Berlin is still – or rather again – a young capital. After all, Berlin was a young capital even before 1945, when the city was reduced to rubble together with the barbaric Hitler regime. It did not become the capital of the Reich until 1871; it rapidly grew into a major city during the enormous boom of the ensuing Gründerjahre, or Founder Years; and it has repeatedly been marked and moulded by sudden twists of history. The cultural heyday of the Gründerjahre, the time of the poet Theodor Fontane – anyone who wants to imagine what it was like needs only to stroll along Potsdamer Strasse or look at the theatre at Gendarmenmarkt. Although no plays have been put on here for a long time, whenever the Golden Camera is awarded here, the building exudes the kind of splendour which in Fontane’s time – then with Prussian modesty – formed the basis for a wedding of German theatrical culture.
Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, one of Berlin’s leading theatres, resided at Schiffbauerdamm, right in the middle of the divided city; it remains a very lively theatre that is not afraid of provocation. The „Threepenny Opera“ had its premiere here in 1929. Not far away is the „Palace of Tears,“ Friedrichstrasse station’s former East/West checkpoint notorious for its strict border controls. The Admiralspalast is also nearby, where the German parliament met after the Reichstag fire – and where Hitler declared war.
Berlin’s theatres and museums – a chapter of wealth and a wealth of history, whether you think of the huge ensemble of buildings on the Museum Island, where until recently you could still see bullet holes dating back to the battle for Berlin in 1945. Or the Schaubühne in the beautifully restored Mendelsohn building on Lehniner Platz, which advanced to become the best theatre in Germany in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. There is the Deutsches Theater, where Max Reinhardt once worked; there is the Volksbühne, which shaped its own post-GDR culture. There are two opera houses with old and new traditions, a left-over from the former division of the city. And there is the wonderfully light, almost fairy-tale Philharmonie concert hall, home to one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic, which Herbert von Karajan led to a perfection which made Berlin’s name famous all over the world in the middle of the Cold War.