Keep you and your children safe. Find the latest Product Recalls here.

BEWARE OF THE DEADLY TOXINS IN YOUR HOME - What you don't know about many common household products

Monday, April 27, 2009

Berlin Continues to Party 20 Years after the fall of the BERLIN WALL

On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, an East German Communist Party official announced on live television that the rules barring East Germans from traveling to the West had been lifted. Hundreds of thousands of East and West Berliners rushed to the Berlin Wall and partied until dawn, turning the city's terror-filled inner border into a giant open-air nightclub.

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Jan. 1, 2009 in Vienna. Set to conduct a concert to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Daniel Barenboim on music and Germany.
The party, by some measures, has never stopped. In less than a generation, Berlin has evolved from austere oddity into one of the world's cultural hotspots, with nightlife and a gallery scene many consider the best in Europe. The Berlin Wall, once a symbol of a divided city, is now remembered as a symbol of reconciliation. Germans will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Wall's collapse -- which ushered in what East German dissident Marianne Birthler calls Germany's "peaceful revolution" -- with months of events ranging from small neighborhood art exhibits to street performances by giant puppets. The festivities culminate on Nov. 9, when Daniel Barenboim leads the Berlin State Opera Chorus and Orchestra in a concert including Wagner and Schoenberg at the Brandenburg Gate, and a 2-kilometer-long chain of oversize dominoes symbolically re-enacts the Wall's collapse.

"I'm not German but I am a Berliner," says the Argentine-born Mr. Barenboim, who holds Israeli citizenship; he was named honorary chief conductor for life of the historic opera orchestra in 2000. Berlin "is really one of the most fascinating cities in the world, if for no other reason than that it is in the process of being made."

The mood is serious as well as celebratory, as Germans reflect on their recent history. The first major event comes next month; "History Forum 1989/2009" is a weekend of public discussions, exhibitions and theater performances. "If you want peace, you need to know the truth," says Ms. Birthler, now head of the German federal commission overseeing the vast archives of the Stasi, the former East German secret police.

Nearly every major cultural institution here is planning something. Starting in the fall, members of the Berlin Philharmonic will perform a series of concerts with members of East Berlin's Konzerthaus Orchestra, including the world premiere of a work by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer who has lived in Berlin since the early 1980s.

Perhaps nothing says more about Berlin's transformation than its rise as a contemporary art capital. In the immediate aftermath of the wall's collapse, artists flocked here for the cheap rent and studio space. Today, Berlin is home to thousands of working artists, including the Danish installation artist Olafur Eliasson and British multimedia artist Tacita Dean; its gallery scene is humming despite the economic downturn. Photographer Thomas Demand, a native Bavarian who has lived in Berlin since 1993, recalls that in the years right after the Wall came down, "it seemed that the city was yours, that it was in your hands." In September, he will have his first major museum show in Berlin at the New National Gallery, the 1968 Mies van der Rohe pavilion built in the shadow of the Wall. The exhibition will bring together new and old work, and feature texts by Botho Strauss, a German playwright known for his post-1989 works on German identity.

After decades in which the Bauhaus legacy was split between West Berlin and East Germany, the exhibit "Bauhaus Model," set to open at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in July, will celebrate the 20th century's most important design movement in a way that would have been unimaginable before 1989. After Oct. 4, the exhibit moves to the Museum of Modern Art, in New York.

For East Berliners, food was by no means the least of the revelations after the Wall collapsed. Very few had ever tasted some of the street food that was available in West Berlin for decades, such as Döner Kebab, spit-roasted meat and salad placed inside Turkish-style white bread. "I was really shocked by the masses of people," says Saim Aygün, who was working at his family restaurant, Hasir, the night of Nov. 9, when hundreds of people flooded in, all wanting to try their first Döner. "The East Germans themselves were also shocked," he says, recalling that they had to learn how to eat it. "Currywurst," a sausage doused in curry-laced ketchup, was popular in both East and West Berlin.

The city is still in the midst of a building spree. One of the most admired projects is the renovated Neues Museum, which will house Berlin's esteemed Egyptian collections, including its famous 3,500-year-old bust of Nefertiti, when it opens Oct. 16. Once a symbol of Prussian humanism, the mid-19th century building, on Museum Island in the center of old East Berlin, was in ruins after World War II. London architect David Chipperfield designed the rehabilitation, which retains traces of the building's 19th-century decoration and 20th-century war damage.

After the first months of excitement in 1989 and 1990, many East Germans came to a realization that not everything was better in the West. "It took me a while to realize that East Berlin was the more interesting part of the city," says writer Thomas Brussig. This was especially clear as Berlin regained its place as the capital of German-language theater. The city has five full-time repertory theaters, four of them in the former East Berlin and each one trying to outdo the others with innovative productions. Klaus Biesenbach, the influential West German curator who helped put Berlin on the international art map and who now is chief curator of the department of media at MoMA, says his advice is to "go and enjoy Berlin theater, even if you don't speak German."

In October, the French theater company Royal de Luxe will stage a fairy tale about German unification using puppets up to 43 feet tall. The performances are set to take place free of charge at sites around Berlin including the Brandenburg Gate and the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's giant new train station. On the Nov. 9 anniversary, after the concert at the Brandenburg Gate, a giant street party is planned.

Visitors who want to experience the darker side of East German history can visit an information center on Mauerstrasse, not far from the Brandenburg Gate, which documents and explains the methods the former Stasi police force used to monitor and intimidate East Germans. The DDR Museum, in a bunker-like space along the Spree River, depicts ordinary East German life, such as a real Trabant, the East German auto, countering nostalgia with information about the oppressive aspects of life under Communism.

Ms. Birthler, the former dissident, has high hopes for what can be accomplished in Berlin's anniversary year. "East Germans aren't yet proud of this revolution," she says, noting that some still resent what they call the "elbow society" of Germans from the West. She hopes all will begin to see the events of 1989 as "part of their own history."

Four decades of East German dictatorship damaged but didn't destroy the city, she adds. "I still recognize my old Berlin. It's still there."

No comments: