In the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, a Soviet soldier issued visa stamps to a short line of people. Until two decades ago, the Berlin Wall ran only feet from where he sat, with the famous monument standing forlornly in the no man’s land of border strip between the two Germanys.
The wall is long gone and those in the line were not nervous East German citizens but tourists. The Soviet soldier was a 29-year-old student in costume offering fake visa stamps as mementoes.
The soldier — and his fellow actors dressed as American and German Cold War troops — are popular with tourists but not everyone is pleased. With the 20th anniversary of the demise of the Berlin Wall in November there are fears that the pre-eminent symbol of German reunification has become a miniature theme park.
“It’s inappropriate and out of place,” said Rainer Klemke, the Berlin city official in charge of public memorial sites. Michael Braun, the Cultural Affairs spokesman for the Christian Democratic party, said that the fake soldiers were turning Brandenburg Gate into Disneyland. “Such soldiers never stood there,” he told Bild, a tabloid newspaper. “It’s a falsification of history.”
In Pariser Platz, the square on the east side of the Gate that formed part of the border between 1961 and 1989, the emptiness of the communist era has been replaced with embassies and Starbucks. Sausage stalls and souvenir vendors are banned but the soldiers still have to compete for the attention of tourists with horse-drawn carriages, breakdancers and a giant bear wearing a miniature crown.