The race divide in DC

Following last night’s discussion at Pete’s apartment, I wanted to share a map of DC that shows census areas by their racial make up.  You can see a very clear East-West divide between majority black and majority white areas.


Interactive Map of the Washington Program

Want to know where we’ll be going? Visit our interactive map to check out the sites we’ll be visiting.

View Berliners’ Tour of Washington in a larger map.

Berlin – City of Reinvention

First of all, I want to echo my classmates in sending a huge thank you to our colleagues in Berlin for an amazing trip. We’re currently preparing what we hope will be an equally enlightening experience for you. Don’t forget to pack good walking shoes!

One thing that travelling to European cities tends to remind me of is how young the United States is. I think to most Americans, a city founded in the thirteenth century is almost unimaginable. Hans’s introduction to the old city through maps as well as tour stops such as the monastery ruin and the mills’ dam pointed to this long history, yet the physical traces were few. This stands in contrast to cities such as Istanbul or Rome, whose even longer histories peek out at many points in the urban fabric. Although this comparison says as much about the other cities as it does about Berlin and may have much to do with the level of bombing experienced in Berlin, for me it underscored the extent to which Berlin is in many ways a very new city.

Although all cities go through a process of choosing which parts of the past to carry forward through preservation and adaptive reuse and how to reflect history in new construction, it seems that Berlin’s history has given the city large share of both opportunity and desire to reinvent itself. WWII left the city with a tremendous need for reconstruction which coincided with a desire of the part of many Germans to distance themselves from the Nazi era. Similarly, the reunification of Germany provided an opportunity for Berlin to redevelop previously central areas made marginal by the wall, as well as to integrate the eastern and western parts of the city. The very conscious and contentious reconstruction of the city led to some curious development practices such as the ‘historic’ housing built in the Nicolai Quarter for Berlin’s 750th anniversary and the moving of the Ephraim Palace in order to widen the road.

Our readings for class highlighted some key buildings and sites that were controversial in choosing Berlin’s future, and these readings were reinforce on our tour, for example through our visits to the Ministry of Finance building and the former site of the Place of the Republic where the City Palace is being reconstructed. What did not come through so much in the readings were the uncontroversial reconstruction projects and the extent to which the city was redeveloped. The extent to which the formerly divided city has been reintegrated was striking to me and many of my classmates. Beyond the kind of ‘showcase’ newness in places like the Sony Plaza, I was impressed by how much reconstruction seemed to have taken place in Berlin since I was there about nine years ago.

Thinking through Berlin’s long history but most particularly the events of the last hundred years, I am curious whether the dramatic reconstruction of the built environment and the attendant reinvention of history also has an effect on social life in Berlin. Dorit and Claire shared with us some of Kreuzberg’s history of attracting people who led a kind of ‘experimental’ lifestyle. Today too, artistic types are coming to Berlin, to enjoy low rents perhaps, but also perhaps because of a certain spirit of reinvention that has evolved through Berlin’s tumultuous past. Berlin has a certain ‘edginess’ to it that seems to reflect the population’s desire to reinvent itself and reinvent society.

I have posted some of my photos from Berlin here,, and I look forward to our DC adventures!

Thoughts on Berlin

I have to say, that I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Berlin from either the city or our agenda, but by the time I left I was completely blown away by both. A huge thank you to all of our Berlin colleagues for a unique, unforgettable, and yes, exhausting week!

As for the city itself, I was struck by its contrasts—the glittering new Hauptbahnhof versus the gritty mix of industry and residential at Ostkreuz, the commercialization of Alexanderplatz in the former East and the DIY punk scene of Kreuzberg in the West, the massive development at Potsdamer Platz and the nearby abandoned moonscapes remaining where the Wall once ran. In a way, the contrasts reminded me of DC, though the disparity here seems to fall most often along socio-economic and racial lines. Desperately poor neighborhoods have views of the Capitol; wealthy areas have half a dozen options for organic produce while an entire ward of the city (with 60,000+ residents, some 93% of whom are black) has a single grocery. However, for myself the most enduring image is simply the lack of existent pre-war buildings of any size—the sheer scale of the destruction is simply unimaginable. That the entire metropolis was essentially built anew is an astounding testament to the will of Berlin and its people. Then to consider that on top of that the city was still split in half less than two decades ago adds a whole new level to the city’s resolve.

