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

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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…

The City knows #WritersWednesday

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She never forgets: the humble swamps of the beginnings, the far away sounds of war, the medieval cruelties, the triumphs, the parades, the Enemy at the gates…

Then there was the long war – thirty years of destruction, rape, pestilence and ruins. Out of this came a stronger state, and she was the capital. The Soldiers” King – Soldaten König – made her powerful, perhaps a little agressive too. She knows what the fate of his son was, the sweet Friedrich, and Russia: a predicament for the next two centuries.

She remembers the Corsican invader, who would have feared Friedrich, and would lose his pride, and an empire, in the snows and fires of Moscow. And she loved Schinkel, the master architect, he who gave her the cross – on the hill: Kreuzberg, and what followed, the victories, the invincible army, the birth of the Reich, the Iron Cross.

Of the First World War she only remembers the trains full of enthusiastic soldiers, and then the revolution, machine guns in the street, Spartakus, the bloodbath, the corpses thrown into the canal.

Of the long night that started not so much later, she speaks often, soberly. So many sad memories, all those little brass stones on her pavements – so many human beings taken away, old and young, and burnt. The memorials, the thousands buried in her parks. Yes, the trees, fallen soldiers, reborn to adorn her streets.

Of the wall of division, yesterday really, a few seconds ago in her life, she knows all, and now she sees the builders, the speculators, the newcomers.

She sees us, my love, and is willing to tell us her stories. We will listen to her, in awe.

 

A wall, and a tower #BerlinDiary, July 10

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In my street the only trace of the Mauer is the brass inscription on the pavement. All round everything is new: Berlin is being rebuilt, or renovated, but trees also are planted, here in Mitte, and elsewhere in this fascinating city. In the evening a fine rain started, veiling the profile of the television tower, built in the DDR days, and one the vantage points of the city (I prefer the monument to the victories of 1814-15 in Viktoria Park.)

I went earlier in an exploration of the centre, from the Columbiadamm in Tempelhof, the Alte Jacobsstraße, in Kreuzberg, to Seestraße in Wedding. To get a sense of who the city really is, one has to walk, or cycle. There is a lot of this in perspective…

Landmarks, in stone or time, are everywhere. 17 June, the Landwehr Kanal, Museeumsinsel, Kennedy’s speech at the Schöneberg Rathaus… An eagle still stands proudly on the façade of the old airport building in Tempelhof, on Luftbrückeplatz…

#AtoZAprilChallenge Martin Luther

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The early 16th century was the crucible of what was to become modern Europe. The previous fifty years had been marked by tremendous events. In 1453 Constantinople – the last stand of classical Rome, and the heart of eastern Christendom – had fallen to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. In 1492 Imperial Spain had discovered America.

Then in 1517, in a university town of Saxony called Wittenberg, a monk named Martin Luther pinned his ninety five “theses” on the door of the All Saints church. There was an uncompromising condemnation of the venality of the Church, and of the practice of Indulgences. Then started  a hundred and thirty years period of war of religion that was to shape the sub continent.

Luther was brave enough to challenge the authority of Rome, but he was no revolutionary. Popular uprisings that followed were mercilessly crushed by the princes. The Reformation was to sweep Northern Europe and become the official church of many principalities and kingdoms, from Sweden to the United Kingdom. Luther had support, first and foremost from the Elector of Saxony, and from many other German princes who wanted to challenge not only the Pope, but also the Habsburg Emperor. Rome’s reaction, and the onset of the Counter-Reformation, was to seal the fate of a divided Christendom.

Image: Luther Before the Diet of Worms by Anton von Werner (1843–1915)

The depth of sorrow, a reading of “Prague Fatale” by Philip Kerr

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The year is 1942, and the gods of war appear to be still smiling to the conquering nazis. Bernie, back from the Ukrainian front, is in Berlin, already besieged by restrictions, lack of petrol, lack of good bier and of most amenities. In the West, German cities are now targeted by allied bombers.

There is a dead body, on a railway track, near the Jannowitz bridge. It seems to be that of a foreign worker, a Dutchman. Then there is an incident, at Nollendorf Platz station, when Bernie gallantly saves a young woman from an attacker who disappears in the night. Soon afterwards he is called upon by the Gestapo to help on another case, another body in a small park nearby…

As Bernie starts his investigations fate catches him up, in the icy person of his nemesis, Reinhard Heydrich, now protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Bernie is summoned to Prague, seemingly invited to a party organised for “intimate friends”, in celebration of Heydrich’s new post. Foolishly, Bernie takes the young woman with him, the one he rescued at Nolli.

Prague is in the hands of the SS and the Gestapo. Resistance suspects are arrested, tortured and summarily executed. At Heydrich’s residence, Bernie meets a group of nazi officers, and among them a young captain, like him recently returned from the Eastern front. As Bernie spends the night with his girl, the young captain is murdered, and Heydrich orders Bernie to lead the investigation…

Bernie solves the riddle, only to realise, too late, his mistake and to be forced to hopelessly witness the demise of the girl in the hands of the Prague Gestapo. But soon Heydrich himself is assassinated by Czech resistants… This is a bitter, devilish story, with many twists and surprises, as Kerr immerses his reader in the horrors of Prague in 1942.

Picture from “World War II in Prague”