A Berlin Notebook
The traveler to Berlin in 1957 needs no visa or permit of any kind. This was the first surprise, and it was followed by others, including the discovery that crossing the inter-zonal barrier which divides the city into a Western-controlled and a Soviet-Controlled sector is about as difficult as traveling from Piccadilly Circus to East London. In fact it is done by exactly the same process: buying an underground ticket. One can also, if one is so minded, make the crossing in broad daylight, strolling through what is left of the Brandenburg Gate and watching the expression on the faces of the Volkspolizei. The ordinary Berliner—thousands work in the Eastern sector though domiciled in the West, and vice versa—has long since adapted himself to life in a city with two administrations, two different transport and utility systems, two telephone systems (which do not connect), and similar legacies of the postwar split. He or she travels forward and backward on the rail and underground network linking the two worlds, and apart from occasional police check-ups designed to discourage smuggling (mainly of subversive literature, i.e. anything printed in either of the two zones) there is little to indicate a departure from normality. Even the process of exchanging West marks for East marks, at the official rate of one to four, has been mechanized to the point where the only remaining issue is the East German complaint that the exchange rate set by the West is unfair to the Communist administration.
In Berlin it is difficult to take the cold war seriously. This is strange, for the city was its focal point in 1948/9, at the time of the blockade and the airlift—an experience the inhabitants have not forgotten. Though understandably proud of having passed that test, their interests are centered upon the surprisingly modernistic tomorrow suggested by the present building boom. Needless to say, this is true only of the Western sector, which houses some two-thirds of the city’s three and a half million inhabitants (the pre-war total was a million higher). The Soviet sector, though no longer the lunar landscape of 1945, is still pretty grim and almost innocent of reconstruction, except for the monstrous Stalin Allee, a mile-long vista of heavily ornamented apartment blocks built in a style suggestive of late 19th-century Czarist architecture. But East and West have quietly got together on a number of administrative matters, including the former Reich capital’s communications with the outside world, and today it is no longer sensible to discuss Berlin in terms of crisis and conflict. It is still an island, of course: on the maps printed by the West Berlin Magistra. it looks alarmingly forlorn, all surrounded by territory marked with an enormous hammer and sickle. But the ordinary West Berliner now follows the lead of the city administration in resolutely ignoring this state of affairs. The great topic of conversation is not the cold war, not even reunification, but the building boom.
Of the permanence of this boom there is no question. West German capital is pouring into West Berlin (largely in the guise of Federal aid for low-cost housing and other forms of reconstruction), and industries whose owners fled to the West in 1945 are trickling back: in some cases because the workers stayed put, and the manufacturers who had decamped at war’s end found that they were too dependent on the skills of their veteran labor force to start afresh elsewhere. So back they came (this is true in particular of the garment trade, an old Berlin specialty) and are now doing a roaring business, right under the noses of Ulbricht and his cronies; or, as they might have put it some years ago, right under the muzzles of the Russian guns. But nobody talks in this fashion any more. West Berlin has ceased to exult in its status as an embattled outpost of liberty; it prefers to see itself as an industrial boom town and the scene of a major experiment in city planning and urban reconstruction. Its architects are socially prominent, as well as being busy, and the city administration, under Social Democratic impulsion, devotes its energy to persuading the citizens that the Berlin of tomorrow will be the equal of Zurich or Stockholm in modernity. They may be right.
All this is surprising to the visitor who arrives, as I did, by air. It is less of a surprise to the resident correspondents who frequently make the journey from Bonn to Berlin by car. A few years ago Berlin’s communications with the Federal Republic were so uncertain that motor travel through the territory of the East German “Democratic Republic” was a major adventure. Today traffic between Berlin and Helmstedt, at the Western end of the 105-mile-long Autobah., is quite normal. The East German patrols at either end have disappeared, and the customs officials have acquired smart uniforms and polite manners. This is good business, for Westerners who use the road pay Autobah. tolls that yield (between ten and twelve million marks annually in valuable West German currency (which money in turn is used by the Ulbricht government in East Berlin to finance illegal Communist activities in the Federal Republic). Down the length of the Autobah. the gigantic posters of the Stalin era have been replaced by mildly sarcastic caricatures of the Western way of life.
