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Postcard from... Berlin


Inscrutable is an adjective sometimes used to describe the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The most powerful woman in Europe doesn't devote much of her time to trivia. Nor does she usually let people know what's really going on behind that first-woman-chancellor's mask.

A Dutch journalist tried to pry behind the façade at her annual press conference for Germany's foreign journalists earlier this week.

"What are the Chancellor's impressions of the major changes that have taken place in East Berlin since the fall of the city's infamous wall," he asked? "Well, there are more west Germans living there now," was the Chancellor's deadpan observation.

Intentional or not, it managed to provoke howls of laughter. The German leader then revealed that although she was brought up in communist East Germany she was once let out briefly to visit relatives in the capitalist West.

The year was 1981 and the then youthful Angela Merkel was able to walk past the machine gun-toting communist border guards at the wall and take a peek at West Berlin's alternative Kreuzberg district.

The Berlin borough was then known for conscription dodgers, squatters, violent battles with riot police, foreigners and drugs. "It was like East Berlin but there were different cars," was Ms Merkel's impression.

"Do you have any other thoughts about today's East Berlin," the exasperated Dutch reporter inquired. "Well there are a lot more restaurants and there are no more bad-tempered waiters," Ms Merkel added. At least communism's collapse managed to achieve something.