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Berlin: A Study For The 21st Century

After two decades of reunification, the meanings of "nationality" and "identity" are still subjects of debate in Berlin, Germany's reinstated capital. Matters much further from Berlin are being canvassed here; topics like the European Monetary Union vie with issues of national and local politics.

The collapse of the old left, the establishment of a new right and an increasing influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe are but a few of the issues that Germany (like the rest of Europe) and Berlin in particular -- is coming to terms with. Berlin has undergone great changes since the breakdown of the wall. This city mirrors the transition still in process; far from being unified, it resembles a patchwork of urban cultures reflected in various neighborhoods that make up the new Berlin.

Around Kortbusser Tor in Kreuzberg, a few radical leftist autonomes -- leftovers of the early '80s squat movement -- still sing their songs and maintain underground clubs and art scenes. This neighborhood

The old center of West Berlin, Charlottenburg, though struggling to maintain its status with department stores and international corporate culture, is fast becoming an almost-suburban quarter. Of the 23 city districts, these two represent a study in contrasts not unlike that between Mitte (Konzerthaus's district) and Pottsdamer Platz (where the Philharmonie is).

The place to be right now is Mitte, in what used to be the heart of East Berlin. If the government has its way, the restored Mitte will become what it used to be in the '20s-the brimming core of an entire lifestyle and a symbol of the new Germany--modern and confident. To this end, the whole of Potsdamer Platz (once a bombed out neighborhood that has been totally razed) is being rebuilt from the ground up. This is now the biggest construction site in Europe. Although not yet finished, it already hosts the European headquarters of a number of prestigious companies including Sony.

A few steps further west, near the seat of the German Parliament, efforts are being made to attract investors in the area around FriedrichstraBe, Berlin's equivalent to the Champs-Elysees. Currently many of the new office buildings are empty, just waiting for the affluent next generation to fill them.

Meanwhile, in the area of Kollwitzplatz, the new media and internet community suit-and-ties in their '20s and '30s are painting the town red. While still rooted in its past, Berlin is being refashioned into a model of a 21st century city. It might even give Dublin a run for its money!

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