Does all this mean that relations between the two Germanies have now attained the level of muted enmity characteristic, say, of the perennial but harmless tension between Northern and Southern Ireland? Recent visitors to Berlin who think so include Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (see the New Statesma., August 24 and 31) who also managed to be favorably impressed by the social achievements of the East German regime, though he deplored the police state atmosphere. But Mr. Crossman is not the most reliable of observers. In West Berlin itself, the prevalent attitude toward the Communist government across the boundary line, and a fortior. toward the East Berlin city administration, is one of contempt—a sentiment largely derived from comparisons of their respective achievements in reconstruction. There is a tendency to argue that sooner or later the West German boom will force the Ulbricht regime on the defensive and finally lead to its erosion or overthrow. This is probably too optimistic. Most Germans fear that the present dividing line is hardening and becoming permanent. One such man to whom I talked had spent the greater part of his life in Berlin, before and after Hitler, and was well placed to gauge the feelings of people on both sides of the line. He thought the two Germanies were gradually drifting apart, the East Germans losing touch with their kinsfolk in the West and settling down to a dreary but not altogether unbearable existence as satellites of the Soviet empire; in which, after all, they occupy a relatively privileged position, since however dull their lives may be, they are not ground down to the Russian or the Polish level. In fact, apart from Czechoslovakia, they live in the best fed of the occupied countries.
A fortnight’s stay is too short for anything like a settled conclusion on this subject. Personal impressions, however, fit in with the suspicion that the underlying division may be hardening. This is not contradicted by the ease with which Berliners commute across the line dividing the city, or by the apparent uniformity of the population as regards dress and general appearance. There is certainly no violent contrast between the West Berlin crowd and its Eastern counterpart, save for a slight accentuation of the general shabbiness and depression; but then the Eastern districts of the city were always poorer. Eastern Germany as a whole is certainly much poorer than the booming Federal Republic, but this contrast works both ways: East Germans still cross the zonal border at an annual rate of two hundred thousand to seek work in the West, while those who merely travel to visit their relatives in the Federal Republic (difficult but not impossible) are said to envy the wealth and comfort they encounter. But they also tend to be resentful at the disparity in living standards, the blatant self-satisfaction of the West Germans, and their evident lukewarmness on the subject of Wiedervereinigun. (reunification). When they go back it is frequently with a feeling of returning to “their own” country, and on their return to Leipzig or Dresden they are of course plunged into the official East German propaganda which operates not with Communist slogans, but with appeals to patriotism and self-respect: “We are poor, but we are honest. We don’t live on American handouts. And look how we are making progress nonetheless!” It is not a wholly ineffective line.
All this and more one learns from people in West Berlin who are in daily touch with their compatriots across the zonal border. None of them doubts that in a free election the Ulbricht regime would be swept away—estimates of its genuine support range between 5 and 15 per cent of the voting population. What they are afraid of is that time will allow it to dig in, while its active opponents depart for the golden West, and the shrinking remnant gradually gets used to the inevitable. Already there are said to be signs that even oppositionists are more influenced by events in Poland than by anything the West has to tell them.
It is true that every now and then some thing happens to upset or modify these impressions. During our stay in Berlin, a prominent East German intellectual, Professor Alfred Kantorowicz, provided the public with a brief sensation by suddenly going over to the West and reading an impassioned denunciation of the Ulbricht regime over the West Berlin radio: the more effective for coming from a veteran Communist and for being couched in left-wing terminology, with plentiful allusions to the horrors of Stalinism and the shocking effect of Hungary on old-line idealistic Communists. It was, in its own slightly old-fashioned manner, a moving document, though marred by a tendency to inflate its author’s personal grievances against Ulbricht and his cohorts into an ideological issue (a very German trait this). Yet the reaction was curiously tepid, except in East Berlin, where Kantorowicz’s former colleagues promptly published a statement denouncing his “desertion” of the cause.
West of the line, the Berlin Tagesspiege. was the only paper to run the full text of his declaration. The leading dailies in the Federal Republic contented themselves with brief and misleading extracts, while their editorial comments reflected the curiously complacent attitude which has become standard under Adenauer: the East German regime was being abandoned by its intellectual spokesmen who were finally giving up hope of being able to reform it. More, they were losing faith in Communism as a doctrine—were not literary veterans like Anna Seghers reputedly threatening suicide, while their juniors circulated subversive literature? No need to worry, then. A few more months, or at most years, and the whole edifice would come to the ground. Even the Russians would finally realize that it was not worth propping up the façade any longer.
