Berlin: City of Change

BERLIN: CITY OF CHANGE, 25 YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF BERLIN WALL

It can be hard for visitors to Berlin to imagine where the Berlin Wall once separated Germany’s communist East from the U.S.-friendly West Berlin. Today, commuters run to catch a metro where trains stood still for nearly 30 years. In 2014 Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A historical milestone that shaped how Berlin changed over the last 25 years into a vibrant, opened cosmopolitan and creative city – a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe. The city marked by history like no other in Germany, where history is present on almost every street and historic building rebuilt from the WWII ruins.  I have visited Berlin many times in the past few years, however my recent visit brought a new perspective on how I see ever changing Berlin.

Berlin is a city of change, a city of growth. Everywhere you look, there is something new being built up or reconstructed. It makes me feel inspired and energised, but also strangely disconnected from the city I first got to know in the 1990s the city that back then was still divided into two, or some would claim three distinct parts. David Bowie once said: Berlin, the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine… It makes me think, when I come back here in 10, 20 years, this will be an entirely different city.

 

Throughout September Berliners could visit an outdoor exhibition that through images, videos and story boards shared the story of Warsaw Uprising, Nazi German occupation of Poland and the genocide that it brought to Jews, Poles, and many other ethnic groups of Eastern Europe. The outdoor installation presented historical facts  clearly outlining German crimes against humanity during Warsaw Uprising (1944) when 80% of the city was destroyed and its residents expelled. Following sadistic suppression of the uprising and destruction of Poland’s capital the Soviet army marched towards Berlin and in April 1945 burned it to the ground. Once can only wonder if Soviets would reach Berlin that quickly had Hitler and Nazi Germany withdrew from Polish capital when the uprising started and let Poles rise against a new occupying force – the Red Army.

What followed the destruction of Warsaw and the capture of Berlin by the Red Army was the occupation, division of Germany and the Wall. To understand the history of Berlin post 1945 one needs look at the broader context including Warsaw Uprising and other German atrocities during WWII. The exhibition was held next to the Museum of Terror hanging along the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall – adding a symbolical meaning to this project.

Event like that would have never happened during the decades of communist East Germany  – officially an ally of then People’s Republic of Poland. The exhibition was opened by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski to mark the 70th anniversary of Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It is a symbolical step in long term reconciliation between Poland and Germany that followed the fall of Berlin Wall and communism. This historical transformation of relationship between the two neighbouring countries is strengthened by Angela Merkel’s understanding of communism and historical baggage in Central and Eastern Europe. It resulted in a strong Polish- German relations within the European Union, that became one of the core pillars of the contemporary integrated Europe, – in a similar way French- Western Germany relationship helped to build the European Communities that led to the creation of the EU.

Understanding changing Berlin helps to understand changes in Europe

Berlin is filled with history and commemorative plates and monuments related to the WWII destruction, Soviet occupation and division marked by the Berlin Wall. Yet this was the first time I witnessed in Berlin such a powerful display of how the city and people of Warsaw suffered from Nazi Germany during the years of occupation and Warsaw Uprising.

Today Berlin is such a different city, then before the Wall fell, and so are the Polish – German relations. Personally this was the most significant exhibition I have seen in Berlin. It also showed that the two nations finally can speak openly about the tragic past and at the same time build a constructive relations that helps to transform the European Union and face external challenges related to threats outside of its borders (Ukraine, Islamic States, Arab Spring, Economic Turmoil, authoritarian regimes in Belarus or Russia). After all Poland’s former Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, becomes the new president of the European Union, primarily due to support and backing received from government in Berlin. Understanding how Berlin changed over the past 25 years helps to understand changes in Europe and the state of Polish German relations.