Twenty years on and I'm back at Potsdamer Platz with my camera, taking pictures of the Berlin Wall. It's October 2005, and I've been here an hour, and I still can't orientate myself with my memories of the place in the old days, so much has it changed. Slabs of the wall have been set up here on display, interspersed with panels explaining their history, and people are reverently inspecting them, almost as if they were holy relics. Unfortunately, I can tell that as with the medieval holy relics, 'splinters of the true cross', 'the shinbone of St. Peter' etc, these slabs could well be fakes. Certainly the graffiti is fake, because it is on the inside of the slabs, the side that was facing the death strip when the wall was in operation. You can tell this by the 'foot' of the wall, which was buried under the sand of the no man's land, where any graffiti painter would have been shot on sight, even if he could get there!
I don't know what to think about the new Potsdamer Platz, but it is certainly an interesting place. They have tried to integrate history into the buildings, and also it seems to be a fashionable place, as the pop star Robbie Williams is staying at a neighbouring hotel at the moment, the 'Ritz Carlton', and a line of paparazzi photographers are standing outside to try and catch a shot of him. Rooms there start at more than 200 euros, and Robbie plus his entourage occupy several floors.
The Sony Centre is the main showplace of the new development, with a roofed-over area containing a Film Museum, dedicated to the films made in Berlin at the studios out near Potsdam at Babelsberg. There's a cafe called 'Josty', which is named after a cafe that was here before the war, and also wood panels and architectural features from the ground floor interior of the nearby Esplanade hotel, which only just survived the second world war bombs, these features being inserted, rather strangely, on the outside of part of the Sony building.
Talking of these buildings; the Sony Centre, the Ritz Carlton, and the others, there is something a bit strange about them. From a distance they look like the collection of skyscrapers you see at the centre of many a big metropolis, London, Los Angeles, Frankfurt. But get up close, and you realize they are really rather small compared with the ones in those other cities. They are 'mini-skyscrapers'. You can tell it from the scale of the cars next to them, that the footprint of the buildings, the ground that they cover, is hardly any bigger than that of a suburban house! Maybe it's just part of that Film Museum, and this is all a scaled-down stage set! I spoke in the earlier essay about Potsdamer Platz before the war living under false pretences, well it looks like it's still doing it! I think this place has a curse on it.
Coming out of the Sony Centre and turning left on Ebert Strasse, you are confronted with that curse made solid in no uncertain terms, in the shape of the holocaust memorial, which is the most effective memorial to those terrible happenings that I have ever seen. Covering an area the size of a field, on a site that once was at the centre of the Nazi regime, the tomb-like stones stretch out in hundreds before me. I walk in amongst them, and the path goes downhill, and soon the stones are towering above me. It's an overwhelming experience, and somehow so right. You couldn't just rebuild the city here, cafes and shops and hotels, without recognizing what went on here. It must have been a problem, working out what to do in this place. But I think, after all, they've done it as well as they could. Maybe I'll stop teasing Potsdamer Platz about its pretensions from now on. But one thing's for sure, the ghosts are still here, I can feel them all around. This memorial is like a cry of pain that will last forever. But now I'm moving on. There's a lot more to see in the Berlin of 2005.