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The reunification of East and West Berlin


Berlin in the 1990s
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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Now Berlin in the '90s was a very interesting place to- to live, to make friends, and to work. It was interesting for- for many reasons. As far as the Rheumatism Centre was concerned, Berlin's priorities in health and scientific education, scientific research, changed drastically with the- with unification. The- the main change was that the money pump from Bonn dried up and the priorities for expenditure changed also as a consequence of unification. Between the two, science and culture were set to suffer, and they have suffered, but not very much, not many of the promises made have been broken. Andreas, I think, has seen his budget cut by two or three percent, but really, not really very much. It is much worse on the music scene where one opera company, they tried to close it down, the City, but didn't manage to, Berliners stopped that, but it is on the brink of closing down and may yet do so. So all those institutions, culture and science, were in danger because, well, the first thing the City had to do was to throw out the Hungarian buses which had been transporting the citizens of Berlin around in a rather unreliable, rattly way, by various smooth, new Mercedes buses- and that was terrific for the citizens of Berlin but it cost quite a lot of money. Some people said that the character of Berlin changed for the worse after unification because beforehand they had been somehow never as short of resources for anything interesting, and that attracted adventurous people and I think perhaps especially on the cultural front. People who were willing, wanted to- to try new ideas in the theatre, in film making, in everything, and after unifi- and they- it was partly the money pump and it was partly the fact it was a compressed city. The next largest city in Germany I think is Munich, and Munich- the whole history of Munich is one that is a cultural centre, very strong, very strong science in that cultural centre, but people you know, spend their weekends in sunshine on the lakes, finger lakes going out of Munich, or in the wonderful of the Bavarian countryside, or looking at Baroque churches in the little towns around. None of that in Berlin because there was a wall all the way round the West and whether- the wall came late but it had- since the wall, since the Russian occupation, it had been totally cut off and that was good and bad. Of course, that has been written about by many people and I don't think I've anything particularly to add to the many books and novels and poems which have been written about life in Berlin in those days. But, as far as I was concerned, there was still a rich cultural scene where you kept bumping into interesting people. The city government was much more open and I think it attracted a much stronger calibre of civil servant than I had ever seen in London. They were- or at least I don't know if they were really of stronger calibre but they went to the- you know, if you went to a party in Berlin, at somebody's apartment, you would find a bunch of scientists who would be your mates, you'd find some musicians, sometimes they married one another, but you would also find a few civil servants who were- who were absolutely part of the scene. And well do I remember arriving in Berlin, having travelled with my driving licence, it had to be- it took- it had to be verified in some sort of way and it was going to take six months, so the secretary who I was working with was absolutely incensed, she said it was outrageous that foreigners coming to Berlin can't start driving around straight away. And so we went to see- we went to see the man who actually ran that licensing section and instead of a civil servant who might have said, well, you know, we have our regulations and you have to stick by them, he started going on about the wonders of the Berlin S-Bahn and the Berlin U-Bahn and how you put a bicycle on them, and anyway if you didn't go through Berlin on a bicycle, what a lot you were missing. So I went back with my tail between my legs to go on my bicycle, and I was very glad that I did so.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 5 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010