A Walk in Central Beirut | WABE 90.1 FM

A Walk in Central Beirut

Beirut, Lebanon – WABE's Bruce Kennedy was recently invited to attend a media conference in Beirut, Lebanon. While there he talked with university students and teachers about their perceptions of America, and U.S. media coverage of the Middle East and the Arab World. He also had a chance to walk around the city.

Lebanon's long civil war ended with a ceasefire, more than a decade ago.

And while the country has recovered dramatically, signs of that war are still very evident in Beirut.

The Lebanese government has spent billions of dollars towards the rebuilding of downtown .

I was told by a longtime resident that some of the buildings destroyed during the war have been completely restored to their original appearance - with the help of pre-war photographs.

But signs of the fighting remain everywhere.

Alongside the renovation and new construction, several major buildings in Beirut's skyline remain empty and war-damaged - standing out like broken teeth in a smile.

Birds fly in and out of glassless windows in one large building, which dwarfs a nearby luxury hotel.

On the building's eastern side are holes and other scars, apparently left by several artillery barrages.

This mix of development and wartime decay can at times seem incongruous.

An entire city block of small houses, many with arches and other Middle Eastern features, stands abandoned behind a line of five-star hotels.

On a street of office buildings, a chrome metal doorway is pock-marked - displaying the impressions of hundreds of bullets.

And what was once the heart of Central Beirut, the Place des Martyrs, has only recently been cleared of the rubble it was reduced to by the furious combat there.

At the same time, trendy music and shoe shops now border one side of the Place, and a pedestrian-only street, lined with boutiques and cafes, invites those with time to wander.

The Corniche, the walkway that curves along the Mediterranean, shows few signs of the war.

This is where Beirut's residents come to walk, jog, exercise, eat or spend time with their families.

One recent evening, when a pleasantly cool wind blew in off the sea, a group of young men sat in a car parked on the Corniche, the doors on the seaward side open - all smoking out of a silver hookah.

Lebanese women, some veiled but nearly all wearing styles you could find in any American mall, chatted as they strolled by vendors selling soft drinks, corn on the cob and unpeeled almonds.

Across the street from the parked hookah smokers, another incongruous image - a McDonald's.

American business interests in Lebanon are plentiful - culture shock is seeing Colonel Sanders staring down at you from a billboard in Beirut - although some have been targeted by anti-U.S. groups and individuals.

The McDonald's, for example, had two Lebanese soldiers, M-16s held loosely on their arms, pacing outside.

From the Corniche you can see Lebanon's coastal mountain range - the upper peaks still snow-covered.

During my short visit, I several times heard the well-known boast made by Beirut residents - that their city is one of the few places on earth where you can ski in the morning and swim in the ocean that afternoon.

That may have been true, 40 years ago, when Beirut was a hot-spot for jet-setters and celebrities.

But the city is still recovering from its wartime reputation.

For better or worse, I rarely saw tour buses or groups during my time in Beirut - which is a pity, given the amount of sights there are to see.

Next: Beirut Photo Gallery