My previous three articles focused on a single visit to each of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In contrast, this article will focus on many visits over time to Berlin. Over the past 50 years, I have witnessed dramatic changes to Germany’s former and once again capital city. Most of us have seen photos of the way Berlin looked in 1945 at the end of World War II — in a word — devastated. All that existed of most buildings were bare walls of buildings that had been bombed and burned. The parliament building was a complete ruin. The cathedral was a complete ruin. The city was divided into two hostile parts.
By the time I first visited the city, 20 years after the end of the war, the Berlin wall had been erected and a great deal of the city had been reconstructed. It is amazing how the shells of the destroyed building were rebuilt.
In the U.S., all would have been demolished.
In Germany, the masonry was stabilized, the roof, floors, windows, electrical and plumbing replaced. In so doing, they preserved their streetscape and recovered the residential and commercial space quickly.
I was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the time and had to follow rules about any transit to Berlin. My first visit was by train. We traveled in uniform and the Soviets (Russians) checked our military ID, which was the only identification that we were to use.
West Berlin was in similar condition to the rest of West Germany. East Berlin gave the impression that they had no idea how to clean or paint any building. A subsequent visit by car was much more interesting. I drove to the Helmstedt crossing point of the inner German border. There I presented my ID to a Soviet soldier who was doing his best to look very stern. He disappeared and Soviet marshal music played over a very poor sound system. Eventually he returned my ID and waved me through.