Art by Igor Dobrowolski, on the East Side Gallery
My grandfather served in Vietnam, and in his house he had a whole cabinet dedicated to his service. Also, proudly displayed beside his medals, was memorabilia dedicated to my great, great grandfather who was a POW held by the Japanese, in WWII. It’s fair to say, that as a boy I had somewhat of an interest in wartime history. Whether it be WWII, WWI, Vietnam, or Korea – where my other grandfather served – there was always a fascination in those pinnacle points of the Twentieth Century, which were responsible for some much carnage, and loss.
WWII, drew my attention considerably more, than any of the others. It’s strange, and almost mythical narrative seemed too bizarre, and unbelievable for a kid born in the nineties. I wanted to know every detail, and understand how such a horrid phase of events could ever unfold in the same Century I was born. Who was responsible? How did “they” let it happen?
This engrossment never wavered as I grew into an adolescent, and my interest in WWII centered around the rise of Hitler, and the Nazi’s. It didn’t help, that films, video games, and miniseries all based on the battle for Europe, were continuously released throughout my development. Giving this point in history an almost glorification – even if the intention was to pay a respectful homage to the loss of life, and tragedy – playing out the death of souls repeatedly, in a multitude of simulations.
So, visiting Berlin for the first time filled me with excitement, knowing that I would be in the stomping ground of the Nazi’s rule. I was hoping to fill my boyhood lust for understanding of how a country could let such a horrendous ideology take over, and stain its history forever. And, I was somewhat disappointed…
Unlike Paris, which proudly displayed all its history on street corners, with commemorative statues, or plaques. Berlin, displayed a more modern, and futurist approach. Which, you can’t blame them for. They weren’t exactly hiding their history, but, a statue of Napoleon, and a statue, of Hitler, aren’t quite the same thing. That is not to say there wasn’t plenty of history from before the 1930’s on display. From the Berliner Dom, with its monumental long running history that dates to the 15th century, to the Altes Museum, with its magnificent 19th century columns. There is also plenty of accessible history from after the War, when the Soviets maintained rule, and the construction of the Berlin Wall began.
The Berlin Wall Museum, was a great visit with interactive displays of what it was like to live in a city divided. And, the East Side Gallery, has turned an eyesore and mark on recent history into a display of peace, love, and resilience in the form of multicultural creativity. But, the main feeling I took away from the city, was one looking forward.
A proud people of their status as a world leader in technology, economy, free-flow migration, and of course the Energiewende – the cheap green energy revolution. Not, that these progresses don’t come without their own hindrance.
Some have laid blame on the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her government’s open border policy as the sole reason they have endured a rise in terrorist attacks. And, the Energiewende, has caused friction between northern, and southern states; a divide centred around the transportation of their overloaded green energy power grid. Others, have also blamed Brexit, on Germany’s status as the “dictator” of the EU. Targeting Merkel, as a neo-thatcher character still bowing down to corporate powers, and yet, demanding EU states comply to all her whims. Although, there is never any political triumph without due criticism. Whether you are from the right, or the left.
The main question that arose from my time in Germany, is how will the US fair after Trumps rule has ended? Will the “Mexican Wall”, be covered in beautiful artwork too? Will there be a Museum to pay respect to all those who were viciously murdered, as they sort to be reunited with their family over the other side? What will be the fallout to our current point in history, and from where will draw the parallels?
The markets in Berlin, were rife with Soviet era memorabilia too, but not even a coin was to be found, from Nazi rule. What will happen to all of those “Make America Great Again” caps? Will they be sold on Ebay to the future neo-trumpists? Or, will they be burned, and banned from display? While politicians like Cory Bernardi, are marred with lifelong harassment, and political crucifixion for their once held idealism of the demagogue ruler? The questions begin to pileup when you take into consideration our current point in history, and compare it to times in our recent past. Yet, humans seem destined to continually make the same mistakes, and some might suggest this will result in our eventual demise as a species.
Nevertheless, our time in Berlin ended with one last trip to a Burger joint, and a beer for the road. A delayed flight left us drinking in the airport bar, drowning our lethargic bodies, and moods. Our short escapade across some of Europe now completed, it was back to London, to find housing, and employment. Off the plane, and onto a train headed straight for Kings Cross, where our journey had begun. The anxiety hit me, like a bucket of water to the face.