The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to mark its six decades of establishing peace and democracy in Europe. Whereas up until World War II there'd been a major European war every 30 years or so, peace and cooperation have reigned since. Even with the Union facing a terrible economic crisis, and with protests raging in Greece, the response by Angela Merkel, leader of Europe's most powerful economic power, is to pay a visit to Athens with warm personal greetings. Not tanks.
I recently spent six days or so in Berlin. While Germany's capital has many beautiful buildings and other grand sites, a visit here puts one in a swirl not of many centuries of colorful history, as happens in other major European cities, but of often grim, sometimes still raw, but equally fascinating modern history.
My arrival in Berlin came by way of a subway-and-bus ride from Tegel Airport followed by a confused half-hour of wandering around Potsdamer Platz wheeling my luggage over miniature cobblestones, looking for the hotel. My wife had arrived several days earlier for some business meetings and we were going to continue the trip together as a vacation; for the first few nights we'd stay where she was already ensconced, at a hotel in Potsdamer Platz.
Potsdamer Platz was the ruined wasteland the old man shuffled through in the movie Wings of Desire. It's amazing what has happened to the place, and to the rest of Berlin, in the decades since Wim Wenders's 1987 film. The neighborhood around the sprawling plaza is forested with shiny new office buildings and corporate complexes like the Sony Center. Wide boulevards feature bike paths on which cyclists ride (and, to the shock of this New Yorker, observe the traffic rules). And cranes, cranes everywhere. The entire city looks like it's under construction.