BERLIN IS an enigma, a paradox. Berlin is a conundrum of ironies.
Berlin is the Jerusalem of central Europe in terms of controversy. Berlin is all this and more.
For Berlin is a city that used to be one city and now has been divided into two separate cities belonging to two different countries.
The enigmas and ironies of Berlin go on and on. Surrounded on all sides by the German Democratic Republic (the G.D.R.), West Berlin is an island of capitalism in the midst of a country of socialism.
West Berlin is, in some ways, a part of West Germany. But it is effectively separated from the Federal Republic by 100 miles of East German territory.
Bound for Berlin I boarded an intercity train in the bustling West German city of Hannover bound for West Berlin. The train was full of Berliners returning to that city from a visit to the Federal Republic.
In the restaurant car I sat across from an elderly gentleman who lives in East Berlin. He spoke a little English. He remarked at how much cheaper the very same meat dish we were partaking of would be in East Berlin.
Upon our arrival at the East German border town of Helmstedt, G.D.R. police and customs officials boarded the train. They checked passenger passports and visas as the train rolled through the East German countryside. The stark difference between the two countries became immediately obvious. West Germany is an exceedingly prosperous country from a materialistic point of view. East Germany is not.
One should not, however, jump to the conclusion that life in the West is always superior. Crime is not a big problem in either East Berlin or East Germany as a whole. The same cannot be said of West Germany.
But the stark and Spartan housing estates of East Germany bear no comparison to the colorful, prosperous homes one sees nearly everywhere in the Federal Republic. Numerous G.D.R. houses, at least along the railway route, were little more than huts.
Being a longtime admirer of steam locomotives, I was in for an unexpected treat on this 100-mile ride across East German territory. I had not seen steam locomotives in regular service since 1953. Most Western countries have long since modernized their locomotive fleet with diesel electrics. To my delight there were a number of handsome steamers working the route — another telltale clue that economically, the East was behind the West.
The four-hour train ride to West Berlin was one of the most pleasurable trips of my life, conversationally and otherwise. I was sorry to have to detrain.
The railway station in West Berlin was a shabby eyesore compared to most of the modern metropolitan passenger depots in the Federal Republic — another one of those abundant enigmas so peculiar to Berlin. The reason: East Germans own and operate the overground railway systems in West Berlin — a peculiarity brought about by the unusual status of the whole city of Berlin following World War II. In 1945, Berlin was divided by the Quadripartite Agreement into four sectors. Soviet Russia, the United States, Britain and France ruled one sector each. But in short order the last three merged into the city of West Berlin.
Quite understandably, G.D.R. authorities were reluctant to modernize railway facilities in West Berlin even if they had the ready cash. Fortunately, the two Berlins are well on their way to solving this long-term railway paradox. Extensive modernization is in the works.
Beauty of West Berlin The railway station is untypical of West Berlin. A brisk walk in the city center soon confronts one with the German genius. The architecture is magnificently modern — a delight to the eye by day or night. Most impressive is the Kurfuerstendamm — the largest and main street in West Berlin. It is a sheer delight to see the Kurfuerstendamm ablaze at night with neon lights.
It is, as American writer Thomas Wolfe wrote, "the largest coffeehouse in Europe." There are some 100 coffeehouses and restaurants on the "Ku'damm" — including the historic Cafe Kranzler. A stroll along the Ku'damm, with its colorful advertisements and decorative shops, is a must for any Berlin visitor.
The merchandise equals in elegance most anything one can find on Regent Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York.
All is not well with West Berlin, however. The Ku'damm is also punctuated with sex shops and porn movie houses — a moral softness permeating much of Western culture.
This softness of character seeps into other aspects of West Berlin life. Some ride the U-bahn (the underground railway or subway) and do not pay — there is relatively little risk of getting caught. No one ensures that riders buy tickets to begin the journey nor demands the tickets at the destination. Spot checks are ineffective and fines are so small that a regular but illegal rider soon makes up the difference in frequent journeys.
Depressing Demographic Evidence There are other serious and disturbing trends afflicting West Berlin. It sports the most extreme age profile in Germany. About 25 percent of West Berlin's inhabitants are more than 65 years of age.
Of course, every West Berliner has a different view of what it's like to live in that city. I met a French immigrant on my outward train journey who would live in no other city in this world. Apparently many do not share his feelings. More and more young West Berliners are opting for other cities in the Federal Republic as a permanent place of residence.
