Pulling down Berlin’s history

When we were in Berlin last year, a man sat down with us at a Bavarian restaurant and asked us how we liked the city.

We were thinking of moving there, we told him. We loved it: the way it felt, the cafes on the streets, the energy of change and art. He shrugged, and agreed, but only half-heartedly. Berlin is always trying to be a world city, he said (a Weltstadt). Not like Paris, or London. There is never any question there, he said. They don’t have to proclaim it.

Fair enough. And yet we’re going because it is a Weltstadt, because of its place in history, not because of its hotels and four-star restaurants and Armani stores. Forget that; it’s the squats and cafes in Friedrichshain that make it live.

A writer in the New York Times bemoans the deconstruction of the Palace of the Republic, an East German mall-slash-parliament-hall that was built to hold government meetings and let the workers go bowling downstairs. After much debate, it’s being torn down so that a replica of an old palace can be built instead.

Insecurity, says Nicholas Kulish. A shame to forget real history, even if it is unsexy and unpleasant, in order to romanticize the past. All true; and yet there is something interesting about that insecurity, something that gives the city more dynamism than Paris or London. After all that’s happened, Berlin is creating itself still.