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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK
Berlin: Soaked in history
The new chancellery is being called
No-one's happy with 'The federal Washing Machine'
By Peter Morgan in Berlin

Berlin has a new landmark. Among the cranes which still dominate the skyline of Europe's newest capital now stands a chancellery, where the head of government Gerhard Schroeder will live and the German cabinet will hold its regular meetings.


The German press has slated the building. Far worse, the chancellor doesn't like it, and worse still neither does his wife

The building has been dubbed "The federal Washing Machine" by its many detractors, in a city where architecture, history and politics are never far apart.

I couldn't help feeling sorry for Axel Schultes. He had the air of a man trying hard to keep his spirits up. Perhaps that's not surprising.

Mr Schultes is the architect of the new chancellery, Germany's answer to the White House or 10 Downing Street.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder accepting the key to his new home
The German press has slated the building. Far worse, the chancellor doesn't like it, and worse still neither does his wife.

Unashamed

Perhaps it takes a foreigner to praise the building a little. It's an unashamedly modern structure of white stone and green glass.

It occupies a prime site immediately opposite the Reichstag. It contains huge galleries, sweeping stairways and countless windows commanding fantastic views across the city and down the river Spree.

So what is it that the Germans so object to?


This is a Country in which the slightest reference Germany's size, power or success is winced at: and it's all because of history

A passer by told me it is just too bombastic. It has no modesty.

And that's exactly the problem. This is a country in which the slightest reference Germany's size, power or success is winced at: And it's all because of history.

The shadow of its grizzly past hangs like an invisible cloud over this city even during the most perfect spring day.

Welded to the past

In Berlin you soon learn that architecture, like everything else here is welded to the past. I'll give you another example.

Inside the corridors of the immaculately restored Reichstag building there is graffiti on the walls, and this is why.

Visitors outside the chancellery
Unimpressed: Germans think the building is immodest
When the Russian soldiers stormed this building in the last desperate days of the World War II, they scrawled triumphant messages on the walls of the ruins.

When the parliament building was restored the architects thought they should leave the graffiti untouched to remind modern politicians of tragic consequences of Germany's darkest years.

And how do you deal with a past that's so horrific?

Hitler's bunker, which sprawled through central Berlin has been largely destroyed, and the site of his suicide remains entirely unmarked.

Keeping records

History soaks every inch of Berlin but you often need to know where to look.

Take my daily trip to work.

I catch the train at Grunewald station. It's a quaint black and white building, complete with a clock tower through which you could pass without a second thought. And yet there is one platform that's never used.

River view of the new chancellery
The chancellery has fantastic views across the city and down the river Spree
If you were to chance upon it you would find a small metal plaque commemorating the 50,000 Jews who were sent by cattle truck from here to the death camps.

On deserted platform 17 a daily record is carved of the transport of Berlin's Jewry. On 2 March 1943, 1,758 Jews left Berlin for Auschwitz. On 3 March 1,732 departed.

My trip ends at Iehrstadt Bahnhof where I walk across the River Spree.

My short stroll would not have been possible 15 years ago. It takes me from West to East.

Escaping East Berlin

You'd never know it but the Berlin Wall stood here, and on my left a knee-high granite headstone is all that reminds the vigilant passer by that this is where Gunther Litfin was shot dead on a warm summer's evening in 1961.

He was the first person killed trying to escape from East Berlin across the rising wall. Gunther was just 24 years old.


Living in the Cold War's most secret spy station on top of the wreckage of Nazi Germany. How's that for living history

My commute begins with a reminder of one hideous chapter of this city's modern history, and ends with a memorial to quite another.

So where, my visiting friends ask me, can we see the Wall?

Well, several kilometres of the wall were left standing long enough to have a preservation order slapped on it, but it's well outside the city centre.

Indeed it's increasingly difficult to spot that for decades this was a city on the very front line of the Cold war.

Devil's Mountain

On summer evenings the children of Berlin fly brightly coloured kites on the Teufelsburg - the Devils Mountain.

Hitler built a military academy here, but it was destroyed at the end of the war. Then the rubble of 80,000 ruined buildings was piled up, and built into the very mountain where the kids are playing today.

Much of the work was done by women, and by hand. The men were dead, and the machinery destroyed.

On the summit of the Teufelsberg stands an extraordinary array of white towers. They look as though they were built for a James Bond set. In fact this building was a spy station erected in the Cold War to eavesdrop on the Communists.

I was given a tour of the listening station by the private developer who's bought the site. He showed me the Artic Tower which contained radars so secret that only two people in the world were authorised to enter its inner sanctum.

He wants to turn the spy station into a luxury flats. I'd like to buy one.

Living in the Cold War's most secret spy station on top of the wreckage of Nazi Germany. How's that for living history?

See also:

02 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder gets new home
02 May 01 | Europe
In pictures: Schroeder's new home
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