Central European street scenes a year after the revolution:
WARSAW- Dominating the center of the city by its sheer bulk stands the Palace of Culture and Science, a huge Stalinist wedding-cake of a building. Across its upper facade is draped a banner bearing the word DIGITAL. The definition of culture has changed here.
The upper floors of the palace are being rented out as commercial office space, a highly practical form of vengeance on its original sponsors, and much of the ground floor is now a shopping arcade. The Digital Trade and Service Co. Ltd. is selling Olivetti typewriters, Casio calculators, Aiwa sound equipment and Siemens television sets. As you go farther you are in a series of clothing shops, slightly surreal with their white floors and mirrors in deliberate contrast to decades of socialist dinginess. The women's shoes and dresses are from Italy, the men's dinner jackets from Germany. There's stylish leisure wear from Polish factories and cosmetics from everywhere. The place is full of people.
Outside, on the city's main avenue, the broad sidewalks are jammed with vendors selling from jerry-built kiosks, little trailers or nothing more than a couple of cardboard boxes set up on the pavement. Stamping their feet and swinging their arms in the sharp air, with the temperature in the mid-20s, they serve a steady stream of buyers.
What's for sale? Clothing of every description, from underwear to fur coats and boots. Tapes of rock music. Bread. Books. Meat cut to your order on the sidewalk. Cigarettes, unknown brands at the equivalent of 25 cents a pack. Sandwiches and cans of soda. Above all fruit, the most immediately visible of the benefits that the revolution has brought so far to the daily lives of these people: oranges, grapefruit, glowing tangerines and piles of the sweet, seedless little oranges called clementines.
The Polish economy's great need now is investment capital, and so far foreign investors have been slow to commit their money. But the Poles aren't sitting on their hands waiting for foreign help. Leszek Balcerowicz, the government's chief economic strategist, observes that capitalism began, historically, with the traders. On the sidewalks of Warsaw, Poles are now vigorously recapitulating that history. Whatever Poland lacks, it's not a shortage of ambitious entrepreneurs. That's one of the great differences between Poland and its great, troubled neighbor to the east.
LEIPZIG -- The market square here is also jammed with vendors, but of a different sort, offering a marvelous variety of food out of big trucks and well-equipped trailers. These are mostly West Germans, pouring into this formerly East German city to sell -- profitably -- in old markets that haven't seen this kind of activity for a long time. The cheerful young man selling smoked fish and sausage says that he's from Hamburg. The citrus comes from Spain, according to the labels on the boxes, and the bananas from Colombia. The vegetables are mostly Dutch.
This square is ringed by West German banks, operating out of temporary quarters or even, like the vendors, out of trailers. The important thing is to establish a presence. These East German cities are an unbelievable opportunity for the bankers. Imagine -- cities with hard currency, rapidly rising incomes, rapidly expanding businesses of every sort, and not only no indigenous banks but no knowledge of modern banking.
The East German towns always had a lot of bookstores, even under the previous regime. But the stock has changed. Now, among much else, there are piles of hastily published paperbacks with titles like "Your Rights As a Tenant," "Your Rights As an Employee," "How To Deal With the Tax System." The East Germans wanted unification, and voted overwhelmingly for it. But there's a very high level of anxiety here as all the basic rules change. It must be eerie to find yourself suddenly under a new legal system regulating your life, German-style, down to the smallest details, and all of it utterly unfamiliar to you.
BERLIN -- The elevated train from west to east passes over the open swath of land that was the wall, and slows for the Friedrichstrasse station. Now you get off the train and walk through the station out onto the street as though it were any other station -- no half-hour of standing in line to show your passport to a guard, or uneasy wait for his stamp of approval, or further wait to buy the mandatory fistful of unwanted currency. Now there are only the occasional scars on the floor to show where the barricades and control booths once stood.
From there it's a short walk up Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate, where the wall once ran, and you can walk through it as though it were any other large monument in any other city. The wall was in fact two walls, with a broad cleared area between them. On a pleasant Saturday afternoon a few people strolled in what is now a sort of an open green space. The lights are still up, but the guard towers are down, and a kid skateboards on a patch of pavement. All entirely normal except, of course, that it is not.
On Unter den Linden the unified city's government has planted new linden trees extending the line of one of Europe's handsomest boulevards. Some of the shops now glitter with expensive new clothes. The big bookstore with its displays of music scores -- an East German specialty -- is still there, with a lot of new titles in the window displays.
There's a demonstration in front of the Soviet Embassy to protest the killings in Lithuania, and around the corner, at the building that used to be the U.S. Embassy to East Germany and is now a consulate, there's another demonstration -- younger and noisier, the kids beating a couple of drums -- protesting the Gulf war. On the sidewalk there's a peace vigil, young people cheerily passing around a big bottle of red wine. Until a year ago the only sign of life here was the soldiers goose-stepping around the military memorial next door. Now the soldiers are gone and democracy's here -- disheveled as it often is, wrongheaded and doing its best to be offensive, but genuine and therefore very welcome.
Back in West Berlin, in the midst of the city's most expensive and most heavily neon-lighted district, stands the half-ruined spire of the Memorial Church, bombed in 1943. Berliners have chosen to leave it as it was then. The plaque says: "Let the tower of the old church recall God's judgment that descended upon our people in the years of the war." Behind the broken spire, on the top of a recent office building, Mercedes-Benz's three-pointed star, illuminated, revolves in the night. The juxtaposition of the trademark and the ruin, signifying massive commercial success and deep historical memory, seems not a bad metaphor for the current German state of mind.
The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.