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.

 

Low Light #HolocaustMemorialDay

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The Atlantic rain hammers the windows, in the grey skies the birds are still, hesitant.

Is it the impossible memory, the fear to forget, to ignore, someday to face the nightmare, in our lives?

Those who deny, wrote Primo Levy, are ready to start again. Is it possible?

But then we know, in our time, not that far from us.

We look at the sky, the fast fleeing clouds, we hear the rumble of the city. We think of the long war, the fight for survival. Is this peace an illusion?

Yesterday we saw snowdrops on the edge of the woods, near the valley we love. The earth lives on.

Despite everything we do.

Photo: Käthe Kollwitz’ Pietà, Berlin Neue Wache, Unter den Linden, © 2014 Honoré Dupuis

Pale criminals, a reading of Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1969-054-16, Reinhard Heydrich

Bernhardt Günther is a tough guy, a survivor of the trenches of the Great War, a cop, a man who loves women, and his city, Faust’s metropolis, Berlin in the 30s.

In March Violets – evoking the cynical opportunists who join the Nazi party late, and buy their way to a low number party card for political advantage – Bernie is a private gumshoe commissioned by a powerful industrialist to recover a precious, and priceless, diamond necklace. The Berlin background of the early years of the Nazi government, the corruption, the fear, the victims, are beautifully drawn, as the plot unfold, at each turn revealing the villainies of a régime that amounts to rule by gangsters. There is more than a diamond necklace in the chase, and Bernie will end up, under the icy blue eyes of Reinhard Heydrich, number 2 in the SS, in the Dachau concentration camp. Bernie survives, by skill and luck.

In the Pale Criminal a sadistic murderer of young aryan women roams the Berlin streets. Sensing a motive that would trouble his sense of law and order, Heydrich drags Bernie back into the Berlin Kriminal Polizei, the Kripo, because he trusts his skills and independence of mind. But there is more to those crimes than one demented mind. As more dead bodies are discovered, and the truth slowly appears, Bernie’s convinced of more horrors to come. The year is 1938, and soon it will be Kristall Nacht, the “spontaneous expression of the German people’s anger”…

A German Requiem finds Bernie in the ruins of Berlin. He has survived the disaster of the Nazi defeat, escaping death both from SS execution squads and Soviet uranium mines. Called upon to save an old acquaintance, a colleague from his Kripo days, accused of the murder of an Americal officer,  Bernie goes to Vienna, the year is 1947. Old Nazis fight for their survival, sometimes by selling their skills to the Americans, or the Soviets. Vienna’s not a heap of burning rubles as Berlin still is, but it’s an occupied city. Black market and prostitution are the main sources of income for the locals, and others. Nothing is what it seems, old enemies may pose as allies, women’s lives are cheap, from the ruins of the old a new world has yet to be born. Bernie fails, and yet resolves the riddle. His wife is in Berlin, he’s in Vienna, and Faust’s metropolis is now blockaded by the Soviets.

Kerr’s knowledge of the Berlin geography and recent history is to be lauded, this backdrop to the character of Bernie Günther perhaps one of  the main charms of the stories. His pictures of villains are remarkable: similarities with gangster-politicians in our time must be the result of sheer coincidence.

Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr, Penguin Books, 1993

Image: Porträt Reinhard Heydrich in der Uniform eines SS-Gruppenführers ca. 1940/1941, German Federal Archives, Bild 146-1969-054-16

#VisDare 105: Pause

PauseCity lights… I looked around, taking in the anonymous passersby, the broken asphalt, the absurd glitter of a dying world. The line was dead, already: you had gone, far, further than where I could ever reach you.

There would be no return, you had chosen the path, away, from me, from “us”. Us was no longer, no more than this city, soon to be reduced to ashes. I looked up at the sky, and beyond the thin layer of clouds I saw them: the dark birds of premonition.

Pause. Dead silence. I sensed their arrival, the slim silver bodies of the avengers, the megatons of fate. Revenge from those we had enslaved, betrayed, starved and plundered through the ages: now we would pay the price, for cowardice and hate, for being, to the rest of mankind, disposable vermin.

The phone line was dead, then the purple glow of Armageddon. The End.

#DailyPrompt: Embrace the Ick #Auschwitz70 #Evil

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Embrace the Ick.”

DSC_0428“You know who I mean, those desk generals, those corrupt politicians, those oligarchs and their media lackeys – they who don’t hesitate to send young people to the grinder, to lie, to hire thugs to do their dirty work…”

“So, why do you think they have their use then?”

