Berlin Monuments Man

Maybe the day will come when the name Berlin is not associated with war. Maybe that's already happening for a younger generation, but for those at least as old as I am, the city's connection to the major conflicts of the last century in many ways defines it.

You don't have to be a student of history to have a passing familiarity with Berlin's role and importance in the run up to and conduct of World War II. The end of that war left the Soviets and Americans in a dangerously confrontational posture that lasted more than four decades, a small slice of which I personally witnessed. I look through my pictures of Berlin from time to time and they are all, of course, associated with the Cold War, at least in my mind. I remember being told more than once before getting to Berlin and while serving there that it was the center of counter espionage activity for the Soviets during the Cold War. Several months after leaving Berlin I learned of the arrest of a Warrant Officer who'd apparently been selling NATO secrets to a man who worked at the auto shop on Andrews and who was known as "Der Meister." I had a Fiat so, not surprisingly, I was in that shop far too often. And of course as the Cold War ended the world focused on events in Berlin, particularly the dismantling of the Wall. Even some of the city's landmarks that appear to have no association with the events of the 20th century are, on closer inspection, linked to one or more of them. For instance, the Schloss Charlottenburg, originally built in the 17th and 18th centuries, was so badly damaged during World War II that there was talk of demolishing it entirely. However, cooler heads prevailed and it was restored. Likewise, the Brandenburg Gate, a Berlin icon which was erected in the 18th century, was badly scarred during World War II and, for many years during the Cold War was inaccessible due to the presence of the Berlin Wall. 

I took in many of these sights during my three years in Berlin. The city's history and its unique status as an island of the West well behind the Iron Curtain colored my perceptions and experiences. And while someday the city's name may no longer conjure images of conflict, it is probably a good thing that Berlin cannot currently escape its history.    

The Brandenburg Gate circa 1984

The Brandenburg Gate circa 1984

The Schloss Charlottenburg circa 1984

The Schloss Charlottenburg circa 1984