In the center of Marx-Engels-Platz, which runs along the Spree canal in the heart of East Berlin, there is a larger-than-life statue of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of socialism. It used to be considered a showpiece of East German culture. Today, it is looked on as somewhat of an embarrassment.
"The name of the square will be changed back to Schlossplatz," Irena, an East-German native, told us. "I think the statue will have to be moved, but I don't know where they'll put it."Deciding what to do with an out-of-favor statue obviously will be far down on the list of concerns for the new united German government. But the discussion is symbolic of the changes taking place these days in Eastern Europe. (Hungary, in fact, has proposed setting up a public park for all the suddenly unwanted Lenin statues, thinking it might be a tourist draw.)
When we visited Berlin in mid-September, still two weeks away from the pending unification, the contrasts between East and West were still marked enough to be significant, but change was already hurtling along.
East Berlin, incorporating what was the heart of the old capital, is liberally decorated with heirloom buildings, restored to their prewar glory. Modern additions, such as the copper-glassed Palace of the Republic and the ultra-modern television tower, reflect the feeling that this, more than any other of the Eastern European cities, was to be a showcase of socialist culture.
Unter den Linden, the city's main boulevard, is a lovely stretch of tree-lined avenue - almost a complete opposite of the fast-paced melange of shops and shoppers along Kurfurstendamm, the major street in West Berlin.
But the differences between the two halves of the city are shrinking.
Two days ago that building was such-and-such, we were told; yesterday this one was renamed. Large, empty circles of darker-hued concrete show where East German insignia have been taken down from the faces of some ex-government buildings. The West German flag was already flying over others.
Checkpoint Charlie, where visitors used to spend hours awaiting clearance to cross, is now a huddle of empty buildings; cars and buses drive straight through. Trains, subways no longer stop at the borders.
And, the wall. Of all the symbols of change, this one stands paramount. The wall once divided a city, once divided ideologies. "But worse than that," one young German told us, "it divided families."
Much of the wall came crumbling down last November. Of that time, German writer Rainer Hildebrandt noted:
"What seemed to be possible only in the dreams happened overnight. Nowhere and never before was it said so often, `This is absolutely crazy!' Crying people everywhere. Their happiness reached the pain limit. Others cried when remember"What seemed to be possible only in the dreams happened overnight. Nowhere and never before was it said so often, `This is absolutely crazy!' "ing their relatives. Too many had to jump into the ditch to enable others to pass over it now."
The chunks that remain are a vivid reminder of what once was. On the western side, enterprising street vendors sell pieces of the concrete. For sale, too, are surplus Army hats and insignia. Ironically, factories are pouring out goods at a tremendous rate - not to equip soldiers, but to sell to tourists.
On the eastern side, a stretch of the wall that still stands has been turned into an art gallery - brightly colored panels with subtle political messages: ex-communist leader Honecker standing on a pile of rubble, Soviet President Gorbachev driving through a drawbridge, a West German flag.
But as impressive as these tangible signs of change are, there are equally important intangible ones.
"You can feel the difference," said Irena. "And it feels so good.
"You can't know," she said. "If you have never lived under a dictator, you can't know what it is like to have that gone."
No one expects the unification to be particularly easy. Both East Germans and West Germans we talked to acknowledged there are challenges ahead: the economy, unemployment, meshing cultures. It will be years, they say, before Germany is truly one.
But we also got the feeling that for the East Germans, particularly, it will be a long time before even the simplest of life's pleasures is ever taken for granted - even being able to drive unimpeded from one end of the city to the other.