No one can say with anything approaching certainty that these conclusions are mistaken. One can only register a certain skepticism in regard to the bland assumption that West Germany is a pole of attraction for dissatisfied East Germans because of the way the war of ideas has been going. Certainly the Ulbricht regime has been thrown on the defensive, politically and ideologically. Its leaders have probably given up hope of being able to bring about unification on their own terms. They seem, however, quite confident of their ability to hold on to what they have and in this they are likely to be proved right. Meanwhile, the people under their control grumble, but go about their daily work, in the way Germans have been doing for long stretches under authoritarian regimes they disliked—before and after Germany became a nation. One tends to forget that it is less than a century since Bismarck pulled off his tour de force. There are no Bismarcks in present day Germany which, taken all in all, is probably the most philistine country in postwar Europe. This may be a good thing for the other Europeans; some of them certainly think so. “As long as the Bonn and Pankow regimes go on, we can all sleep peacefully,” a candid French diplomat remarked to a British visitor not long ago. Are the Germans themselves sufficiently keen on reunification to risk a political upheaval? It is permissible to doubt it. Certainly a brief stay in Berlin, followed by an even briefer trip to Frankfort and Heidelberg, did nothing to contradict the growing impression that there are now two Germanies, and that they are slowly but surely pulling apart.
Lest comment should run too far ahead of narrative, which after all is the main purpose of a travelogue, let us revert to Berlin and forget about the rest of Germany. Berlin may have shrunk in size and status, but it is still the nearest equivalent to a national center. I went there in the expectation of encountering a microcosmic picture of Central Europe, half police-run, half free; also in the hope of plunging into a vigorous, if acrimonious, intellectual life. On both counts, but especially on the second, I registered defeat. Berlin remains important, but it is no longer exciting. If the truth be told, it has become a bit dull.
This is largely the fault of the German Communists. During the Stalin era they were intent on sharpening the conflict, until Berlin became the focus of the West’s first successful resistance to Soviet pressure: in 1948/9 the city of Ernst Reuter stood for something, and the Western powers, by organizing the airlift, were able to redeem themselves somewhat in the eyes of a generation which had begun to doubt whether democracies could ever cope with a dictatorship. Later, in June 1953, the Potsdamer Platz, on the boundary between East and West Berlin, became the scene of popular riots in which buildings were burned to the ground and Western observers could watch Soviet tanks in action against the crowds. Today it is quiet, with the occasional foreigner walking across the square to buy an East German newspaper at the solitary kiosk on the other side of the boundary line. The thousands of young people from West Berlin who used to gather there some years ago to hurl defiance at the Russians (from a safe distance, but still) are no longer in evidence. If West Berliners demonstrate today it is for bigger Federal subsidies. Mass meetings in front of the burned-out Reichstag, and fighting speeches by Mayor Reuter, have paled into historical memories; and Reuter is dead, and his successor was politely received by the Soviet commander when he visited the East Berlin town hall last year to repay a courtesy call.
The new political climate was in evidence when I arranged to make a car journey through Eas. Berlin under the auspices of the Wes. Berlin city administration, which is controlled by the Social Democrats with some help from the other democratic parties. There was no need to get a permit. Our friend B., who occupies a leading post in the city government as well as in the SPD, simply told his driver to take us through the Brandenburg Gate, where the Communist Volkspolize. took one brief look at his car and saluted! Coexistence in action. We drove for miles through the battered Eastern sector, down Stalin Allee and past the silent and shuttered building which houses the Central Committee of the “Socialist Unity Party.” It was Sunday, and Ulbricht & Co. were not in evidence. The East German government has its own separate headquarters in Goering’s old Air Ministry; that too seemed uninhabited—they would not have welcomed us anyhow, but there is no longer any difficulty about calling. Instead of making the attempt we drove to Treptow, on the outskirts of the city, where the Russians have laid out a memorial park for their war dead. It turned out to be full of Germans, who were combining their regular Sunday morning Spaziergan. with a dutiful inspection of the pompous Soviet war memorials—mute witnesses to Stalin’s craze for monumental sculpture. The Vozhd’s inspired utterances (“Glory to the soldiers who liberated our Motherland”) are carved into the marble, each major nationality in the USSR (except those deported for conniving with the invader) being represented among the score or so of monuments flanking the parkways that lead to the gigantic statue of the helmeted Soviet soldier in the center of the area (dubbed “the unknown plunderer” by Berlin wits who, however, are careful not to make such cracks within earshot of Ulbricht’s Volkspolize.).
