has it really been eighty years?

Die Neue Synagoge
Die Neue Synagoge

There’s been a lot in the German media this week about the 80th anniversary of the Nazis taking power in Berlin. Actually, there was much more written about a ridiculous story involving a politician allegedly making sexist remarks to a relatively young journalist more than a year ago, but that’s gotten more than enough coverage. I’m certainly not going to add to it.

The anniversary wasn’t exactly forgotten, but was arguably overshadowed by what seemed to me to be a non-story. Overshadowed maybe but certainly not forgotten.

I took the above photo of Die Neue Synagoge when I was in Berlin last year, and going to that city often makes me think of the plight of the German Jews. Not a pretty story, but important to remember what happened there. Also read something in the Guardian this week that I found compelling. Take a look at Hitler came to power 80 years ago. I remember it like yesterday by Fritz Lustig.

It sounds so cliché to say that we should stay aware of the past to avoid its repetition, but it’s times like these that we need to remember. This generation of people who were actually there are slowly disappearing.

Maybe because I enjoy living in Germany so much, I find myself particularly vigilant about keeping these topics fresh. That’s not to say that I think this country should be forever shunned and cowed by its past.

Nevertheless, most Germans I know have been raised in a particularly pacifistic society that, as a rule, goes out of its way to distance itself from the National Socialists. It’s a difficult balancing act that I think the modern German state does a decent job of walking.

If the German media this week is any indication, this society’s not in danger of forgetting anything. Not remotely.

Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin…

model of Pariser Platz

“Berlin is a skeleton which aches in the cold: it is my own skeleton aching. I feel in my bones the sharp ache of the frost in the girders of the overhead railway, in the iron-work of balconies, in bridges, tramlines, lamp-standards, latrines. The iron throbs and shrinks, the stone and the bricks ache dully, the plaster is numb.”  

-from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

For most of this week, I’ll be in Berlin. While I could wait till I was there, I’ve decided to introduce the city ahead of time. Te above quote is from Isherwood’s depiction of the city in the early thirties, when the National Socialists were in the process of coming to power. Curiously, the mood of the city has retained a bit of what he was talking about, which is a bit odd when you consider what many people say about Berlin these days.

You say you’re going there, and often the first thing out of a person’s mouth in response is, ‘Can you believe how much Berlin has changed?’ It started years ago with friends who’d lived there while the city was still divided. One friend said, ‘Have you seen what they’ve done to the Alex?’ Yes, I understand Alexanderplatz looks different, but I never saw East Berlin before The Wall, so I really have nothing to compare.

Here’s my question: why do people swarm to Berlin? What is it about this city that draws not only Germans but people from all over the world to it? One of the most common things I hear people say is, ‘Oh, I love to visit Berlin, but I couldn’t live there.’ I understand that. It’s a lively, frenetic place.

Some go for the nightlife, some for the excellent theatre and opera. It’s not just the seat of the German government (along with Bonn, I believe), but it’s also the centre of a lot of media and art goings on. Compared to some other European capitals, it’s a relatively young city. And the history of who came here and when has some bearing on how the city eventually developed as a place of tolerance. Here’s how it’s described by Christian Härtel in Berlin – A Short History:

‘In 1671 the first sizeable group to be assimilated into…(Berlin)…were exiled Jews from Vienna. The Edict of Potsdam in 1685 facilitated the immigration of 20,000 Huguenots, who mainly settled in Berlin. The majority of the Huguenots, Protestant refugees from France, set themselves up in business and trade and the Jews in finance and credit. Thus the idea of tolerance, which was to become one of the pillars of the Prussian conception of a state, had its roots in entirely pragmatic considerations.’

So here are some of my favourite photos of Berlin:

angel blowing a trumpet on the back of a lion on the Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is near the centre of the city and has been important in the history of the city. Here’s Wikipedia’s take on it.

masonry at the Handwerkerverein
Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz
Heinrich Heine with the Fernsehturm in the background
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche)
classic advertising inside the Wittenberg Platz U-Bahn

And a bit about the New Synagogue.

your sometimes humble blogger in the reflection

The title is what German football fans chant when their team reaches the German League Cup Final (Der Pokal)