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Symbols and Shifts in East and West Berlin
The year 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a year later, Berlin celebrated the 20th year of German unity. In fact, most of today's young Berliners, both from East and West, are Einheitskinder, children of German reunification, and have no recollection of the troubled days of division. But even though the Wall may be gone, its consequences are still keenly felt by both sides.
Ask Berliners old enough to remember the days of the Wall, and a certain percentage of them, mostly "Ossies" (East Germans), may admit that they prefer their GDR lifestyle, a yearning known as Ostalgie ("nostalgia for the East"). Many West Germans remain resentful of the tax money poured into Berlin postreunification in order to get it back on its feet economically.
Meanwhile, that economy is still fumbling. Nearly 30 years living with the constant threat of Soviet invasion certainly had an effect on West Berlin, while the same amount of time behind the Iron Curtain meant that East Berliners found themselves confronting a world that had moved on without them. Unresolved problems such as high unemployment rates and overstretched city budgets are still worrying many, while wide-open spaces in the middle of the city serve as testaments to just how far Berlin's recovery still has to go.
In former times, Berlin may have protected the character of each Kiez, or neighborhood, but this had more to do with social reasons than East versus West. Now in many areas, such as Prenzlauer Berg and northern Mitte, two proud eastern districts, the former population has all but vanished: first affluent West Berlin families moved in, and then West German or foreign "invaders" took over leases. Today, luxury condos are popping up in popular residential areas in an effort to lure ever more wealthy buyers.
Still, the city embraces its future as an international center for avant-garde fashion, culture, art, and media, with a zeal rarely found in better-off cities. The next decade will see the German capital making some tough decisions: will it embrace its characterization as "poor but sexy," coined by flamboyant mayor Klaus Wowereit, or leave it squarely behind?
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