The crowd gave no evidence of subversive feelings: it was taking a Sunday stroll through the park, as it would have done before the war, combined with a little sightseeing. Groups of Soviet soldiers in their Sunday best, scrubbed but dumpy and curiously looking like potatoes, mingled with the Berliners. Most of them had cameras, and wherever one looked they were taking photo shots of each other; for the folks at home. Their officers, in resplendent uniforms, did the same. It seems to be a universal habit. B. was faintly embarrassed by all this. Both as a German and as a leading Social Democrat he thought it a bit undignified that the Berliners should be so casual about this monument to the conquest of their city. Another friend, on the other hand, found it quite natural that the Germans should be submissive in the presence of the victors—they had always knuckled under to the stronger. While we debated the point, the driver took us to Friedrichsfelde, where the Communist party in Weimar days had its own altar for the faithful—a monument to the leaders of the abortive Spartacist revolt in January 1919. It has now been transformed into a vast and rather grim cemetery housing the remains of Communists and Social Democrats alike; for the Socialist Unity party, though controlled by Ulbricht and his fellow Stalinists, formally represents a merger. The effect is odd and disconcerting. Side by side with veterans of the old pre-1914 labor movement whom both parties could claim as forerunners, there are the graves of men who in their day were mortal enemies. Still, the greater part of the cemetery has been reserved for Communists, from Liebknecht and Luxemburg (whom Stalin would certainly have murdered had he been given the chance) to minor functionaries done to death in Hitler’s concentration camps. What sort of effect does this juxtaposition have on young people who are shepherded through the cemetery and told that the ruling party is the heir to the traditions of German democracy and the German labor movement? B. could not tell, but he seemed a trifle worried.
The social democrats in West Berlin have nothing to place against this elaborate mummery in stone. This lacuna points to one of the weaknesses of an otherwise admirable party, which is making a brilliant success of city administration, but has little to offer at the national level. There are the Berlin squares named after its leaders—from Elbert to Schumacher and Reuter; and there is a memorial for the victims of the July 20, 1944, conspiracy against Hitler; but few of them were Social Democrats. The fact is that the SPD is not really trying to compete with the Communists for the loyalties of those who still hanker after socialism and the red flag. It contents itself with contrasting democracy and dictatorship, Western freedom and Russian control, its own reconstruction program and the enduring misery of the East Berliners who twelve years after the war are still surrounded by ruins (though no longer by rubble: that at least has been cleared away). And yet the West Berlin SPD is somewhat ahead of the bulk of the party in the Federal Republic as regards political awareness. It maintains a branch office in Eas. Berlin (legal though ineffective under one of those grotesque Four Power compromises), and carries on subversive propaganda throughout the Soviet zone with the help of people who in many cases must be risking their liberties, if no longer their lives. It is in the closest possible touch with disaffected elements in the Ulbricht republic, and claims a network of “contacts” in factories and offices who supply it with information. Yet with all that its political outlook is curiously pallid. One gains the impression of a party whose real genius is for municipal administration, welfare work, and trade union organization, and to Whom the struggle against Adenauer and his CDU has become a great deal more important than the standing menace in the East. A solidly democratic party, somewhat to the right of the British Labor party, and even less interested in anything that is not strictly a bread-and-butter issue. If this is so even in Berlin, what must it be like in the Federal Republic? (According to the people I spoke to in Frankfort, it is pretty awful.)
