mown grass, and my last exams as an undergraduate, in third year political science: how timely that seemed. I wrote about the wall in those blue covered booklets, chiseling away at the stock answers to the usual questions with this transcendent symbol of political unpredictability. I wish I could read those papers now.

January, 1998, travelling around the world with Jane: our first time in Germany, arriving via ferry from Sweden in the northern town of Stralsund. The north-eastern town of Stralsund, where no-one spoke English, and the buildings still bore the scars of the DDR. A few days in that quiet crumbling backwater hinted at the contrasts we would see at the other end of the train line, but they still caught us unprepared as we arrived at Berlin Ostbahnhof, changed onto the S-Bahn, and climbed westwards onto an elevated track in clear view of the biggest construction site on Earth.

Once-devastated, once-divided Berlin was being rebuilt before our eyes, turning itself into a physical representation of that November moment of eight years before. Where once there was a wall, there was now possibility; where once there was a boundary, there was now a blur.

And now, in the summer of 2002, we can see the outcome: the angles and curves of towering brick and glass, not crowded together like downtown Manhattan, but standing freely, stretching out in the twenty-first century air.

Architectural marvels, every one, in a city that was already a spectacular open-air gallery of twentieth century architecture. These photos can't do them justice. Go there, take the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, backtrack to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Park for a view from another angle, and breathe in the future.

Potsdamer Platz

23 July 2002 · >>next>>

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