Perhaps that is why one of the most fascinating aspects of Berlin was the one contrast that I did not see. Only once during the whole trip did I ever feel like I was in “East Berlin,” during our walking tour of Karl Marx Allee. The wide avenue lined by towers of socialist housing, accompanied by a lack of street life for the most part had a decidedly different feel than the rest of the city. The architects and planners of the time certainly knew what they were doing (I was especially intrigued by the common sense of the wider sidewalk and green space on the north (sunny) side of the street), but here remained a total rejection of the traditional western urban form. In contrast, the other major modernist housing area that we visited, the Hansaviertel, felt much less rigid, less formal, and somehow more western. On Karl Marx Allee I could almost sense the power of The State physically manifested in the design, while in the Hansviertel the towers deferred to the park.

During the rest of my time in Berlin I honestly could not tell whether I was in the Former East or West, I could not perceive when I had crossed the once formidable wall other than noticing a line of brick pavers in the street. This may be the greatest triumph of the reunification of Germany and Berlin, but in a way it may also do a disservice to future generations who will not be able to fuly comprehend the unique history of their city, and the struggles that it has gone through. I have to wonder if there is or will be public demand to memorialize not the wall itself, but the actions and actors involved in its razing. In the US there may be a corollary in the commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement where the struggle of those who stood up to discrimination such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks that is celebrated, and the history of slavery is often viewed through that lens.

On the subject of whether Berlin is a capital city, I have to answer emphatically yes, but I am still unsure as to what kind of a capital it is. I never got the impression that I was in a seat of government, but I could not imagine it being anywhere else in Germany. The gleaming modern office towers are typical of a financial and commercial capital, but these in many ways felt no different than a dozen or more American cities. The one area that Berlin is without question a capital is art and culture; individual creativity is proudly on display everywhere. The density of art—architecture, graffiti, fashion, music—across the entire city is amazing, and may not exist anywhere else in the world at this time, and I feel lucky to have seen it, if only for a week.

DC on the other hand is, for better or worse, a governmental capital. This of course does not mean that everyone here is involved in the policy-making, lobbying, or contracting, but the city’s very reason for being is to serve as a home for the federal government. There are thriving subcultures and flourishing moderate density neighborhoods, but the perception of the city remains that it is the nation’s capital. That said, hopefully we as (mostly) outsiders to the government can provide you with a different perspective of DC that many visitors fail to recognize.

I look forward to sharing DC with you and in the process learning even more about my city.

I have uploaded pictures to my Flickr page and I hope that you get a chance to take a look.

Justin Kockritz

Berlin – City Life at its Best! — Reflections by Will

Berlin – City Life at its Best!
June 1990 – I last visited Berlin in June 1990 and it is somewhat unimaginable that such an expanse of time has progressed so quickly! My memory retains the details of boarding an East German train in Sweden that included surrendering my American passport on Swedish soil, German shepherd dogs, being confined to my railway car cabin for the Baltic Sea crossing to Rostock, and the fragrant smells of burning coal upon my arrival at the Friedricstrasse bahnhof. I recall the excitement as the wall was being chiseled away near the Reichstag all within close proximity of the East German guards standing at attention behind the Brandenburg Gate. Although my visit was brief, I often thought about returning and exploring Berlin’s Mitte. As much as I had enjoyed my visit to West Berlin, there was an intuitive drive in wanting to explore the unknown and the shrouded mystery of East Berlin.
March 2009 – Fast forward. Can this be the same city that I visited nearly two decades ago? The integration of two cities with previous different political and social ideologies appears to be seamlessly integrated. The vast socialist-style housing blocks that run to the south and east of Alexanderplatz have been rehabilitated, as well as the nineteenth and early twentieth-century buildings that survived WWII and the neglect of deferred building maintenance by failed socialist policies. The sheer beauty and sense of history and cultural significance as you walk along the Unter den Linden. There is an unbelievable punctuality and efficiency of the city’s public transport. There is a vibrancy and excitement as you walk the neighborhoods that form the nucleus of city life.
Although the built environment still retains visual traces of a divided city – the remnants of the wall and the availability of vacant lots that appear in strategic locations appear to anxiously await an upswing in the economy. Looking into the future twenty years from now, it is doubtful that a visitor or resident will be able to visualize where the wall once stood other than by referencing historical monuments and markers.
There is a youthfulness and artistic vibe that permeates the city and grabs your interest. The extraordinary amount of graffiti is alarming and whether it conveys an expressive conveyance of urban angst and uncertainty or whether it is the work of unruly thugs, it provokes further discussion about societal expectations and parameters on how we respect one another and our environment in general. The extensive graffiti along the rail lines is one thing, but the defacing of public and private buildings is another. Why is the city government not doing more to combat this matter? An architectural professor at UMD, has coined the term “beaugly”, a portmanteau or combination of two words that generate new meaning, and clearly there must be a love-hate relationship with graffiti among Berlin’s residents.
There is a dichotomy in Berlin. In several venues, Berlin is portrayed as Germany’s poorest city and one that has severe financial challenges. However, the built environment that comprises this great city says something else. The economic boom of the 1990’s is evident everywhere. There is a confidence and resilience among the residents of Berlin that is impressive. The absence of persons that we characterize as “street homeless” is surprising to me since my professional position in Washington is developing public policy to combat homelessness among poor people living with AIDS. I am eager to learn more of Berlin’s social policies and programs that are designed to assist those who are less fortunate.
Berlin is a historical capital city with soul! The city possesses an enviable charm that can be best described as “city life at its best.” I want to extend my gratitude and fondness to our German colleagues for planning such a thorough visit for us. I hope we can exceed your expectations as well and we continue our collaborative spirit and eagerness to learn more from one another!
Will Rudy