This state of affairs leaves the Communists with a monopoly in the realm of ideology and they are not slow to exploit it. In the course of a solitary trip to Stalin Allee I made a tour of the elaborately stocked Karl Marx bookshop which caters to the intellectual needs of the faithful. Bearing in mind the lack of a parallel effort on the Western side of the boundary, the sight was a little alarming. There are excellent bookshops in West Berlin, but they make no systematic attempt to enlighten their customers about public matters from a democratic viewpoint. The Karl Marx bookshop by contrast is a notable enterprise in subsidized publishing, much of it non-political and designed to attract students as well as visiting Westerners (which it does). Beautifully produced editions of the German and Russian classics, at grotesquely low prices, serve as bait. The visitor can, if he is so minded, spend hours browsing among art folios, but he also has at his disposal a rich assortment of Marxist-Leninist literature in several European languages. If he does not lack perseverance he can even nose out the shelf where the collected works of George Lukacs, now regarded as semi-heretical, are half hidden away. I made off with five of these cut-price volumes, which on inspection turned out to be sadly orthodox in tone, though doubtless still too independent-minded for the more rigid party stalwarts. (Kantorowicz got into trouble by proposing Lukacs for the Nobel prize, or so he claims.)
There is nothing of this sort on the other side of the line. The Social Democrats, who are far and away the biggest party in West Berlin, publish no literature and consequently need no bookshop. They are content to extol the achievements of their city administration and to denounce Hitler’s misdeeds. This seems to satisfy the bulk of their followers. What about the intellectuals? In the first place, their numbers have been much reduced; secondly, they are said not to be interested in polemics; lastly, they can read that admirable periodical Der Mona. (which, however, is not strictly speaking a German publication, though one of its two editors is a German). What would happen, I asked one man, if the Social Democrats published a regular flow of books and periodicals, as they used to do in Weimar days? The answer, it seems, is that no one would read them. There is no public for this kind of literature; not in the West anyhow. In the East they hav. to read it, if they want to pass examinations or climb higher in the party hierarchy. No doubt most of them resent these chores, but for some of the intellectuals the mere fact of being taken seriously remains a point of attraction, even though they may spend their free time cursing the regime.
(These impressions were later confirmed in Frankfort and Heidelberg. The only serious critical study of Marxist theory available to West German students now is the two-volume symposium Marxismusstudie. published by a group of Protestant theologians on behalf of the Evangelical Academy. Some of the contributors are Socialists active in the SPD, but the SPD as such seems quite incapable of organizing an undertaking of this kind.)
Did West Berlin intellectuals occasionally meet their opposite numbers from across the boundary, I asked the same man? Again no. “We have nothing to say to each other.” No, there was no ban on discussions of this sort. It was unlikely that the Easterners would get into trouble, and certainly the Westerners were free to meet them. Why then was no attempt made? “Everything has already been said a hundred times, and we are tired of it. There is no point in going over it again. Besides, there is no real intellectual life in West Berlin itself, not even a café where people meet and talk, so what would be the use of trying to get up a discussion with the Easterners?” This was a surprise. In the old days Berlin’s café life was almost as well developed as Vienna’s. Now it seems the restaurants along the prosperous and neon-lighted Kurfürstendamm (almost restored to its rather dubious commercial splendor) are exclusively peopled by customers avid for whip-cream cake, Kitchen mit Schlagsahne. They look it.
Yet West Berlin has its Free University, founded in the heroic days of 1948 by dissident teachers and students from the Communist-controlled Humboldt University in the Eastern sector, and a third of its present enrollment is supplied by students who have crossed the boundary from East Berlin or East Germany to “seek freedom.” (The same proportion applies to the Technical High School, the Academy of Arts, the Musical Academy, the Institute of Political Science, and the various theological seminaries.) Last year these institutions totaled some 15,000 students (up from 6,420 in 1950). Some of their teachers are nationally known; others are beginning to make a reputation. The Institute of Political Science has sponsored the first major work in applied sociology to be published in postwar Germany, K. D. Bracher’s Auflösung der Weimarer Republi., a monumental study of the Republic’s decomposition in 1930-33. (It is typical of the Berlin bookshops that I had the greatest difficulty getting hold of it.) What becomes of all this highly specialized intellectual activity? Perhaps it is to. highly specialized. The students are said not to care greatly about political issues. Those who left “the Zone” (notwithstanding the quite considerable material help extended to students at Eastern universities) to brave the uncertain economic climate of the West, are fed up with politics and indoctrination, and only ask to be left in peace. For the rest, everyone seems agreed that the rather philistine atmosphere of the Federal Republic has finally got the better of Berlin’s native radicalism. One man even thought that West Berlin was becoming mor. provincial than West Germany (which is saying a lot), since in the West it was at least possible to participate in national politics, whereas Berlin was an island artificially kept alive by Federal subsidies. Since the Federal Republic gives the impression of trying to become a bigger and better Belgium, the prospect for Berlin is not exhilarating. Not that the Berliners seem to mind. The crowd along the Kuifürstendamm looks well fed and complacent, and if there are no longer any traces of elegance or distinction, there is no blatant misery either. Perhaps the intellectuals are alone in mourning the loss of Berlin’s former metropolitan status.
