I visited the DDR (also known as East Germany) in the summer of 1990 – just three months before that unhappy country ceased to exist. After retiring in mid-September, my wife and I decided that East Germany was an ideal place for a late summer vacation. It wasn’t—the weather was cool and rainy. Nevertheless, the trip was still educational, and even enjoyable at times.

In the 1990s, I was struck by the gray and gritty look of East Berlin. The buildings were still marked with bullet holes from World War II. The city I visited (Dresden) was still partly in ruins. It was sad to see the senseless destruction to its beautiful Baroque buildings, especially as the war ended in February 1945.

I am happy to report that both cities have been rebuilt. We arrived at a beautiful (and long-delayed) new Berlin airport that opened in 2020, and our hotel was right next to a brand new subway line that opened the same year. You can’t imagine a big contrast with the subways in New York – there was no graffiti in the attractively designed stations. The central part of the line has three new stations and costs approx 550 million euross. In NYC, a similar recent project cost 4 billion euros.

Overall, the scale of change in central Berlin since the 1990s is stunning (especially in the east and in the Wall area), more comparable to a Chinese city than to an older European capital. I can’t imagine why some East Berliners still vote for the newly renamed Communist Party (now called the Left Party.) Berlin is a textbook illustration of the superiority of capitalism over communism. (Yes, part of the cost was borne by German taxpayers, but what economic system allowed West Germany the resources to rebuild the previously failed communist experiment?)

Countries that unified relatively late, such as Germany and Italy, have smaller national capitals than countries with longer successive histories, such as Britain and France. What I love most about Berlin is its modesty. I remember that Berlin is the only capital city in the world that is poorer than the country it governs. (Is that still true?) I suspect that the ratio of a capital city’s per capita income to the country’s per capita income is a fairly decent indicator of corruption. Let’s hope Berlin stays polite. It has a wonderful blend of modern and traditional architecture and a Great new museum.

Dresden is one of my favorite European cities, full of fascinating museums. We spent 2 1/2 days there, but could have easily spent twice as long.

This was our subway stop in Berlin:

And here’s another station’s star roof:

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