Thursday, February 7, 2013

Berlin 1: a day in Wedding


Badstrasse Wedding 

As I write today, I am in Berlin, Germany. Usually when I write, I keep my view from the steps focused on what happens in and around the world of West-Park Church. I have decided to send some reflections from Germany as they touch on our life and people here in Berlin who have been part of our life in New York City. I am staying with my son Micah. I will also spend time with my friend Uli, a long time friend of West-Park, and Zeljko, the filmmaker from Serbia whose movie The Second Meeting, was screened at West-Park last fall and is being screened here as part of the Berlinale Film Festival. We will also be working on our Dream.... film project. 
                                        * * * * 
 On the bus ride in from the airport, I notice that the canals are filled with chunks of ice. Ther’s a cold wet grayness about everything....
Exploring my son Micah’s neighborhood of Wedding. The demographics are well known: 26% unemployment, 27% below the poverty line, 17% on social welfare and 30% foreigners. It would be easy to make a lot of assumption s about what you might find here. 
What you do find is an  urban neighborhood that is a vibrant mosaic of color and sound and cultures. Turkish,Palestinian, Balkan, Greek, African, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean shops and restaurants all next to each other in no particular order. Like my own Upper West Side but funkier and ungentrified. And on street corners old German working class pubs. And the ubiquitous sports bar betting parlors, electronic casinos and shishah bars. And tiny ethnosocial clubs with names like international, tolerance, friendship....where old men sit and play cards. Every culture with its own barbershops, hair weaving places. 
We have a Palestinian breakfast, a Turkish lunch. Shopping for dinner takes us  through Turkish, Palestinian and Vietnamese markets. 
From the 18th century on, this has been a working class neighborhood, known as Wedding Rot (Red Wedding) and the Schnauze mit Herz (nose, as in attitude... and heart) of the working class. And so during the Nazi era, this was a place of fierce resistance. Not only among workers, but church people as well.
From the deck of one of the remaining world war II defense bunkers overlooking the neighborhood, (an odd place for a sculpture honoring reunification), you see the red brick of the Capernaum Church. A center of the  Confessing (resisting) church, it had over 380 Confessing members, admitted only by presentation of a red card. The church was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1952 in the same Romanesque style and color and had one of the first women pastors in Germany. 
There are shopping malls like those that ring the old mill towns of rust belt Pennsylvania. Except for the language, my mom would feel right at home. 
Raises questions about what it means to live poor. Doesn’t have to be misery or desperation. What is different than what I see in New York is intact families, parents, children, multi-generations. And clothing stores, groceries and the other services you need right around. Internet cafes and satellite dishes  everywhere to keep you connected to home. Mothers, often in scarves and long coats, with their children. The Turkish and Vietnamese who came here on guest worker programs were not urban professionals, they were often from smaller towns, countryside, workers and so come from the socially more conservative sectors of culture. All these help shape a neighborhood. A place to live.

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