Today’s post is a bit self-indulgent. I’ve just returned from Berlin, and can’t help but reflect on the metamorphosis of this city and the passage of time.
About three weeks ago, I had five hours between flights in Berlin, completely to myself. A luxury, indeed. (During the last 20 years or so, I’ve been here a few times, but only on business with no time for exploration). With time to kill, I hopped on the first bus going anywhere and ended up in front of Bundestag, the German parliament. Orderly queues were formed outside, tourists waiting to visit this historic place.
Bundestag in 1983…
… and in 2012
In 1983, we were three kids on a thrilling road trip, our first jaunt behind the Iron Curtain. Driving from Hamburg to West Berlin required a long stretch through DDR, the German Democratic Republic, which of course was anything but.
Along the road, we thought we saw tanks in the fields. In reality, it was combine harvesters, and we were city kids with over-active imaginations. Halfway to Berlin, we were stopped by East German police (even more thrilling) and issued with a fine. Can’t remember what it was for exactly, but we had a fast German car with a powerful engine and were used to driving on the Autobahn by then, so it was probably a speeding ticket. The fine had to be paid on the spot – in West Marks. Bjørn Inge, who was driving then, kept the ticket as a souvenir for years.
Achtung! Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin
Around a corner from Bundestag is Brandenburger Tor. It’s a magnificent gate, all cleaned up and open for anyone to walk through.
In 1983, the gate separated two countries on either side of the Iron Curtain.
When passing through Brandenburger Gate now, the first thing I noticed was Starbucks. Nothing against Starbucks, really – it’s just that I find the … sameness of everywhere a bit depressing. Better then, to gawk at the famous Hotel Adlon. Sadly, the original one from 1926 was demolished by the DDR – just think if those walls could have talked. At least the new Adlon, now a Kempinski hotel, looks similar, grandiose in that pre-war way.
Brandenburger Tor used to come with a warning sign: Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin!. Today, that sign is a motif for postcards and various souvenir paraphernalia.
The same is the case with everything Checkpoint Charlie, the old border crossing between the American and Soviet sectors on Friedrichstraße.
Checkpoint Charlie in 1983…
…and in 2012
When crossing the border into East Berlin in 1983, we had to change 25 West Marks into East Marks. A sum it was all but impossible to spend. Today, the old border is a photo op; for 2 euros, you can have a passport stamp, or your picture taken with two men in American military gear. This blatant capitalism must be the ultimate slap in the face of the former DDR dictatorship.
Berlin has changed. So have the kids from that care-free summer. Bjørn Inge is no longer on Earth. The remaining two of us are older, and one hopes, wiser.
My few hours in Berlin were not nearly enough. This week, I had the opportunity to return, with enough spare time for a closer look. I spent hours walking the streets, people-watching and thinking back. Now and then, I saw the young versions of us across the street, as if time was insubstantial.
In 1983, Berlin was still marked by the ravages of World War II, worn and a bit run-down. Yet, for all that, it was a grand city. Today, despite the presence of insipid chain operations, Berlin is even grander. And where Rome has beauty and chaos, Berlin has beauty and order. Warms a Scandinavian heart, it does.
Like Marlene, I’ll always have a suitcase in Berlin. If only an imaginary one…
I was just about to do a post from my trip to Berlin with photos from my trip next to those of my mothers, over 20 years ago when the wall was still up! Too cool.
Very cool! Look forward to reading your post 🙂
Love it Sophie !
Thank you, Mike.
Wow it would have been amazing to visit back then… I wish I had that opportunity. I guess the closest thing we have to that now is North Korea – you can actually do tours there through the government… thinking of doing that for our big holiday in 2014… haha… so far away
I’m planning for North Korea, too. Should be very interesting. Another anachronistically interesting place a little closer to home is Transdniestr.
Great post – it’s important to remember the transformation Germany(and other European countries) have been through over a short period of time. Guess it was one of the points with this year’s Nobel Peace Prize as well.
It was. So much has happened here in the very recent past.
Love the before and after pictures. What a great city!
It really is, isn’t it…
what a fascinating post. Loving all these retro shots and history lesson!
– Maria Alexandra
Thanks, Maria Alexandra 🙂
Loved reading this and seeing the pictures. Seems like so long ago.
And yet, it’s not so long ago…
What a fun post! I love Berlin – one of our fav cities
– and one of mine 🙂
I am totally amazed by the transformation of a historic city in such a brief time. The city has lots of story to tell indeed. Love the motion & attitude you created by words & images.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, Olivia.
I love this! We are visiting Berlin right now, but for the first time. I have found all of the history here so fascinating.
Lucky you! It’s a great city to be in.
I just wrote a very similar post to this one a few weeks ago on Tag der Deutschen Einheit. I also posted old photos from my first trip to Berlin in 1987. It really has changed. Lots of good memories and nostalgia there.
Just read it. Love that there are so many of us remembering the days of the DDR 🙂
Nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence from time to time, Sophie, especially when the post is so interesting, as in what you show here with these comparisons.
Thanks, Andrew. 🙂
I love the way you have taken us for a wonderful walk through the city and bought in the history with the comparison to your own photos of 1983. A beautiful personal reminder of how time changes!
Thanks Jenny 🙂
Aww, this is one of the best posts İ’ve read in ages. Love your old and new photo comparisons placed against the way you and Berlin have changed. We love that city and it’s too long since we were there. Would love to go back one day.
Thanks. I love it too 🙂
Lovely post Sophie – and fun to see the difference over the years. It’s amazing the memories that come flooding back when you return to a spot isn’t it.
It really is. Wandering about Berlin was a freakishly powerful experience – all of a sudden 1983 felt like it could haven been yesterday…
Wow, this is a wonderful post. Agree with Julia that this is one of the best that I’ve read in ages! It makes me feel emotional about my home town. Glad you were finally able to spend some more time here.
I think you’re lucky to call Berlin home 🙂
Berlin is one city that has really changed over the past few decades, and you’ve really managed to experience both side of the story! Great story 😀
Love the “vintage” photos 🙂
Thanks Stephanie 🙂
Sophie, I’ve just arrived in Berlin and I’m here for a couple of months. I love your “then and now” photos. This city changes daily, and to freeze in time the few moments that happened when you were there are as important as filming the continuous flow of time. Thanks for your post!
Looking forward to reading about your Berlin, Henry.
So interesting to see the “before” and “after” photos and read your perspective on how Berlin has changed – what a journey! I also find it depressing that Starbucks are everywhere, even more depressing is how busy they always are.
True! Although no, with the tax avoidance issue in the UK, I think Starbucks might be losing a little of their popularity…
I have never been to Berlin. But I hope to visit someday as I have friends there. It would have been nice to see a before and after photo with you in both pictures. It would have a more dramatic effect and impact! But all in all, I can imagine what you must have been feeling then. Ah, the memories. Sigh
Yes, you’re probably right. No ‘now’-photos, as I was there on my own this time.
I love the before and after – both of the city and you. Berlin’s older and you’re wiser. Wonderful memories. Sorry about your friend.
That’s life! Somehow, Berlin seems a proper metaphor for life.
Love the 80s hair!
I love seeing before and after photos from cities, it’s great to see how they evolve over time.
I’m yet to visit Berlin but I’ve heard such amazing things that I definitely want to squeeze in a visit this year.
Maybe for ITB in March?
The best thing about Berlin is that it’s ever evolving and never stops. A now dilapidated quarter will be hop tomorrow and populated by rich bankers the day after tomorrow. And every time you visit Berlin, it shows another face, depending on where you go.
Those before & after photos show just that. Thanks for sharing they’re amazing. 🙂