Sunday, September 10, 2017

Homage to Berlin

Ok, it's been a while since I have written, and much has happened, as it does. The world keeps turning whether you make a note of it or not.

After Maker Faire Berlin, Christian and I had a "aha" moment on the plane back to Barcelona. Maybe Berlin was a better fit? We discovered that Berlin is a freak show of great proportions, with active squats, punks, queer culture, freaks of all ages, truly amazing graffiti and public art works, a healthy dose of green forests and bustling family scenes. Lots of playgrounds, where parents enjoy a picnic with beer and kids jump on the many public trampolines. It's a colorful city. 
Upon returning to Barcelona, the old Catalan city was overflowing with tourists (literally) and life there suddenly seemed a bit conservative all around.

Within a few weeks I was back scouting for schools, found an amazing International, IB/UN* school taught in American English that had space for Kodiak, and that was that. Our remaining days in Barcelona were filled with beautiful coastal escapes from the city, the heat and the masses. We moved to Berlin a few weeks later.
This time we took the opportunity to not make the same mistakes and found an apartment close to the school. Now, we bicycle to and from school, through a section of forest no less. After school we bike to a nearby lake and take a swim, have a beer and bike home. It's dreamy.

*International Baccalaureate and United Nations School (ie. students from all over the world)

Christian started taking German lessons and in good German tradition there was a special handmade "SchulTüte" given to both of my boys. It made the first day of school all the much better. I speak pretty decent German, so we kind of flipped roles here from Spain (my Spanish is still at beginner level, unfortunately). 
As I was making Kodiak's Schultüte, I glued some sparkly sprinkles to the design and shook the few extras off on our balcony. Well, I guess the sparkles flew down to the neighbors terrace and when I saw her in the hallway the next day she told me in a stern voice that it was strictly "Verboten!"* to have fairy sprinkles in the building. I thought it was a bit strong, but hey, we are in Germany.

We had been in Berlin 14 days when the terrorist attack happened in Barcelona. The van that pointlessly took so many lives on the Ramblas that afternoon was a block from our old apartment. My heart broke with sadness and anger that this happened there, next to my neighbourhood defined by its diversity and tolerance. Of course that is beside the point, but I am grateful that friends and loved ones are still with me, existing in this very temporary state on this planet. No Tenim Por! (We Have No Fear, in Catalan)

Berlin exists in Germany, and I say it this way because it is quite an unusual city in Germany. I will admit I was never excited to move to Germany, having lived here once before in the 1970's in the capitol of those times, Bonn. My mother was born in Mainz and survived the insanity of WWII as a kid, about Kodiak's age. The trauma of that experience remains with her today.  I too, carry some of this German weight. Back when we where trying to decide where to move, Christian stipulated "never France" and I said "never Germany", which is kind of comical now, as sweeping generalizations of places usually hold as much water as an old paper bag. 

But, let me generalize a bit...
I think it's clear that Germans are a more serious and possibly grumpy lot, especially in comparison to the Catalans in Spain. And why wouldn't they be? There seems to be plenty of soul searching going on here, which has led to a very progressive society. Granted, Germany is facing some major problems at the moment, with the refugee crisis, and they seem to be looking at these issues straight on, debating what will be the future road to take. They are considered the leaders of Europe and the EU, with everyone watching closely on how to set a new precedent of action. 

The German elections are coming up and it's so interesting to see how they advertise their various parties (oh yeah, many, many political parties)The CDU(Merkel), SPD, FPD, LKR, Die Linke, Die Alternative, Die Grünen, NPD, The Pirate Party, the list does go on. The CDU, which is the current ruling party, actually describes itself with two words that would not be in the same room in the States, 
as Liberal Conservatism.
Impressive. The adverts address their parties' platform (imagine that) with witty phrases. I have not seen one personal smear advert out there.
Christian took this Pirate party picture. She's having fun!

And then there's their history. Ugly and dark it is, but not unlike other often forgotten human-made atrocities around the world. German history in Berlin is everywhere. 

There are reminders of WWII, the Holocaust and the Wall everywhere. It's in the form of some powerful architectural carnage, large open spaces where buildings once stood, disturbing old street signs next to regular street signs, site-specific memorials, my favorite the stumbling stones, public memorials, subway photographs of old Berlin, sections of the Wall displayed in the city, markings on the streets where the Wall once stood, signs denoting the old division between East and West Berlin. There is probably more, but this is what I have experienced in the month being here now. The Jewish Museum interior was built by Daniel Liebeskind and is one of the most powerful architectural memorials I have experienced. 

The Bunker Museum, in an old war bunker, asks the simple question: how could it happen? Inside are three floors filled with historical memorabilia and truly amazing and disturbing photographs with a focus on Berlin, and its role in both world wars, as well as the holocaust to the end of the war, the time of reckoning. The ticket stub has the word Hitler printed in all caps on it, and I had to throw it out when I got home, it made me so uncomfortable. 

And what would this look like in the United States! I can see artists tackling the darker parts of America's past, right there, everywhere, so everyone can see it. Peppered in amongst the memorials of victories and of the discoveries. The brutal colonization of the Native populations, about their displacement, slavery, the civil war and consequent racism, immigration and its consequent xenophobia.
Could be important for the politically challenged college students(!) in the States...

I'm imagining something way more inspired than a sign post by a road- side pull off. Show people their history in an all accessible, truthful, creative way, and would this not help in the healing of a nation so fractured today?

I'm sure one could add in the history of industry and technology and its subsequent affect on the well being of the planet. And the obvious link from our excess consumption to Global warming and the apocalyptic weather we are having.

What I find so inspiring in Berlin (and Barcelona, too) is that all these reminders serve the new generation to deeply know their past, and hopefully allows for a collective new way of thinking to emerge. The common thread for me, is the accessibility of these stories. It's relevant and within public space. Not only hidden away in a museum, or a remote landmark. And that it's creative- it should evoke wonder.

Indeed, "to know your future, you must know your past" by Spanish literary and philosopher, Santayana.

and lastly,
I took a picture of our desk/office area in our new apartment- a little old with the new.  I love that Kodiak will learn to use this extinct dinosaur of a phone!

Next up- "currywurst" (why mix those two?), the German Forests, and Berlin's amazing Graffiti!
'Till then, Tschüss!*



  1. Great !!! Your point of view is so terrific .....and informative ! Love the photos ....especially Kodiak shivering !!!!! Love, Nonnah

  2. So beautifully written Christina! You have such a unique perspective The many places you have lived has made you into an insightful nomad. I loved this - keep writing! Love to the fam.