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Berlin is a changing city but work of the masters lives on

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in practice

On arrival at Berlin Tegel Airport, my disquiet at the passport control of EU citizens at the aircraft's exit was assuaged by the swift arrival, via taxi, at the grandeur of the Adlon.

Still, it should be that easy in the EU superstate. I was in Berlin with my mother to see an old family friend. 'I am an architect, ' Georg Heinrichs said in greeting, 'and a German one, so we have three trips planned: orange, blue and green.' Orange took in the relocated Potsdamer Platz, a 1990s straitjacket of grids where all the animals (Rogers, Jahn, Moneo, Kollhoff, Piano, etc) compete to stand out, which is difficult when your palette is always stack-bonded terracotta. No one lives there but it was busy and gets busier. So, despite the impression of Milton Keynes on steroids, it offers a lesson on the current plan for new sustainable communities: making people go where no one has chosen to go before. As Georg said: 'I turned down the job of city architect for Berlin because I do not believe you can plan new cities.' It was easy to see his point: Berlin is an ancient city, once cut in half by the iron curtain. Though reunited, it struggles.

Then it was on to the Marshall Aid buildings and IBA of 1956, an architectural zoo with Jacobsen, Gropius, Aalto and Niemeyer competing well. Georg once worked for Aalto, his late wife for Scharoun, so he knew the masters. In the National Gallery, he recalled Mies in his chauffeured Mercedes on an empty podium watching a congress of engineers corralled into a conference on concrete and Scharoun. Later that day Mies, delighted by their surprise on exit that his great roof was now in the air and complete, declared that steel monuments could be constructed in one day. It was a new 'Miethology': of just-in-time supply.

Stirling's building looks like a washed-up ice-cream carton/cartoon; Pei's museum was fantastically crafted; von Gerkan Marg is everywhere, whether re-roofing Speer's stadium or with a central station; Sauerbruch Hutton's fire station shines even in the rain - it is all different to the inoffensively massive new governmental buildings.

The green tour was of the Grunewald: lakes, towers, boats and buildings. It was at high speed and exhilarating: seat belts, if available, are still optional, everyone smokes everywhere and drives fast - not just on autobahns. You can take life back into your own hands, which is nice. We took in houses and housing: two of Heinrichs', two of the Luckhardt brothers, two of Duttman, then Corbusier and Mendelsohn.

We sped on to two 1970s Heinrichs megastructures: a thousand dwellings enclosing an autobahn and a shopping centre; more Scamozzi than mall with busy shops up to level four; so remarkable that we actually stopped. We whizzed past the Free University, acknowledging its inventiveness, and reflected on the contrasting mega-system of the International Conference Centre.

At the Jewish Museum I was disturbed, but not as intended, by the three axes of exile, continuity and holocaust: I do not want to be told by the architect how his building will make me feel. Far more chilling than any architectural showmanship are the exhibits: tragic fragments of people's horrifically shattered lives. The fourth axis cutting across the others is the ongoing exhibition of the views, life and works of Libeskind. I found this sideshow distasteful and inappropriate.

The blue tour concluded with the Classicism of historical Berlin, with a return to the Adlon, with the interior idiosyncrasy of Wilford, Gehry and the nearby retail of Nouvel. And, of course, there was much Riesling, eisbein, schinken and 'good old' Schinkel.

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