Of a Bottle of Coke, and a Typewriter

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In 1937 the city of Berlin celebrated its 700th anniversary. 1237, was the year when the first artefacts and documents attested of the existence of an organised municipality, in what was then the town of Cölln, as Berlin was still then a mere nearby hamlet. In 1937, the NSDAP, the party of Adolf Hitler, had been in power for four years, following its electoral success in the general elections of 1933. Fleeing the noises and fracas of another election, we visited the most interesting, and beautifully laid-out exhibition “Berlin 1937, Im Schatten von Morgen“, at the Märkisches Museum, Berlin.

Fifty exhibits, photographies, audio recordings, day to day objects, display the day, as it happened, at a time when all organised resistance to the régime had long been brutally suppressed, and the city’s cultural and public life were totally subordinated to the dominating ideology. One can see the Wehrmacht marching, Coca Cola Gmbh doing well, and a typewriter, magnificently manufactured, and doted of a special key for “Schütz-Staffeln” (SS). There are also recordings of letters and diaries of people, then jailed, soon to be directed to an even worse fate, and their murder.

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It all felt strangely close to us, not at all old history. Yet, since, the city saw so many tragedies and as much destruction as the human species can take. We walked those streets, and heard the marching songs. In 1987 Berlin celebrated its 750th anniversary.

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Pictures: courtesy Märkisches Museum, Berlin

Blindly #DailyPrompt

Today’s one-word prompt

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He watches the City born again, the ghosts of the past walking, silently, amidst the joyous crowds. The ancient monuments look old and cleansed, no longer ruins martyred by war. Yet he does not follow the script, blindly, but, rather, reflects on the meanings, the hidden messages, the untold truths. Here were divisions, for sure, and the hideous spectrum of tyranny. But here was courage also. And patient work, and the indomitable spirit of a great nation.

Photo: Brandenburger Tor, von Bundestag cupola, 2017 (Honoré Dupuis)

By the Lake

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The quiet street is bordered by sumptuous villas, surrounded by trees. Some of the buildings are ancient, although meticulously maintained, probably pre-1914; others are more recent. Most have views over the lake, for this is what would be described, in England, as a well sought-after, leafy suburb. It has been so for a long time, ever since, in the 1850’s, the industrial growth of the Reich, and of its capital city, pushed the wealthy and entrepreneurial to seek the peace of these shores.

We drive past the painter Lieberman’s house, now a museum. Lieberman died in 1935, a confused and broken man, at the start of the worst episode in German, and European, long history. His widow, then aged eighty, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, and killed herself with veronal. We park the car in a spacious space, a few steps from the “lion”, and from the Villa Marlier.

Kaufmann Ernst Marlier, a charlatan who made his fortune selling fake slimming pills to the gullible German ladies and gents, acquired the land and had the house built for himself in 1914. The house is set on an artificial hill, constructed at great cost, to ensure a view over the lake, and an elegant formal garden. This is a vast, comfortable place, well suited to the – then –  wealthy owner who could afford it. We are told (*) that Marlier, after many unpleasant encounters with the law, sold his property in 1921, and finally disappeared without trace in Switzerland. The next owner, Herr Friedrich Minoux, was another one-time lucky businessman, with political ambitions, and who was not so successful under nazi rule, not fault of trying. Minoux had specialised in acquiring jewish businesses at fire-sale prices and built his financial success thereupon.he could not however avoid bankruptcy and sold the property for 1.95 million Reichsmark in 1940.

And so it is that, against strong competition from other nazi supremos, including Doctor Goebbels himself, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and future protector of Boheme-Moravia, acquired the Marlier house. There, on 20 January 19942, took place the conference that sealed the fate of millions of European citizens, caught in the nightmare of deportation and extermination on the East front. It is said that the real decisions regarding the “final solution” had already been taken, at the onset of the war, and were, anyway, already written into the “book’s” dreaded pronouncements.

By 1942 Heydrich had been made the über boss of all police and repressive forces in the Reich (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), and in the occupied territories. There is little doubt that the conference, as well documented in the “protocol” meticulously compiled by Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, was at most an endorsement and logistical settlement of the already determined final solution. The fifteen “functionaries” who participated, were in fact, Heydrich himself apart, no decision makers. As the said, many times later, and still during the trial of Eichmann, they obeyed orders…

The exhibition in the house, is superbly, and mercilessly laid out, from the nineteenth century nonsense, pseudo scientific racial absurdities, through the first world war and the fierce repression of the revolution, to the early fascistic violence of the frei Korps in the 20’s, to the onset of the nazi regimes, the logic of the first KZ, the liquidation of the “socialists” within, and finally, the war. There is plenty of sober evidence of the handy work of the Einsatzgruppen, Heydrich’s babies, the massacres of communists and jews, the good citizens of Lithuania, and other proud nationalists, butchering their neighbours with iron bars, under the watchful and impassive eyes of German soldiers. There is plenty of evidence of the cowardice of various collaborating European governments, including France’s Vichy, that managed to deport some 70,000 French citizens and refugees, in less than five years. Over half of the eleven million Europeans, objects of the conference, lost their lives. But, of course, this does not count Germany’s estimated eleven millions military and civilian dead, and the losses of the victorious USSR…

We looked out of the dining room bay windows, where once Reinhard Heydrich stood, surrounded by his fellow “functionaries”. We walked out on the beautiful terrace Marlier had built.

Then, we walked along the awakening lake shore, observing that the ice had melted. A heron flew by, in the woods we saw a wild boar. A beaver colony is evidently hard at work on some trees. So was a woodpecker. Peaceful walkers were taking pictures. So was I.

(*) I am in debt to Deutschlandradio for the programme “Gebt mir Sand, Wasser und Gold, Die lange Nacht von der Insel Wannsee“, for the historical information upon which this post is based.

The photography is from our visit to the Wannseeconferenz Haus in February 2017.

 

 

Teufelsberg, or, of the Vanity of Wars…

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The woods are silent, high above the hills a hawk observes the few walkers: we are aware of what we are treading on: a still intact Nazi building that resisted attempts at destroying it, on top layers after layers of rubbles from ruined homes and monuments destroyed by the war. We admire the views, the lakes on the horizon, the stadium’s tower above the trees, the white city and its domes.

We approach the site through the naked trees, past the climbing rocks, along the double fence. Everything has been vandalised, rubbish strewed over the once well ordered roads. What remains is enough to show the extent of the buildings here, and there is more underground.

What did they listen to? What did they learn? Was there a sane reason for them to be there, for nearly forty years… Was there a sane reason for the division, the pain, the fears?

What do the ghosts think? Or have they given up since the devil persists in haunting those hills?…

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From a visit to Teufelsberg, former NSA listening station in West Berlin.

Vanish #DailyPost #Berlin-Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal

Along the canal…

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It’s a nice relaxing walk, some three kilometres from our place, soon on the bank of the Spandau canal, formerly Hohenzollern canal, following the Mauerweg. A small cemetery lies there, it must have been, for years, in the no man’s land between West and East, and the graves are those of senior officers of the Prussian army who were active before or at the start of the first World War.

This place is eery, as the Wall has vanished, bar in a few places (one can see still a watch tower entirely preserved, surrounded by new buildings where families and children now live.) Yet one feels that other presence: there was a border once, and thirty years before then it was not the City we now see. The province – Land – that has survived, is no longer Prussia, it is back to being Brandenburg. The founding myths of the new republic, “wir sind das Volk”, gloss over the historical complexities. What we see, or guess at, is the multitude of ghosts who haunt the space, all the way to the Reichstag.

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Photos: © 2016 Honoré Dupuis

Albrecht Dürer: Hieronymus Holzschuher, 1526

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What is hidden behind the patrician gaze, the powerful shoulders, the venerable beard and white mane? In our Lord’s year of 1526, much is still to happen in your country… But where is your country?  Is it Bavaria? So tells us history… What dreams or wild ambitions do your calm eyes keep away from us?

You could tell us much we would love to know. 1526… the Reformation was nine years old, soon the long wars would start that would ravage the German lands…

Photo: Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Holzschuhen – 1526, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Prelude

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I have long suspected that the ancient deities – some more powerful than others, but who is it to judge? – take more than a passing interest in the life of this city, when they awake from their deep slumber, in the depth of the marvellously resurrected temples that the reconstructed museums of the island are. I cannot help imagining the ghosts of the ancient pharos and queens, so beautiful still in their golden garbs, surveying the new Rome, listening, with a knowing smile on their lips, to the ever repeated founding myths of the new Republic: the birth, the fall from grace, the “darkest page” in the history of Germany, the destruction, the starvation, the air lift, the new dictatorship, and then, the new dawn.

Freiheit, wir sind das Volk, the fall of the wall, unification. Indeed the achievements are amazing. The city that faced annihilation, misery, death by strangulation, is alive again, and strives. The reconstruction, the revival of the historical monuments, the trees: do the gods look on with appreciation, perhaps with some envy, even, that they are no longer those that the people worship?

The rain interrupted, briefly, the eternal summer. For a while the asparagus disappeared behind a thin veil of clouds and water drops. Subdued and slower, the traffic, the cyclists in waterproof gear… Nefertiti looked on.

How not to be in love with such patronage?

Berlin, Stadt der Frauen #stadtderfrauen

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Until 28 August the Stadt Museum exhibition, “Stadt der Frauen“, offers in sound and pictures twenty biographies of talented, heroic, sometimes outrageous, human beings, who lived in Berlin, all women.

As is the case almost everywhere in the world, it is mostly men who have written Berlin’s history. In politics, culture and architecture, they have shaped our perception of the city’s evolution. But this is not the whole story.

Even 150 years ago, Berlin was a place where many things could be done that seemed impossible elsewhere – particularly for women. This exhibition presents the life stories of 20 women, showing how they cast off the corset of societal constraints, what they experienced and how they helped to shape the city’s history.

Don’t miss it is you are in the city. From the socialists of the pioneering period preceding World War 1, to the Trümmerfrauen of 1945, go and have a look at courage and grit.

Photo: Trümmerfrau, inspired by Anni Mittelstädt, chairwoman of the Klub der Berliner Trümmerfrauen (Berlin Women’s Rubble-Clearers Club)

Longing #exit #City

Deutscher Dom, Gendarmen Markt
Deutscher Dom, Gendarmen Markt

 

Maybe one day we will miss the fog, the infernal traffic, the idiotic media, the inept politics… Of course, you might say it’s the same over there. I smile. It can’t be, and even if it were I long for the new, not the old.

We want to ride through the tree-lined streets, in a city where riding is the way to see, to go places. We want to visit the angels, the memorials to heroes, all the history of centuries past, to hear their tales, their longing too. We want to buy our meals at the corner of busy lanes, on markets overflowing with the richness of the South, sit in small cafés listening to jazz, building in our minds a limitless future.

Maybe we want even more, who knows, this is Faust’s city…

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