Voices from Berlin describe a fast-changing nation

But while Japan recovered in 10 years, Ueda found that Germany was still a map of historical consequences even in the 1980s. Hitler had left an inheritance for people born decades after the war, and even for people coming of age now that the Berlin Wall has fallen.

It was Ueda's feeling about Germany — this combination of nostalgia and strangeness — that drove her to compile "Testimony of the Twentieth Century: Before and After The Berlin Wall," a collection of photos and interviews in which people testify to Germany's notorious past, its confusing present and its rapidly shifting future.

In its dedication, the book claims nothing less than to investigate "the meaning of the 20th century as revealed in the war of National Socialism."

Ueda, a S.F.-based freelance photojournalist, interviewed 300 people from 1988 to 1995. From them, she chose 83 interviews and photos for the book.

The interview subjects are comprehensive — from punkers to professors, from young neo-Nazis to elder statesmen.

They include the late Prime Minister Willy Brandt, who fought the Nazis the first time they arose. They also include young B. Ewald Althans, who hangs a Nazi flag over his bed and questions whether the Holocaust really happened.

They include William L. Shirer, the late American journalist who wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," and German neo-Nazi leader Arnulf W. Priem, whose entire published interview in the book is, "I'll give you no interview without a payment of 500 DM."

"This all happened in this century one generation before us," said Ueda, 53. "The information is still available. People still remember. That's why I was fascinated."

However not just anyone, especially a foreign journalist, could have reached people from such a broad political spectrum in Germany or brought up such sensitive subjects .

One advantage Ueda had was, quite simply, that she is Japanese. Germans have a sentiment about the past — about the war, about the old alliance with the Japanese — that Japanese do not share, Ueda said.

The impression she got through all the interviews was of a society changing so quickly that many of its citizens don't know what to think.

Her first interviews, for example, took place while the Berlin Wall still stood. Some of the people she spoke with said they could not imagine Berlin without the wall.

So joy when the wall came down turned to confusion as people tried to understand what it meant to their society.

Some neo-Nazis concluded that democracy meant they didn't have to worry about what they said, Ueda said. Other people thought the fall of the Berlin Wall would mean civil war between East and West Germany.

Meanwhile, people who witnessed the struggles to escape East Germany and saw people die in the attempt could now just cross the border anytime they wanted. It made them wonder what they'd been fighting for all those years.

"It's an absurd feeling," she said.

Society is changing so fast in Germany that even though Ueda visited there only last year, the book must be taken as an approximation of how Germans feel now. The future is anyone's guess.

And Ueda speculated that if she returned to Berlin in 20 years and told someone born after 1989 that a wall once divided the city, she would be met with disbelief.

"`What are you talking about?' I'm sure they will say that," Ueda said. "They'll think I'm senile."