As we passed the scarred and blackened ruins of what was once the principal synagogue in East Berlin, the driver said in a toneless voice: “That’s where they used to bring the Jews before transporting them to the East.” None of us commented, and the subject was dropped.
“They” are responsible for so many things, and to the average Berliner these atrocities rank about level with wartime bombings and other events he would prefer to forget. Yet it is wrong to suppose that awareness of what happened to the Jews is confined to an elite. Most Germans know, more or less, what went on, and in Berlin at least the knowledge is kept alive, and occasionally sharpened, by public utterances, anniversaries, newspaper articles, and the performance of plays such as Anne Frank’s Diar. (which some survivors regard as a sentimental embellishment of the real horror, but over which a new generation of Germans can nightly be seen shedding copious tears).
The Germans know, but don’t want to be reminded. In Berlin one comes up against the additional complex created by Allied “saturation bombings,” Soviet destruction (material and moral), and the subsequent elevation of West Berlin to the status of an outpost deep inside Soviet territory. Berlin—which never gave the Nazis much support, and remained a center of opposition even at the peak of Hitler’s brief run of success—feels entitled to its good conscience. Its own ruins are so vast, and reconstruction absorbs so much energy, that it has little thought to spare for the victims of the Third Reich. The few thousand Jews on both sides of the boundary who have either survived or returned, are treated as fellow-sufferers. “We have all been through a lot and must be thankful to be alive,” sums up the general attitude.
The Iron Curtain runs through what is left of this pathetic community, but there are holes in it. The office of the institution which calls itself “Jüdische Gemeinde Gross-Berlin” but is in fact responsible only for the Eastern sector, is open to Western visitors who find their way to the Oranienburger Strasse. Herr Herbert Rosenberg, the chairman, and Herr Willy Bendix, the secretary, are glad to welcome anyone who can tell them what is happening on the other side of the line. They have 1,200 registered members, and they estimate that there are another 1,500 not registered in East Berlin, including a few people prominently identified with the East German regime. The distinction is not quite watertight; thus Arnold Zweig, the novelist, is registered, while Johannes R. Becher, Minister of Culture in the Ulbricht government, is not. But then Becher is an old party hack; he is also a poet—a very bad one. His works, including a three-volume treatise on literature, are now required reading throughout Eastern Germany. Perhaps it serves the Germans right.
Most of the surviving Jews are partners in mixed marriages, and the prevalent belief that the community will disappear within a generation seems well grounded. Its West Berlin counterpart is slightly larger, but otherwise displays similar characteristics. There is, however, a considerable disproportion between the total number of Jews in the Federal Republic—some 30,000—and the bare handful of 650 in East German centers other than Berlin. Oddly enough, the East Berlin “Jüdische Gemeinde” is allowed to broadcast religious services once a month for the benefit of these tiny, scattered communities in the hinterland. It is also claimed that ruined synagogues in Eastern Germany have been rebuilt by the authorities. This can hardly be more than a gesture intended to signify disapproval of Hider, for there is no evidence that Jews are returning from abroad to live in Eastern Germany, or coming in from Poland, as they used to do in pre-Hitler days. There are said to be 120,000 Jewish graves in the Weissensee cemetery of East Berlin alone. It seems improbable that their number will be greatly added to in future. Berlin Jewry is dying out. The handful who survived Hider are too few and too shattered to make a new start.
