I thought I would try something a little different this week given that the fall of the Berlin Wall will be remembered November 9. The 20th Anniversary will give rise to festive occasions both within Berlin and Germany in general, but it will also be a time for many other people internationally to think about the event. There have been many changes since the first time I went to Berlin in 1994, later moving there from Alberta, Canada in 2000. Here are some of my observations.
Berlin is unique. Much history has been written about Berlin and the Berlin Wall. I can walk within 10 blocks of where I live and experience a wealth of history displaying many parts of the changes over time in the city, many of them beginning in 1989. I‘ve spent a lot of time travelling Germany, entering museums and visiting historic sites to learn much about the country. My hard drives hold 2 terabytes of map images, pictures, objects and scenary taken around the country.
My wife often tells the story of the night the Berlin Wall fell. Many people simply did not believe it, though the rumours were circulating. Later, she would venture toward the Brandenburg Gate to check out the rumbling and whispers and find that it was true. We do have an original piece of the Berlin Wall. The opening was formally presented, although not loudly mentioned, and caught those in attendance off guard. It should be remembered that there were large peaceful marches in Leipzig to the south, prior to the Berlin Wall falling.
Although Berlin could be readily mapped from satellite, and likely was to a high degree; ground mapping in east Berlin was highly controlled and many maps were marked in irregular fashion for political or propaganda reasons. The subway system stopped at Friedrichstasse, although the line continued on to the west side of the city. In other parts of the city, the U-Bahn went from east-west-back east but did not stop at the west station — a rational agreement to share infrastructure had taken place.
As the wall fell, the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines opened. Indeed, today, at a cost of Euro 175,000 per meter, a new U-Bahn consisting of 3 stations runs from the Brandenburg Gate onward to the Reichstag and Berlin Hauptbahnhof . East Berlin has trams, west Berlin does not. That means the transportation, today, is much better in the east side of the city.
Many east Berlin buildings were heated with steam pipes that were centrally fed. You can still see these pipes in different places around the city, some still working. The smell of coal burning was everywhere when I first arrived, the air quality has improved now and the city of Berlin can boast about it‘s own Berlin Digital Environmental Atlas. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) was founded in east Berlin in 1992, although the DLR existed elsewhere before this time.
The Potsdam Institute is located in the former east German city of Potsdam and is an international institute involved in climate change, sustainable development, forestry and other geoscience areas. The city of Berlin has long been involved EUPOS and GNSS positioning and navigation and it can point to one of the most complete 3D City models in the world.
The fall of the Berlin Wall has meant many geospatial related projects involving the European Union, increased expenditure toward infrastructure development in transport, natural resources, GPS related activites and a unique orientation toward spatial data infrastructure (SDI), particularly along the borders of Germany where other countries are involved.
Berlin is in the middle of a wider celebration than 20 years since the wall fell. Admittedly, sometimes I wonder about the impressions western folks have about the former east Germany. A revival of east German art and culture is evident in Berlin. People are slowly beginning to realise that these people were living lives on a daily basis like anyone else — save for the political system. They celebrated birthdays, deaths, marriages and new baby‘s. They cooked, took holidays and visited the beach. I smiled as my wife told me of the night the wall fell, she decided to visit and see what it was like — then they went home and went to bed. How could that be I wondered. The answer was obvious, it was home.
The average Berliner knows about walls. They are etched in peoples minds in a multitude of ways. The building of walls in the Middle East and along the U.S. — Mexico border confound Berliner‘s. They have lived and worked through the experience of wall building and know what a wall truly means. I would even argue that the wall between Canada-US is higher today than it ought to be. One only has to experience the ease of movement throughout the EU to realise the freedom of transboundary walllessness.
In ten years I‘ve seen lots of geospatial activity in Berlin and other parts of Germany grow. To my mind there are few or no restrictions for practising geospatial activities across the country. Germany has a strong orientation toward exporting geotechnologies — which is not wholly surprising given that barriers to EU trade are decreasing, most people can speak or understand two or more languages and production capacity is supported. What I would really like to see is a program to trade students in geosciences between Germany and other parts of the world, more frequently.Also, the tax system does not favor individual entrepreneurs wanting to start a geospatial business — this can be hard for recent graduates.
If you ask me whether or not the fall of the Berlin Wall has impacted geospatial activity? I would say yes, significantly. The combination of east and west approaches brings a sense of aliveness. Although, I think it might be more appropriate, now, after 20 years to simply say — the world needs to evolve to a ‘one Germany’ concept and forgo the east-west line of thinking.
One map — one country — many people.
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Jeff Thurston is co-founder and editor of V1 Magazine and V1 Energy magazine and is based in Berlin.