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Traveling In Style : CORRESPONDENTS' CHOICE : STREET SCENES

March 01, 1992|Tyler Marshall, Berlin bureau | Six Times correspondents from around the world offer brief portraits of fascinating streets in cities they have covered.

POTSDAMER STRASSE, Berlin

The Potsdamer Strasse dominates a neighborhood visibly clinging to a time when Berlin was an isolated Cold War outpost. Stuck in a forgotten corner of what was then called West Berlin, beginning just where the Berlin Wall once stood, the street was quite literally the last stop at the edge of Europe's East-West divide--and it remains a refuge for alternative lifestyles. Sure, the new marble facades of freshly renovated condos are reminders that the winds of change have blown down the Potsdamer Strasse, too. But, unlike the glitzy Kurfurstendamm or the pretentious Unter den Linden, this street still represents Berlin's flip side, full of hustle and ethnic diversity.

Here, wholesale electronics and furniture outlets intermingle with churches, adult movie houses, cafes and a variety of watering holes. At the corner of the Pallasstrasse, the legend, "Support the People's War in Peru" is scrawled over a Turkish-owned vegetable stand. Turkish and Arabic are heard as frequently on the street as German, and the sharp smell of kebabs overpowers that of bratwurst. The red-light district that once sprawled over several blocks has shrunk, but a few young streetwalkers still work the corner of the street and Kurfurstenstrasse. A few yards beyond Potsdamer Strasse's southernmost intersection, where it becomes the Hauptstrasse--past the "Multi-Sex Kino," the video-game parlors and the punk-rock bar called KOB--lies a modest-looking bar called Das Andere Ufer ("The Other Shore"). In the words of owner Reinhard Marwitz, this was the first gay cafe in Berlin "to throw its windows open." As such, it became "in" for more than just gays, and David Bowie frequently breakfasted there during his time in Berlin in the late 1970s.

It is only at the northern end of the Potsdamer Strasse that more highbrow German taste appears, with the controversial Philharmonie, whose architecture Berliners either love or hate but whose concert acoustics are among the best in Europe. The National Library and the clean-lined National Gallery, the latter designed by Mies van der Rohe, are also nearby, built on land where little was left standing after the Allied bombs finished with the city in 1945. But for Berliners, the real Potsdamer Strasse begins farther south.

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