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Berlin: a Monument to Optimism

Posted by Natalie in Places - 11 March 2011

In Berlin, former symbols of oppression and paranoia have been transformed into communal green spaces for everyone to enjoy.

To have faced up to a recent history as troubled and elaborate as Berlin’s is testament to the resilience of its people. To approach the issue with understanding and even optimism is characteristic of its soul, and must be one of the reasons why it’s everyone’s favourite city.

Tempelhof  airport was built in 1927 and reconstructed in 1934 by the Nazis, who intended it to become the gateway to Europe and a symbol of Hitler’s “world capital”, Germania. Later, it was famously used  as the main entrance into west Berlin after the wall was erected, and remained a cause of tension until the end of the Cold War.

Today, Tempelhof is a peaceful oasis of recreation, enveloped by the hubub of Germany’s capital.  The airport is incredibly centrally located for such an immense structure, straddling the border of Neuköln and Schöneberg and only a few minutes from the city centre by taxi or public transport.  It officially closed in 2008 and soon after opened to the public, who’ve been enjoying it’s enormous, green grounds to picnic, sunbathe and frolick ever since. The tarmaced runways that once served conflict now provide the perfect track for cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers and their dogs.

A more rural excursion with an even more extraordinary history is Teufelsberg  (German for Devil’s Mountain). Located in Grunewald, a western suburb, it’s actually more of a hill, rising a conspicuous 80 metres from its supine surroundings.   After the Second World War, Berlin was mostly rubble; the debris was piled up as the city was rebuilt.  Underneath Teufelsberg lies a Nazi military-technical college – the story goes that the allies tried to demolish the school, but it was so impenetrable that burying it turned out to be easier.

Visiting Teufelsberg today, it’s easy to forget that it’s an artificial structure. Covered in forest and grass, it’s popular year round with daytrippers enjoying the environment, and even the odd snowboarder in winter.  Atop the hill  is a large listening station that was built in the 50s to spy on the Soviet east. Now, long abandoned, the dilapidated geodome structure stands eerily on the horizon as a silent but powerful reminder of what lies beneath.

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