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I have been working in the past two months in some archives, here and in Berlin. I used to visit Berlin frquently during the Cold War, and like most outsiders felt that it had an air of tension and conspiracy. Travelling to the east was always a depressing experience and I still remember the taste of the air, a product of the sulphur laden smoke from the brown coal burned in power stations and the cheap petrol that fuelled the Trabant cars. After a couple of days I would develop a sore throat and a niggling cough.
I traveled on a train from Leipzig to Berlin in the days before the wall collapsed. It was literally rammed full of East Germans, making the journey to West Berlin to get their Deutchsmarks, buy bananas and visit Beate Uhse porn shops. And I do mean rammed. It took me almost half an hour to force my way through a carriage to a toilet. From what I remember the West Germans did not exactly welcome their long seperated brethren with open arms. In fact their distaste for the new arrivals was obvious. Even now I still occasionaly hear people remark about “Ossies”, as the East Germans were called.
Modern Berlin seems to me slightly flat. Its far less crowded than London or New York, and it feels like a suit made for someone slighty bigger. It has lived through forty years of economic stagnation , and it still hasn’t made up for it. Also the shabby little bars, and local restaurants that I used to hang out in have been swept away in the first flush of gentrification. But there are still some neighbourhoods that have barely changed, and here, as I walk across the cobbles I feel something of the old Berlin. And the slow pedantic way of proceeding that was an art form developed by some officials also hasn’t changed.