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France’s German Mirror

BERLIN – Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which still greets most of the passengers arriving in the capital of Europe’s leading economic power, is outdated and provincial. The opening of Schönefeld Airport, transformed into an international hub, has been delayed for more than a year for technical reasons (a somewhat reassuring challenge to Germany’s reputation for efficiency). Yet, despite the gray and chill of March in Central Europe, Berlin exudes confidence. More than ever, the city is a work in progress – confused, not very beautiful, and overcharged with history.

Berlin is a construction site that has managed to transform its multiple pasts into positive energy. “Diversity destroyed: Berlin 1933-1938” is the unifying theme of a series of exhibits marking the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power and the 75th of the Pogromnacht.  At the Deutsches Historisches Museum on Unter den Linden, entire classes of young pupils and students flock to see the exhibit’s evocation of destruction by a criminal regime whose objects, from loudspeakers to uniforms and weapons, are displayed in an educational manner.

Young Berliners cannot ignore where they come from. Yet, perhaps because the past still rings like a warning – and is still physically visible in the topography and architecture of the city today – Berlin is striking in its simplicity, its radiant modernity (symbolized by the glass dome of the Reichstag, a conception of the British architect Norman Foster), and, above all, its intensity.

That positive energy contrasts starkly with the decadent beauty of Paris, a city that is on a path of “museification.” Of course, if you can afford to live there, Paris remains a great place to be. But Berlin is a better place to work, even if what you do is very poorly paid. The porter who brings my luggage to my hotel room is of Tunisian origin. He is a happy Berliner and a proud new German. And, even on a low salary, he can live and raise his children in the city itself.