I know you would ask, and I think about it for a few seconds. The morning sunlight plays in your hair, its reflections bouncing  on the edge of the cup you hold.

“I imagine having them all in front of me, and I am ready to fire, to execute the lot of them… In a way, it calms me down… But there is something else: they are visible, we know who they are, admittedly some of them are more public than others… But still, they are his public face, the face of Evil. Without them we would have to dig very deep to get hold of Satan. With them, we know what to do, it’s very clear for anyone with a conscience.”

#DailyPrompt: UnsungHeroes

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Unsung Heroes.”

Treptow Park, BerlinYour face haunts my sleepless nights, so far away and yet so familiar,

I see the immense plain, covered with snow, and the litter of war, to the horizon.

Victory was then still deep in your future, but I know now that you saw the wings,

The songs, the invincible armies, in the Spring of what you hoped would be

A world without war.

We will never forget.

#DailyPrompt: Twenty-Five Seven

Twenty-five sevenThe rain has not stopped, and as you walk through the room, your long hair falling on those beloved shoulders, I think of the day you came back.

That day, as today, the reflection of the grey clouds, the low sunlight, played on your face: the face of a long lost lover, who came back, on that last second of the twenty-fifth hour.

For this miracle, I am forever grateful, as I follow your gracious steps, enthralled, ignoring the sound of artillery beyond the city limits.

You and me know: this is a hundred years war, and soon, there will be more of us than them.

Soon there will be more living dead in this fight than living, and we know that we will triumph, at the last second, of the twenty-fith hour.

In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleIt is a rare writer who can combine the spectra of recent history in its full horror, the dreams of love, and the mysteries of the soul. So is Monsieur Murakami.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was published in Japan in 1995, and once again, I regretted my inability to read the novel in the writer’s language. Yet Jay Rubin’s translation is a wonder on its own right. This was perhaps, for this reader, the most difficult Murakami’s novel so far, considerably harder reading than 1Q84 or, my all-time favourite, Kafka on the Shore. Kafka’s influence, among many others, is there, for the central character, Toru Okada, has to endure a metamorphosis of his own, once the house cat disappears, shortly followed by mysterious and fragile Kumiko, Toru’s wife.

However I won’t spoil this read for my followers, those who haven’t yet read this extraordinary work. The story is rooted in the memories of the atrocious war fought on the periphery of the Asian continent, in the country Imperial Japan named Manchukuo. There the Japanese army faced the might of the Soviet Union, from the late thirties, before the war extended to the whole of Asia and Europe.

Perhaps uniquely in its descriptions, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is pitiless in plunging the reader in the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature. Toru, surrounded by strange women who may not all be human, just about survives the metamorphosis imposed on him, through the grace of friendship, and the skills of his protector, unforgettable Nutmeg. The truth, factual or not, is to be found at the bottom of the well.

In the strange loops that link the characters, across time and spaces, humble objects such a red vinyl hat, or a baseball hat, there resides the mystery of the human soul. And a small cat’s tail…

 

Dawn

Visions from Hell, Paolo GirardiThe small bird was close to our window: her voice rose high and clear in the light mist shrouding the garden. She was celebrating life and the dawn of a new day, she was saying hope is alive, and look at me: I am small, but I am here, for God is great and I am a small spark of life in His Creation.

So the dark thoughts of the night were dissipated: the ugly sight of a vicious murderer, walking free from a court room, thanking the corrupt judge, and smiling to the hapless “world press”, the thousands of women and children massacred by powerful armies over five continents, the despair of seeing a once great nation protecting the greedy, the torturers, the hordes of trolls masquerading under the symbols of hate and death…

As I write I hesitate to turn on the news. For it is mostly lies and irrelevance. This is not a place for a writer to tread: and it is Sunday, which used to be a day of peace.

Then I think of the small bird: this is a new day, and somewhere the angels are smiling, ready to turn the Devil and his legions to ashes.

Image: Visions from Hell, Paolo Girardi

#FiveSentenceFiction: Conflict

Saint MichaelWe know how it all starts: lies, distrust, fear…

We also know how it finishes, the ruins, the lost lives, the seeds of more to come: 1871, 1918, 1945, and the tall stories the alleged victors tell.

What we don’t know is how to stop the lies, the stupidity, the fear: for those are the Devil’s weapons, and he is skilled at duping mankind, and his minions are many.

So, it comes always to that: to ignore, or to fight, to be on the side of Pilate, or that of Saint Michael.

And to ignore is to leave it to Satan and his legions to decide our fate…