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With Wall Toppled, Berlin Rebuilds

Plans to fill the former `death strip' and create new government offices and mass transit are turning the city into Europe's largest construction site.

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A VISITOR returning here for the first time since the Berlin Wall came down has a moment of recognition on the S-Bahn, the elevated railway, while heading from Zoo Station east into the city center. As the train rumbles along, one suddenly notices a wide open strip.

"Isn't that unusual - a big vacant lot right in the middle of the city?" one thinks, and then the realization dawns: This is where the hated Wall used to be. Only a few years ago we would have had to stop, show passports, pay in hard currency to cross into the east.

The irony has been even sweeter over the past several weeks because of a splendidly tacky American circus ("Smash hit! Held over!") set up on the site of the former "death strip," where the hated VoPos - People's Police - once patrolled with their guns and their binoculars.

But this part of Berlin, the Potsdamer Platz, just east of the wall along the main east-west axis of the city, is of keen interest now to more than just children looking for the excitement of three rings under a big top. Before the war, locals took pride in this square as the busiest intersection in Europe. Now that it is going to be rebuilt, it has been the focus of attention of architects from around the world as they have competed for the right to design the new Potsdamer Platz.

The German-born American architect Helmut Jahn has just won a competition for the new complex that Sony is building there. Renzo Piano, known for his futuristic Centre Pompidou in Paris, has just won a competition for design of the new Daimler-Benz complex.

Not far away, at the Friedrichstrasse railway station area, the cornerstone has just been laid for another complex of three new major buildings. Philip Johnson, another world-class architect, has been awarded the commission for the new American Business Center to be built at Checkpoint Charlie, once a major crossover point between eastern and western sectors of the city. The reconstruction is also to include a Berlin Wall memorial.

It is not only the old eastern sector of the city that is making Berlin "the biggest construction site in Europe" after 1993, as Mayor Eberhard Diepgen put it recently. On the western side of the Brandenburg Gate and the old wall, the plan to refurbish the Reichstag, the old prewar parliament, for use by the Bundestag, and to relocate the chancellor's office and three or four ministries from Bonn is yielding another bonanza for architects. Central city crossings

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