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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Twenty: Bitterfeld to Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate 
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The Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of Prussian military might and Nazi aggression, walled off from the West for almost thirty years, is now an image of reconciliation, of a Germany reunited, and peaceful.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI learnt from Herr Marx that the Spree is one of the most placid rivers in Germany, dropping a mere 150 feet over its 310-mile course, and if he'd gone on punting (and I'm sure he would have done) he could have deposited me in the heart of Berlin.

So is it sheer coincidence or part of some higher plan that two hours later when
I open the window of my hotel room off the Alexanderplatz I see people dining below me, on the banks of the River Spree?

When I was last in Berlin, the Wall still cut off one half of the city from the other. The welcome was all in the West, which is where the hotels, shops, restaurants and foreigners were, while, frustratingly, the finest buildings were in the East. Tonight, my first in reunified Berlin, I walk, scarcely able to believe the difference, from my modern hotel in what was the grey socialist heart of divided Berlin, along the glorious Unter den Linden (literally 'Under the Linden Trees'), which had also been on the GDR side of the Wall. The cluster of imperious monuments to monarchical power, built to glorify the ambition of Frederick the Great, Brandenburg-Prussia and the Hohenzollern dynasty, remain not only intact, but in pretty good shape. One major building, larger and more modern than any of the rest, remains an ugly, abandoned eyesore. This was once the Palace of the Republic. In it were bowling alleys, theatres, restaurants, dance halls, libraries, 1,500 seats, 20,000 light bulbs, wardrobes for 5,000 coats, and the Parliament of the German Democratic Republic. It represented everything the socialist government was proud of. Some three years ago, the authorities of a reunited Germany decided to knock it down. Like many relics of the communist years, it wouldn't go quietly. Riddled with asbestos, it's having to be dealt with carefully and painstakingly slowly. The authorities, doubtless embarrassed by the brooding hulk in their midst, have drawn attention to their environmental sensitivity. Attached to the fencing around it is a large sign which perhaps says more about post-war Germany than the problems of asbestos.

'Palace of the Republic,' it reads, 'Dismantled, not Demolished.'

On the other side of the road, by contrast, is a tidy, well-patronised, green and pleasant space with a fountain playing in the middle. This is the Lustgarten. One of the Nazis' favourite rallying places.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Twenty: Bitterfeld to Berlin
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Berlin
  • Book page no: 279

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