A week in Berlin, based out of a hotel at the old border crossing known as Checkpoint Charlie, is both an exciting and a sobering experience. The city is young, and it's full of young people, and subway messages pass on the official message of tolerance and community.
The mayor's slogan "Poor But Sexy" (for his city, not himself) still seems to play well here. But it's also an old city, with a history that cannot be forgotten. Bullet holes remain in some buildings, and bits of the Wall have been kept here and there. You think of the atrocities that were planned and ordered here. Here in a city that was Hitler's capitol. But a city where he never won a free election. A left-wing city that some say was the only major Continental city that Hitler never really conquered.
The contradictions are clearest of all at a place like Checkpoint Charlie. Once the tense face-off spot between East and West, it is now a bare lot surrounded by a different kind of wall, which tells the story of the divided Berlin in pictures and maps. Here is where Peter Fechter died at 18, shot by East German guards and left to die on the street while American soldiers and West Berlin police stood by, frozen by uncertainty. And here is where the late Mstislav Rostropovich brought his cello, to sit and play among the piles of rubble created out of the Wall by a throng of jubilant Berliners.
There is no real monument. The Friedrichstrasse is now full of high-end stores. There is a museum, but it's a block south. On the corner of Checkpoint Charlie, I got chills simply walking along the block, reading the writing on the wall. -- John Schaefer