A Berlin Reflection by Pete Witte

It has been written: “Berlin, poor but sexy.”  While touring Berlin I found it difficult to see the economically “poor” side.  What I did see was the rich political, historical, cultural, fashionable, and artistic sides within the city’s lively spaces.  And in addition to its’ aesthetically sexy appeal, I also found Berlin is an intellectually stimulating place to examine.  There are so many profound political and cultural collisions (figuratively and literally) that have occurred within and around the city throughout the course of history—and so much recently!  Whatever my preconceptions were coming to the city, I left with certain impressions that stand out above the rest:  we humans are remarkably adept at perseverance and have exceptionally high creative capacities.  Represented in Berlin’s urban spaces are numerous examples of human perseverance and creativity.  I would like to briefly share some of the examples that I recognized during my stay.

Coming in, I knew two recent historical events had greatly altered the urban landscape of Berlin: the WWII bomb destruction and the construction and existence of the Wall.  That neither event’s physical presence is vividly reflected in contemporary Berlin, at least to the ordinary visitor’s eye, is remarkable.  (Perhaps this is also problematic, right?)  Sure there are physical testimonies to each event (such as Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bullet-ridden buildings along Museum Island, East Side Gallery, Bernauer Straße, the double brick line marking the Wall’s path, and numerous images in the museums), but the city’s recovery from the destructive forces created by these events is a reminder that people do progress and carry on.  Toppling a city by bombarding it with bombs or physically dividing it for nearly 30 years are seemingly and merely hurdles—a city can overcome these physically.  These are profound things to consider. 

Undoubtedly there are remnants from these events still present in the psyches of the people even if (and despite that) the physical reminders are few.  These psychological wounds are surely more difficult to mend and slower to heal.  But I left Berlin impressed by the ability of people to alter the physical landscape—what a great lesson to learn and recall for us urban planners, architects, landscape architects, and urban historians.  Hopefully when the Berlin colleagues visit Washington, they will see how similar progress has been made in the urban landscape since the destructive forces of the riots of the 1960’s, the disinvestment of Washington in the subsequent decades, and the flight from the city by many of the affluent residents.  I think Washington is rebounding from these events.  Clearly both Berlin and Washington must care for and mend the psyches of the people affected by the forces that motivated and caused such destruction to the urban fabric.  I’m confident that Washington is on its’ way toward doing this work and now I feel similarly about Berlin. 

