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With Wall Toppled, Berlin Rebuilds

Plans to fill the former `death strip' and create new government offices and mass transit are turning the city into Europe's largest construction site.

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Like city planning departments everywhere, Berlin's is striving to balance public and private interests in all these reconstruction projects.

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Despite its architect's avant-garde reputation, the Piano project has won acclaim for conceiving of the area more as a traditional neighborhood, a recognizable public place that works together as a whole, rather than a collection of private structures that don't relate well one to another.

The city is striving to have housing included in the new Potsdamer Platz complexes, even though the private "construction lords" (as the German term translates literally) tend to prefer to build more profitable office and retail quarters. The city is also trying to encourage public transportation instead of private cars: The goal is for 80 percent of those coming into the area to use public transportation.

But the question, says Ms. Plewnia, is "How far can you really push investors? Berlin is still not the economic center of Europe, of Germany. We have certain firms' views on how the city should be rebuilt, but we shouldn't offend investors by making too many demands."

Meanwhile, over at the city transportation department, spokesman Tomas Spahn warns of impending traffic implosion early in the next century if some solution to the problem of crosstown traffic is not found. The new government quarter is to be established in a central location, naturally, rather than out in the suburbs, but can't for security reasons be on a main traffic artery.

The Christian Democrats, senior partners in the city government's coalition, are therefore favoring a plan to route crosstown traffic through the Brandenburg Gate and to widen the Leipziger Strasse. The Social Democrats, junior coalition partners, are leery of encouraging too much auto traffic, and favor closing the gate to traffic, narrowing the Leipziger Strasse, and routing cars along the Invalidenstrasse, which the Christian Democrats feel is too far north to be a good east-west connector. Railroad recontruction

For the public transportation system, reunification has meant a general refurbishing of lines once controlled by different sectors. "On most of the lines, there are old rails that need replacement. But at least we don't have to build new tunnels," says Mr. Spahn. One of the oldest U-Bahn lines, from Alexanderplatz to Mohrenstrasse, is being extended to the old western sector. Closed stations have been reopened, and the general timetable for the system has expanded from the size of a slender paperback to something more on the order of a computer manual.

Also on Berlin's transportation agenda is a new airport: Three sites are under consideration in Brandenburg, south of Berlin. Especially after the Amsterdam air disaster last month, Berliners are concerned about the amount of air traffic in and out of Tegel and Tempelhof, West Berlin's two airports.

But within a reunified Germany, air transport should be less important if railroads can be improved sufficiently. The former East German state railways basically inherited tracks from the Hitler period and didn't do much to improve them, says Spahn. As a result, many rail journeys take much longer than they should: From Hamburg to Berlin, for instance, is typically a 3 1/2- hour trip, and sometimes much longer, instead of 90 minutes, as would be the case over high-speed rails. With improved connections t o Warsaw, Prague, and Ukraine as well as western Germany, many passengers would travel by rail instead of by air, according to Spahn.