Unlike Krakow, which is quaint and picturesque despite being a city of 750,000 people, everything about Berlin is big and imposing.
Like Krakow, Berlin has had its experiences with “Ruin and Revival,” the theme of our seminar. As we will find out, the issues are a little different as Berlin has “perpetrator” issues in addition to the problems associated with victimhood that we learned about in Poland.
The halfway point of our seminar is a travel day, and as we board a bus after the one-hour flight to Tegel Airport, we ride through what used to be East Berlin. The division of the city into two parts, one free and one under Communist domination for nearly 40 years, played a big role in shaping its history, as we will learn.
Here’s a Berlin landmark that represents that duality, a symbol of both communication and obfuscation. Visible from much of the city on a sunny day, this is the Fernsehturm (literally, “TV tower”). It’s about 1,200 feet tall and is used to transmit all sorts of TV and radio signals all over Europe. But when it was built by the East Germans in 1969 it was also used to jam broadcast signals from the West.
The part of Berlin that we travel through to reach our hotel seems a little down at the heels, compared, as we will see in the next few days, with the more vibrant western part of the city, with its longer history of freedom or capitalism. We get off at our destination, the Myer’s Hotel, which dates from about 1913 and looks as if it might have had a history as private residence.
It’s in an interesting neighborhood. At one end of our street is a coffee house called Hilde, which will serve as Internet central for a lot of our group. It’s WiFi for the cost of a capuccino, as opposed to the 13 euros a day (about $19 U.S.) charged by the hotel.
“Really bad contract,” says the desk clerk who checks our group in, apologetically.
In the other direction is a bar which serves beer brewed on the premises and “Bavarian tapas,” a new concept to me. And further down the street is the Senefelderplatz U-Bahn (subway) stop. I feel at home already.
Seminar leader Benjamin Lorch, who lives in Berlin, and Dr. Irmgard Zundorf of the Zentrum fur Zeithistoriche Forschung (Center for Research in Contemporary History) in nearby Potsdam, give us a brief orientation in a meeting room at the hotel.
“Berlin represents both creation and destruction,” Lorch says. “It’s a place that’s still healing itself and reinventing itself.”
We will look at the history and the future of some of those efforts tomorrow as we begin our study in Berlin.