“I have mixed feelings and memories when I think about Berlin. The modern Berlin that I visited until recently is a vibrant metropolis for me with interesting people and a surprisingly large cultural diversity. I feel at ease there and enjoy it. The creativity is almost tangible everywhere. That is why it is so wonderful to walk along the Spree or enjoy the beautiful Unter den Linden. And let’s not forget the older part of Berlin, fortunately spared during the war. There, past and present merge in the colorful variety of shops, studios and cozy cafes in the old partly restored apartment buildings. I also feel at home there because it is part of that other period in my life, my more than three-year stay in “Berlin Hauptstadt der DDR.”
Because that was another Berlin where I arrived on a gloomy evening in January 1973. The atmosphere was gloomy, the population was slightly apathetic under the strict East German regime and large parts of the city were hopelessly neglected. Everywhere you could find traces of the devastating bombings from World War II, the rubble often deposited in ruins or on bare plains. Only parts of the city were rebuilt or partially restored. The atmosphere was further characterized, especially in winter, by a yellowish brown coal vapor that covered the city like a pale blanket. Especially in the evenings, this part of Berlin provided a stark contrast to West Berlin, which glowed in the distance like a promising and familiar beacon. That was why I increasingly undertook the somewhat laborious journey to West Berlin to experience warmth and cosiness and above all to realize what a great good freedom actually is.
I also have some friendships from that period overthere. Because even in East Berlin lived talented and interested people with an open mind and great curiosity about what was going on on the other side, in that unattainable West. Arguing with them was an adventure in itself. There I also got to know the area around Berlin better with its lakes and impressive forests.
Because many visitors do not always realize that Berlin is so much more than just the city center with its beautiful monuments. It is the warm beating heart of Germany with many interesting people, a fascinating history and above all great creativity and originality. That is also the Berlin to which I like to return to, because it is so inspiring.”
After this covid period, I hope that everything will return to the old atmosphere and cosiness, with many people on the move and with all the possibilities for challenging conversations about East and West.
Bernard (Ben) Bot
Bernard Bot is a Dutch administrator, former civil servant and former diplomat. Bot worked as an ambassador and top civil servant at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1973 and 2003. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs in cabinets Balkenende II and III from 2003 to 2007. Bot was chairman of the Clingendael Institute from 2007 to 2015. He is a director and lobbyist. In 1964 he became second embassy secretary at the permanent representation of the Netherlands to the European Community in Brussels. From 1973 to 1976, he was the first Dutch ambassador to East Berlin. He was Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO from 1982 to 1986, Ambassador to Ankara from 1986 to 1988, and Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1989 to 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Bot was the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the European Union In Brussels. On December 3, 2003, Bot succeeded Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as Minister of Foreign Affairs.