Perspectives Header

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.