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West Berlin: shared moments and reminders of the past

Perhaps Berlin never was a very Prussian city. Brandenburg isn't really Prussia. And so many Silesians and even French Huguenots streamed here in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that very few Berliners were ever natives of that town. All of that aura which Berlin acquired as the capital of a noble ruling Prussia was never totally convincing to anyone who strolled its teeming back streets.

Now West Berlin is less Prussian -- and less of a city -- than ever. The metropolis's Prussian heart all went to the east in the postwar division and has been preserved there: Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate, Hitler's bunker, the army goose step.

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West Berlin was left with the less glamorous but some of the most individualistic parts of the city; with the old factory and workers district of Kreuzberg and its maze of inner courtyards off inner courtyards; with the characterless commercial district of Kurfurstendamm; with the farmyards and manure heaps of Spandau; with the Havel River lakes and Krumme Lanke on the city's generous 185 square miles of territory; with flat, sandy terrain whose only hills are grassed-over mounds of 100 million cubic yards of war rubble; with the bullet-pocked walls of Schoneberg.

A very few of the famous landmarks did come to West Berlin, of course. The Charlottenburg Palace and gardens are splendid specimens of Prussian Baroque.

For the most part, though, the city is sprawl rather than grandeur. It's a restless democratic sprawl that perhaps vexes the old-timers who remember past glory. In West Berlin the Turks have what is perhaps their largest enclave outside Turkey proper. In West Berlin the youth counterculture is at its strongest of any place in West Germany, with its communes, semiunderground newspapers, and lately, squatters' riots.

Here a hang glider soars off of the artificial hill of Teufelsberg. There a Turkish street cleaner feuds daily with a shopkeeper who parks his car illegally in front of his shop -- by dumping trash in the nearby city bin so enthusiastically that the wind blows abundant dirt onto the car. In the other place the grandmothers of Kreuzberg chat across their balconies, or take their grandchildren out for walks in the abundant parks. Everywhere, just about, people are reminded constantly of the arbitrary division of their city by the ugly East German wall that prevents East Berliners from escaping.

Amorphous West Berlin may be. Eclectic. Provincial, even, in its collection of separate villages that somehow never blended together very much. But that's its charm. It has never quite entered the age of urban homogeneity. West Berlin stubbornly remains itself. Or, rather, its various selves.

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