In addition to this lesson about the human determination to alter physical spaces, I was pleasantly struck by the creative spirit represented in Berlin’s urban spaces.  First, the people of Berlin all seemed to be fashionable.  I immediately second-guessed my own wardrobe while walking through and rail-riding around the city (“rail riding”—did I just create a new term).  While this is less relevant when thinking about the urban spaces of a capital city, the fashionable people of Berlin left me with an impression that a capital city’s people can offer a fashion style in addition to suits and ties or business casual (not to say that is the fashion of DC, but I think there is a certain uniformity to Washingtonian dress—and though I am not a man of fashionable apparel, I do enjoy watching other folks who are).  Second, the abundant Saturday and Sunday street markets (in Prenzlauer Berg and around Unter den Linden) were wonderfully creative ways of using public space.  I walked around aimlessly for most of Saturday and, though exhausted from the busy week of touring, my senses were enlivened from this wandering and I felt rejuvenated.  Third, graffiti.  Need I say more?  Fourth, I found the monuments and memorials of Berlin to be artistically daring and unusually creative.  The Holocaust memorials for the Persecuted Gays and Murdered Jews of Europe as well as the Bernauer Straße Wall Memorial each powerfully represent the events that led to their creation.  Though I am still undecided, I think my favorite memorial is the Book Burning Memorial.  The subtlety and simplicity of the space made a deep impression on me.  Taken together, I feel that in Berlin’s monuments and dedicated memorials there are many great examples of creative ways of representing ideas in urban spaces.

After touring Berlin, I left with many impressions; obviously there are many more that I have not written about.  In sum, my general impression is that Berlin is a hip capital city and it does a nice job representing Germany.  And I also have a question to ponder:  do not these examples of perseverance and creativity throughout the urban landscape say something about the people represented by this capital city?

I did take some photos from this trip.  But upon my return, after I looked through all the photos I realized that the best images I have taken are those impressed upon my memory.  However, I have selected some of the captured images that can be shared and placed them on Facebook at this link:      Pete’s Photos.

Lastly, I feel personally enriched from this experience and I look forward to future visits to Berlin.  A big thanks is owed to Dorothee, Sonja, and the Berlin colleagues for generously sharing all your knowledge and insight on Berlin.  How lucky and fortunate us Washingtonians are!  I look forward to more conversations in April here in Washington.

Pete Witte

peter j’s berlin impressions + a question on national investment in the capital

charles, dorit, bernd at the wallFirst, I want to express a huge THANK YOU to all of you, our hosts in Berlin. I got so much more out of the insiders’ tour than I would have visiting the city on my own.

Link to my photos on Facebook.


It’s hard to pick a single highlight, but I especially enjoyed the meeting in Kreuzberg at Dorit’s apartment and, after the films, getting a chance to taste K-berg nightlife.

Berlin struck me as a city of profound contrasts. Outside the sparkling new Hauptbahnhof station complex, the naked Washingtonplatz looks onto a huge vacant field. Modern buildings stand cheek by jowl with classic 19th-century buildings marked by bullet holes and fire. Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial is a hole in the busy city center—an absence that commands an entire block of precious urban real estate. The cold, monumental Nazi Olympic stadium has been transformed into a profitable modern football arena with all the expected amenities.

I hope we can explore this same theme of dramatic contrasts in Washington. Within a 15-minute walk in any direction from the manicured Mall you can experience multiple alternative realities in our city: beautiful parklands along the riverfront to the west, diverse residential neighborhoods to the south, the busy shopping and cultural district of Gallery Place to the north, and the wealthy enclave of Capitol Hill to the east.

While the image of the Mall projects the grandeur and might of a world power, most of the city’s other neighborhoods have the modest scale and local charm of a small (provincial?) city.

Question for discussion

Did the rest of reunified Germany show any resistance to investing huge sums of money in the rebuilding of Berlin in the 1990s? Was it generally accepted as necessary to rebuild the capital/symbolic city, or did other German cities complain that they needed money, too?

Something that struck me in Berlin was the huge recent investment made in infrastructure—train stations, building complexes, streets, bike and pedestrian paths, etc. Of course, most European cities have done the same, but reunification obviously gave Berlin a big push forward. The US lags far behind in this kind of investment in our cities.

In the federal political dialogue, there is resistance to spending money on improving the Mall and surrounding areas in DC (this recent National Public Radio story is a good example). As you know, DC is not represented in the US legislature and lacks a stable financial base because of high federal land ownership and redistribution of wealth to Virginia and Maryland.

As a result, the infrastructure of DC, inside and outside the federal core, has suffered—the much-needed expansion of the Metro system is happening extremely slowly, the Anacostia River is still an eyesore instead of an amenity, etc. I wonder how we can convince the rest of our country that our city is worth investing in. Without the full rights of a state, it’s hard to solve the city’s problems without federal help. But is only the symbolic core deserving of federal investment?

peter j