Berlin now feels like a fully unified city 17 years after the wall came down
. There's still more work to be done, though - the Palais Der Republik (East German Parliament) is being dismantled, to be replaced by 2015 by a reconstruction of the Hohenzollern Royal Palace.
Our visit to Berlin coincided with the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Union taking place in the city. The positive aspects of being in Berlin during the event included Sunday concerts at the Brandenburg Gate and evening fireworks, but on the down side were the large protests by Turkish Berliners over their country's exclusion from the E.U. and the numerous museum venues closed to the public for special private events for important Eurocrats. The hordes of visiting dignitaries must all have been staying in plush hotels because we didn't any trouble finding a nice reasonably priced room a short distance from the Kurfurstendamm on the western side of town.
We arrived at the Reichstag building on a warm, sunny Monday morning and immediately got in the long stagnant line to go to the roof and the dome. Or maybe I should say that mostly I stood in line while John sat and rested his feet. My day long forced sightseeing marches around Central Europe's major cities really wore him out, his tender feet not yet calloused into thickly-padded little Pan hooves of a seasoned world traveler
. All of a sudden there was a big stampede all around me with a multitude crowding around a well-dressed older white-haired man who had just pulled a small wagonload of books up beside me. In the midst of all this pushing and shoving and yelling, about six photographers around catching it all on film, all I could think of was, "maybe this will be a good opportunity to cut ahead in the line". The commotion turned out to be a publicity stunt, the well-known founder of the large German drugstore chain DM giving away a big pile of free copies of his recently published book. It's hard to believe so much commotion over a businessman's biography, but it did break the monotony of the two hour wait, a wait that I should add was well worth while to see the renovated Reichstag.
This was my fourth visit to Berlin and each time it changed greatly between visits. When I was here in 1985 Berlin was still a divided city, our border crossings into the East a frightening experience. By 1991 the Berlin Wall was gone but there were few physical changes to the city center and east and it was still culturally very divided between "Ossis" and "Wessis". In 1996 things were changing and one of Berlin's biggest attractions was an exhibition in a temporary construction on Potsdamer Platz introducing all the building plans for the new Berlin, most of which are now complete - the new Hauptbahnhof, the new government quarter, remodeled Reichstag, and the massive Potsdamer Platz commercial center. Meanwhile, the refurbishment of the neglected cathedrals and museums that had been on the east side has almost been completed.