Unlike Tucson, Berlin is improving areas at a frenetic pace
I’m just back from Berlin, where Tempelhof Airport, famed for the 1948 Berlin Airlift, closed forever during my two-week stay, and a new, swank commercial and office complex called Upper East Side Berlin opened at a prime intersection: Unter den Linden and Friedrich Strasse.
Tucson has an empty lot where the Thrifty Block used to stand; a concrete plug where a second UniSource Tower was never built; and big holes in the ground on the West Side where no money is at hand yet to build a series of museums.
No other city on the planet has undergone nonstop phenomenal change for at least 75 years as has Berlin. If you haven’t been to Berlin in one month, chances are something big happened in the meantime.
A month before I arrived, the 17,000-seat O2 World Arena opened just beyond the longest remaining fragment of the Berlin Wall.
Even now, a decade after the prime building boom to merge West Berlin and East Berlin, cranes rise all over the place. Out the front door of my hotel, four cranes stood at a distance; out the window in the opposite direction was another crane; and down the street a loft project was under construction.
The Berliners are in the last stages of dismantling the gaudy glass 1976 Palace of the Republic and will rebuild the former royal palace at the same location for about $700 million (552 million Euros). I shot pictures of the eight remaining concrete elevator/stairway towers. That scar to the landscape should be gone by the end of the year.
Last time I was in Berlin in 2005, an empty lot sat just south of the Brandenburg Gate. Today, the new U.S. embassy sits there. Three years ago, there was no central train station in Berlin and today there is.
If I were to go to Berlin again in a few years, I know I’d be landing at a new international airport and the Neues Museum on Museum Island will be open and a new subway line will be in place.
If you haven’t been to Tucson in 20 years, you would hardly notice any change in the central core. In a few years, there may be museums and a mission on the West Side and a street may run through downtown, but funding still is not nailed down for any of that.
Berlin is a unique city: a former imperial seat; a former dictatorial center; a former fractured city; and today a cosmopolitan city of the first order.
Just 20 years ago, East Berlin and West Berlin were two very different cities on either side of a 11.5-foot wall. Today, you can never sense if you’re crossing from former East to former West because the Germans have diligently worked to upgrade the former East Berlin to match the West side.
Berlin’s 75-year quest is part circumstance (obliteration in World War II and subsequent East-West dissension) but equally Germanic pride to do more and, apparently, never settle for just what’s there now.
My Berlin sojourn was a reminder – one I get any time I travel just about anywhere – that other places have an attitude in place that there are always ways to make a city better, and there is not the inbred fear to spend money to achieve substantial results.
Teya Vitu covers downtown for the Tucson Citizen. He was in Berlin from Oct. 19 to Nov. 2. Tempelhof Airport closed on Oct. 30.