- -  Day # 335  + +

EU > Germany > Berlin

It all happens here (2)

Berlin, DE (View on map)

After yesterday`s introduction of Berlin`s recent history, it`s now time to look at how much East and West Berlin are still different today. `Not at all`, some say. `Still quite different`, says the majority. East Berlin seems to be suitable for everything related to students, modern art and parties. West Berlin is business-related and cares for the `established arts` rather than the anarchist type. What else is typical for either of the two halves?

Rossi (28):

`In the beginning, everything in East Berlin needed to be upgraded to Western German levels.`
Jakob (27) explains that each part of Berlin has a specific atmosphere: `Areas seem to rotate when it comes to popularity. After the fall of the wall, the Sch?neberg area in West Berlin was very popular, but it is now the place where many 30 to 40-year-olds live. The trendy areas are now mostly East of the centre: Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain. Many students fancy living in East Berlin, which is renowned for the low rents, abundant open spaces, old deserted but inhabitable buildings with high ceilings, cheaper supermarkets and restaurants as well as trendy venues to go out.`

Berlin and beyond
Jakob sees more differences between Berliners and non Berliners than between West Berliners and East Berliners. `It`s surprising that, after so many years of separation, both West and East Berliners have the same accent. It may get a bit thicker once you to the Eastern periphery of the city, but it is in essence the same accent. I find Berliners very hard to access. They always go out within their own groups of Berliners and hardly allow anybody else to join. They don`t like the fact that so many students come to Berlin just because housing is so much cheaper than it is in Western German cities. I currently pay 180 euros of rent for living in West Berlin. In Munich, I would pay 400 euros for the same space. But on the other hand, the reputation of most universities in Western Germany is still better.`

`Differences within the centre of Berlin have become ever more difficult to notice `, says Dana (24) who is originally from the South West of Germany. `The further way from the centre you get, the more different the city landscape becomes. The Marzahn neighboorhoud is a good example of what we call Plattenbau: grey concrete flats. In general, buildings in East Berlin are taller than those in West Berlin. Also, East Berlin has tramways, while West Berlin does not. Some railway stations in East Berlin still look different from those in the West: Ostbahnhof, Ostkreuz or Lichtenberg look a lot less modern than Berlin Zoo or the new Central Station which was built very close to the old border.`

`The difference between East and West Berlin is very small compared to the differences between rural Eastern Germany and rural Western Germany`, says Thorsten (23) from the former Western German city of K?ln. `I haven`t seen much more of Eastern Germany than Berlin and Dresden, but I imagine that Eastern Germany has lots of big, grey flats, deserted factories and it seems like nothing still happens there. Unemployment is lots higher, which has driven many Eastern Germans to move to Western Germany and find a job there. Eastern Germans also look different there, especially the older ones. Some still have these darkened glasses or they have pink neon colours in their clothes. Some women have died their hair 50% black 50% white. People looking like that quickly make me suppose that they are from Eastern Germany.`

Apart from the fact that people in Western Germany still pay additional taxes for the redevelopment of Eastern Germany, the main reason for Western Germans to have negative thoughts about Eastern Germany is the growing popularity of neo-nazist organisations in smaller Eastern German cities. `These people are scared of losing their jobs to foreigners`, says Daniel (22), also from former Western Germany, `even though most of the foreigners don`t even live in Eastern Germany. Nevertheless, these skinhead organisations seem to get more and more influence in local politics. First in Eastern Germany only, but I think their ideas are spreading to the West as well.`

Rossi (28, photo) from East Berlin remembers how the changes in 1989 meant that everything in Eastern Europe had to be lifted to Western European standards. `It was not very difficult to sell that message in the early years after the Wende. Everything coming from the West was thought of a superiour, no matter how bad it was. Only in recent years have people started to realise that some products from the East were actually not that bad at all. All traffic lights were to be adjusted to West Berlin standards for example. But the opposite is now happening: West Berlin is introducing our hat-wearing Ampelm?nnchen.` Thanks to the investments and renovations in East Berlin, some services in the East are now even superiour to their equivalents in West Berlin, simply because they were built more recently.

Another big East-West issue is caused by monuments that up until today remind people of Berlin`s history. What to do with them now that they have lost their functions? Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin served as an air bridge with Western Germany in the 1950s. Many West Berliners are emotionally attached to the airport that once served as their life line. Being from East Berlin, Rossiza is not sentimental about Tempelhof: `It`s a source of noise and pollution. Its flights can easily be taken over by the new Brandenburg Airport.`

Rossi`s opinion about the former Palast der Republik in East Berlin is different: `The Palast der Republik served as a giant centre-of-everything that was second to nothing in the DDR. It had a theatre, cinema, shops, bowling, everything. It brought together old and new culture in a way that has not yet been copied elsewhere in Berlin. It`s a shame they are demolishing it. They have not even decided what to build in its place!`

Rossi thinks that East and West is still a major issue in Berlin. `Whenever you meet new people, the question always comes up. Where do you work, where did you grow up, where did you go to school. It`s quickly linked with stereotypes about your financial or social status. The proverb Besser Wessi, Jammer Ossi (I Westerner am better, I Easterner complain) still applies for everybody over 20. Easterners tend to complain about their salaries being lower and they also still see Westerners for arrogant and stiff. The good thing for us from East Berlin is that we are thought of as more innovative and open-minded.`

Diana (23) from East Berlin thinks that people from West Berlin see themselves as more intelligent than East Berliners. `It`s good that we now have Angela Merckel as president, because it shows that Eastern Germans are also capable of making careers in a united Germany. I am also happy that my boyfriend from West Berlin was willing to move to East Berlin to live with me. Many other couples would probably move to the Western part if they were faced with the same choice.`

Juliane (26) from East Berlin is disappointed that so many tourists come to Berlin just to learn about the War and the Wall. `There is much more to see here and people could be more interested in the presence and the future of Berlin rather than the past.` Her own opinion about Berlin`s presence: `I think West Berlin is quiet and safe, but less exciting than East Berlin. Differences are hard to notice in the very heart of the city. Everything is blended in. I enjoy this mixed culture and I think it makes Berlin very attractive to open-minded people.`

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