WEST BERLIN — Conservative German publisher Axel Springer, a dedicated believer in the Cold War, built his 19-story, gold-anodized aluminum headquarters at the very edge of the Berlin Wall--a beacon of protest in the mid-1960s against Communist Eastern Europe.
From the editorial offices of Springer's publishing interests, the barren scar that divides Eastern and Western Europe was visible to all and, although Springer died in 1980, his newspapers, magazines and books continued to emphasize the stern message: The West must keep up its guard; no quarter to the Soviets.
Today, however, the view from the Springer tower--just two blocks from Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most prominent symbols of the Cold War's division of Europe--holds far more promise than ever before.
"The winds of change are blowing," said 58-year-old senior editor Stefan Gensicke, gazing down at the high, whitewashed concrete wall, "and they are blowing from west to east. I think we are seeing out there a Communist empire coming to an end."
'Imperial Appetite Is Gone'
Gensicke, an affable, neatly dressed native Berliner who studied at Syracuse University, added:
"The Soviets know they are going to have to liquidate that empire. The Russian imperial appetite is gone. The Communist missionary spirit is gone. They realize it doesn't work. The big question is whether Western Europe can take advantage of the opportunities that are developing before our eyes in Eastern Europe. We should be looking for ways to help liberalize those governments in the East where we can."
Gensicke and other opinion makers are experiencing a world in flux, an established order turned upside down, where the rules that kept Europe divided for more than four decades have begun to unravel.
On both sides of the Iron Curtain, those who dedicated their lives to the ideological struggle have been forced to adjust.
In the West, even the toughest of Europe's cold warriors seem convinced that a new age is dawning after witnessing televised scenes of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who arrives in West Germany for a visit Monday, being heckled in a new Soviet legislature; the astounding spectacle of a Polish Communist Party official conceding defeat after the first free elections in Eastern Europe in more than 40 years, and the results of Gorbachev's personal vision of a reformed Soviet Union. But it is a dawn filled as much with uncertainty as with hope.
In the East, those who gave their best years to the Marxist-Leninist crusade face a far more bitter reality: The very core of their belief--a belief in the inevitable triumph of communism--is crumbling.
Thus, a personal soul-searching is unfolding within the true believers on both sides of Europe's divide that, in its own way, is as deep as the sweep of political change crossing the continent.
In a Warsaw garden, the sunlight playing on his tanned face, Artur Starewicz, looking far younger than his 72 years, recalled that he was only 39 when appointed to the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party under the new leadership of Wladyslaw Gomulka.
Named head of the press bureau, one of Starewicz's first assignments was to fire 300 journalists as a warning against writing critically about the Communist regime. In 1957, glasnost, as Gorbachev's policy of political openness is known, was a long way off in Poland.
For the next 15 years Starewicz was a true believer, one who had dedicated much of his life and study to the precepts of Marxist-Leninist theory, armed with a conviction that the international Communist movement might one day sweep its obstacles aside and wash the world with prosperity and justice.
Now, 10 years into retirement, his old convictions have disintegrated, and what he sees "from the border between East and West Germany to the Yellow Sea is complete crisis."
"Everything is in a state of change, very deep change," he said, "and no one knows what the end will be. One thing is sure. The Communist idea--socialism not only in the Soviet style but also in any other so-called 'real' socialist country--has fallen apart.
'System Cannot Work'
"Considered even from the Marxist point of view, you come to only one conclusion: that this system cannot work. . . . It has problems with the elementary needs of the population."
He concluded: "The situation is different in different countries, but everywhere the signs of crisis are clear--and nobody can deny it. We are in a completely different historical, political and strategic situation."
To Starewicz, as to many others, the old issues of the Cold War--the slow grind of East-West confrontation, of armies massed behind borders--have receded behind the looming question of how the socialist system will be overhauled, transformed or possibly abandoned altogether.