What makes a city great? It needs hungry outsiders struggling to become insiders. This explains why Berlin will never again be a great city, even when it becomes the capital of the united Germany in 1999by Josef Joffe / July 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
First it was the “Fourth Reich,” the spectre of Germany rediviva, which haunted the western mind. But the ghosts failed to materialise. Reunited Germany, its cold war fetters gone, was again number one in Europe, but it insisted on being normal and boring. Yes, there were those neo-Nazi punks, as nasty as can be. But at no point did the good burghers of the Bundesrepublik risk losing control, even as unemployment climbed to 1932 levels. If the “New Germans” did flex their muscles, they did so-oddly-in favour of more integration and Europe-minded virtue. Their lode star was Brussels, not K?nigsberg. Instead of singing Deutschmark ?ber alles, they trooped off to Maastricht.
Now, almost a decade later, it is “Berlin” which mesmerises the mind: the city about to star as Germany’s capital once more. What will it be? The divines are ambivalent. On the up side there beckons a glorious past of exploding achievement: Berlin’s Golden Age was bracketed by the birth of the Bismarck Empire in 1871 and the rise of Hitler in 1933. We are drawn to Isherwood and Spender, to Cabaret and The Blue Angel. This is the city where Lang, Pabst and Sternberg wrote the first chapter of the cinematographic canon which gave us Dr. Caligari, M and Metropolis, plus Josephine Baker, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Listen to Furtw?ngler, Klemperer and Schoenberg. Look at Dix, Beckmann and Grosz. Watch Brecht and Weill collaborate on the Threepenny Opera. Walk through the Bauhaus past Gropius and Van der Rohe. In literature we recall Mann, Hauptmann, Zweig, D?glin and Zuckmayer. Physics was reconstructed in Berlin by Einstein and Planck. Koch and R?ntgen pushed at the frontiers of medicine; Weber and Simmel at those of sociology. Bleichr?der and Rathenau stand for an economy that came to overshadow Europe’s.
Might we soon watch a remake in a Berlin no longer divided by the wall, in a city once more the largest (geographically) in Europe? Physically, for sure, Berlin is re-experiencing the dynamic of the Gr?nderjahre in the late 19th century. Go to the Potsdamer Platz, a mined no-man’s-land during the cold war, now the largest construction site in the world, where cranes and builders toil through the night. Walk into the former East, where grand hotels and gentrification are erasing the last traces of Prusso-Marxism. It is the 1890s brought forward to the threshold of the new millennium.