I grew up in Berlin. When I was 5 we moved from the Baltic Sea Area to Berlin, a lot of people did at that time because you could find good work in Berlin, so my parents went there too. First we lived in Lichtenberg, on Nöldnerplatz in East Berlin, in a very old and cold apartment where my father had to go and get coal from the cellar every day in 1984. My parents soon were done with this and after a year they moved to the newly builded flats on the outskirts of the city, in Marzahn. Central heating and hot water without a boiler – it was not big either and actually very ugly outside, but as a child I was completely fine with it.
Later we also lived in a house outside the city, in the woods, but I stayed at school in Lichtenberg and therefore went back and forth with the S-Bahn for years. When I was 19 I left for the Netherlands, to find love and to studie. And in 2012 I came back to my hometown to work and live with my family for a few years. That turned out to be 8.5 years in Berlin (Rummelsburg), also very nice years in which I got to know the city again and in a very different way. (In the meantime I have just moved back to the Netherlands, but I always keep coming to Berlin, because my parents and my grandmother and grandfather lived there, and also a lot of friends).
I already got to know Berlin as a small child. Even though memories at that age are not very clear, I was used to the city from a young age and then it gets into your genes. From an early age I was used to travel everywhere by public transport very independently: by bus, by tram, with the S and U-Bahn. As a result, it was always a big city for me, but one in which I could orientate myself very well. In my memory it is a gray city and when I see photos from the 80s,that is completely correct. Always a bit broken, always a bit unfinished – the city was of course very new and still developing in Marzahn as well. Only now is it very green, for example.
In the years that I was not there, I have seen the city change remotely during all my visits to my parents. In big steps. I still know the Potsdamer Platz without buildings (and have been amazed to see the construction of the SonyCenter and all associated buildings). Every time I entered by train again, something had changed.
I also know the Hauptbahnhof as a simple small Lehrter Bahnhof, with one platform. Just like Ostkreuz has also changed enormously in recent years. The original station has almost disappeared. All government buildings have been built, huge structures along the river Spree have been added, including around the Media-spree along the Ostbahnhof. I still know the Palast der Republik, even the Stadtschloss has already been completed. It’s all been happening at a tremendous pace actually.
That also brought a lot of excitement and especially many people to Berlin. I felt that this gave the city a lot more image, in the Netherlands people increasingly thought it was fantastic when I said that I was from Berlin. In the 90s it was mostly boring to me (although that is my own interpretation, I rarely walked through clubs and I think they were in their heyday at the time) 🙂
I remember the fall of the wall, of course. I was 10. We lived far from the wall in Marzahn, but my mother worked next to the Invalidenstrasse. We didn’t go there right away on November 9, but crossed the border two days later to check out the shops in West Berlin, pick up our greeting money, and visit some relatives. The real impact for me came later, because for me the school system changed too and so I became part of the first teen generation that grew up in the “new era”. Knowing that I still consciously experienced the GDR, that always made it special for me and therefore always belongs to the city for me. It can change so much, that old Berlin of my youth is also in me forever.
My parents already saw in the 80s that the GDR would no longer be able to keep it up for too long. There were more protests and it also deteriorated economically. They were always aware that a lot of propaganda was being used and were critical of the state (even though they wisely kept it to themselves). The idealism of the socialist state began to diminish somewhat, creating a little more space. In East Berlin you could also watch West German TV and listen to the radio, so we were always aware of what could be and what you could buy, for example if there is more freedom. My parents were always happy that the countries were reunited, even though the East Germans were heard far too little in it. For many, it felt more like an annexation, not a full-fledged reunion. That all companies immediately ceased to exist and were bought up, for example – my parents disagreed.
Nor with the West German arrogance just after the “Wende” with which the West German company bosses pretended that East Germans would not understand at all. They were barely appreciated – and many older East Germans still suffer from that. The new generation now has more self-awareness.
In my second period from 2012 to 2020, the city especially surprised me – sometimes positive (the quality of life and all those things that you can do so well and cheaply with your children) and sometimes also negative (the unfriendliness, traffic and administration ).
You may ask yourself whether East and West Germany are able to close the gap after more than 30 years. On the one hand, certainly: so many people have come to live in the city from outside that it almost goes without saying. Berlin has become very international, but it can also still be enormously provincial in the neighborhoods. Certainly with regard to the administration and administration of the city – almost all of this is overdue and slow and is difficult to get going. This also applies to the people who have lived all their lives on the east or west side – they still have little contact with each other. East continues to live in East and West in West. But because of all the newcomers also from other parts of Germany, it keeps the city in great balance and exactly those kinds of issues are becoming less and less important. The older generations sometimes still have old sentiments and prejudices. And that sometimes has its charms.
Ulrike Nagel (www.ulrikenagel.nl)
Ulrike Nagel was a freelance journalist, camerawoman, video editor and Germany correspondent in Berlin for eight years. She was born in 1979 in Greifswald, then GDR. From the age of 5 she grew up in East Berlin. She consciously experienced the fall of the wall in 1989 as a 10-year-old. Since the beginning of this year she works and lives in the Netherlands again and is a reporter and editor for RTV Utrecht.