Berlin’s staleness mirrors the exhaustion of contemporary Germany. Never an attractive city, it has now lost the Prussian grimness which once made it repellently formidable. This sounds like an improvement; it is really a way of saying that the former Reich capital has become another of those big provincial cities which used to be characteristic of German life. Industry now has its center at Düsseldorf in the Ruhr; overseas trade is concentrated in Hamburg which has been completely rebuilt and is probably the most attractive city in postwar Germany; Frankfort, Cologne, and Munich are beginning to rival Zurich in modernity and in the ease with which urban amenities shade off into cultural experimentation. West Berlin, for all its energetic efforts to catch up in reconstruction—the old Hansa Quarter is being rebuilt on ultra-modern lines, with the help of experts ranging from Gropius to Le Corbusier—lags behind these West German cities; while East Berlin has become a slum, misgoverned by an administration which channels its few funds into showy and outlandish projects such as Stalin Allee. In addition, the two halves show a tendency to pull apart. What is left of both, even if they could be pieced together again, does not add up to a capital city.
Destruction did not end when the ancient monuments of Prussian architectural style crumbled into dust—and these monuments included some austerely elegant squares that would not have disgraced Stockholm. It went deeper, into the self-consciousness of a city which for generations rivaled Vienna as a political and intellectual center, and far surpassed it as a concentration of industrial power. No doubt it was a misfortune for Germany that unification took place under the leadership of Prussia, but while it lasted the country had a true capital city. Now the metropolis is gone, and it looks as if national unity has gone with it.
What is more, Berlin seems resigned to its new position. Its inhabitants are making the best of things as they are; the building boom is proof of it. So is the democratic ardor of the West Berlin city administration, which devotes to the construction of workers’ flats and municipal swimming pools the energy it cannot spare for national and international problems. Even the reputed excellence of the theater—we came at the wrong moment and saw nothing of it-suggests the sort of technical perfectionism which, at the other end of the economic scale, enables West German industry to outsell its rivals. The Germans always tended to regard hard work as a panacea for all ills; they are now making an even bigger fetish of it, precisely because in terms of their old aspirations there is nothing to work for.
The resulting combination of business activity and suburban complacency may be characteristically modern; it is at any rate very striking to anyone who grew up in the half-crazy Germany of the Weimar Republic, with its shaky political institutions, its millions of permanently unemployed, and its volcanic energies, soon to be perverted by the Hitler regime. Nothing could be either staler or stabler than the kind of society which one sees emerging in the modernistic suburbs of West Berlin, and a fortior. in their West German counterparts. The only trouble is that this intensely busy and increasingly prosperous society is placed a stone’s throw from the inter-zonal border which marks the outer edge of the Soviet empire. From where the tourists gape at the super-modern pavilions of the Interbau Exhibition in West Berlin one can see the Soviet flag flying over the Brandenburg Gate. The two worlds don’t mix, though traffic has become a bit easier. And the Germans, with the split running right through their former capital city, have quietly contracted out of the national and international roles which the 19th century briefly imposed upon them. They are relapsing into that dependence on stronger external powers which was their habitual pose before unification.
That is why Berlin is sinking into provincialism, as is the whole of Germany. The West German Bundeswehr— gum-shoeing about in rubber-soled substitutes for the old jackboot, its officers looking for all the world like cinema commissionaires—is the perfect symbol of the new dispensation. It is doubtless more democratic than the old Reichswehr. It is also better suited to a country which can no longer aspire to an independent role. But to gauge the full meaning of this belated conversion to realism one must have experienced the commonsensible mediocrity so marked in what was once the capital of a great and dangerous nation. It was not only the Third Reich that disappeared in 1945. It was the Germany that dominated Central Europe before Hitler came to ruin it. “Austria’s revenge for Sadowa,” said the Berlin wits when Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. At Sadowa (or Koeniggraetz) in 1866, Prussia made its victorious bid for leadership in Germany. The wits did not take the Austrian paper-hanger seriously. He would, they thought, break his teeth on the tough Prussian tradition of the North. They did not foresee that the experiment would cost Germany its old status in Europe, or Berlin its former position as the biggest concentration of power and wealth and intellect in Germany. In the new Berlin of 1957 one can see how drastically the country’s importance has shrunk; and how little cause the USSR has to fear even a reunited Germany. Whatever else Hitler may have failed to accomplish he certainly made an end of the old arrogant Prussia, and of the city that for a brief moment summed up the destructive energies of the age.