West Berlin reached its peak population of 2,229,000 inhabitants in 1 957. Population has declined to about 1,700,000.
Historian Gordon A. Craig touches on some probable reasons for these disturbing demographic difficulties. He wrote in his book The Germans: "It was estimated in 1971 that every third person who was drawn to the city by these advantages [tax and travel inducements] changed his mind sooner or later and left it, either because he was dissatisfied with his working or living conditions or because he was affected by the Berlin form of claustrophobia, the fear of being caught without hope of escape if the city fell to the forces of the East" (page 281, New American Library edition, 1982).
The citizens of West Berlin are a courageous lot. They have coped with crisis after crisis. The city was blockaded in 1948 and 1949. The wall was built to encircle the city in the early sixties. And there have been serious threats and minicrises from time to time.
But there is such a thing as a cumulative effect from all these negative forces from without. A city's resistance can be gradually worn down over a period of many years. Comments Gordon Craig: "Whether [West] Berlin can survive indefinitely in its present riven state is a question that no one can answer with any assurance" (op. cit., page 262).
The only really satisfactory solution is, of course, reunion with East Berlin. But in this present age this can only occur if East and West Germany are reunited.
The Sharp Contrasts of East Berlin Much progress has been made in the Eastern sector of Berlin since World War II. There are now few grim reminders of a war-wrecked and devastated city. Many modern buildings, especially of the large apartment variety, have been constructed throughout East Berlin.
The similarity between East and West seems to end there. By comparison, the edifices of East Berlin are stark, Spartan and spare. An enforced monetary economy is all too obvious. There is a drabness of color with few of the frills that make enlightened architecture so very attractive.
But give East Berliners their due. One finds a dedication to duty, a spirit of discipline and a measure of moral values that are somewhat missing in the Western sector. If East and West Berlin (and indeed East and West Germany) are ever reunited, one should not assume that the lion's share of the leadership will come from the West. We may be surprised.
Visitors who take the separate coach tours of both East and West Berlin cannot help but notice the remarkable difference in approach between the tour leaders. The Eastern tour leader was not only determined to give us a colorful and comprehensive description of significant sites, but an informative lecture on ideology as well.
Berlin is a city divided by more than a physical wall.
The Berlin Wall No article about Berlin should omit mention of the wall. I was stunned by gross and tasteless graffiti on the wall's Western side. This was no advertisement of proper Western values.
The Berlin Wall is built of large concrete slabs "graced" with the usual barbed wire. The wall separating East from West Berlin is 28 miles in length; the wall separating East Germany from West Berlin is 72 miles long, making a 100-mile demarcation line around the Western sector of the city. G.D.R. troops diligently guard the wall from observation turrets and one can traverse the two cities only at official crossing points like Checkpoint Charlie. The Brandenburg Gate has been closed for a long time.
Fortunately, travel between East and West Berlin is easier these days. And considerable efforts are being made to ease tensions between the two cities. One thing is certain. Humans should not be divided either by a symbolic curtain of iron or an actual curtain of concrete.
Believe it or not, the Berlin Wall, like the ancient walls of Jericho, has a limited life. The eventual outcome is sure. The Berlin Wall-like all such walls, symbolic of a divided humanity — will come down. But whereas that may be achieved through human effort, it will take divine intervention in this world's affairs before all peoples everywhere learn to solve their differences peacefully.
Bible prophecy is clear. Nations will learn to get on together. For example, notice Isaiah's prophecy about the transformation of human nature among the descendants of the sons of the ancient Jacob or Israel: "The jealousy of Ephraim [half brother of Judah, the father of the Jews] shall depart... Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim" (Isa. 11:13, Revised Standard Version). In a later prophecy about the same future time, Isaiah had this to say about the Mideast:
"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian [restored to their land in Iraq] will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians" (Isa. 19:23, RSV).
No jealousy between nations; uninhibited travel across national borders between former enemies; even worship of the true God together. Sounds like a greater miracle than the crossing of the Red Sea dry-shod. And it will be!
The late U.S. President John F. Kennedy fired the imagination of nearly every West Berliner with his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in June of 1963. In concluding that speech, perhaps without realizing it, he was effectively speaking of the day of God coming in the near future.
President Kennedy said: "So let me ask you... to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, in your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind. Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one, and this country and this great continent of Europe, in a peaceful and hopeful globe."
That day is coming.