Saturday, February 16, 2013

Berlin 7: But all are responsible


Neue Synagogue

Characters posing in front of the Brandenberg Gate. Mickey Mouse. A very short Darth Vader. The inevitable soldier uniforms from the Soviet Union, US and DDR. Just like Times Square. Of course tips are expected.
Wander again through the monument for the murdered Jews of Europe. Impressed again at its abstract portrayal of feeling overwhelmed. Lost. As you enter into the center. 
Memorial to murded  Sinti and Roma
The new memorial to the murdered Sinti and Roma (gypsy) people. Outside the glass walls, an old Roma woman sits and plays the accordion. Later my friend Hans who works with asylum seekers will tell me that it is ironic that we erect a monument to murdered Sinti and Roma while deporting  them back to hard conditions in the former Yugoslav republics. He reminds me that average life expectancy for Roma women is 48 as compared to a Euro average of 76-78. Of course, the accordion’s sound is plaintive. 
A walk down the Unter der Linten, the old king’s parade ground now a public thoroughfare. Past the Dome and Museum Island to the Neue Synagogue of Oranienberg Strasse. It’s Moorish style blue domes, trimmed in gold, glisten in  the sun. For the Jews who built the synagogue, it was to symbolize the golden era of Jewish , Muslim and Christian cooperation in Andalusia. But for anti-Semite critics of the day, the architecture was a sign of the power and aspiration of the Jews seeking to dominate the skyline of Mitte Berlin with their alien Oriental towers.  

Zeljko and I walk up to the top of the tower to look out over the city.
Back downstairs, a woman staff person, about my age, wants us to understand that the reconstruction work began in 1988, before reunification. That it was the DDR that began the work. I have encountered many times this combination of defensiveness and pride wanting us to know something good about the DDR.
The Tachliss Art Squat has finally been shut down. Gentrification marches on while the very thing that drew the tourists and gentrifiers disappears, driven  out by money. Happened to the Upper West Side of Manhattan once. And now creeps through New York City neighborhood by neighborhood. 

at the wall
We stop by one of the last remaining sections of the wall. Ready to cross back into the Kreuzberg neighborhood of old West Berlin. 
Hans is another of our extended family. He came with the group of asylum workers who came to the US in 2009 to meet with colleagues involved in humane border work in Arizona then to New York to look at the situation of immigrants in our city and meet with those who work with immigrants in New York City. Finishing with a visit with our friend Rick at Stony Point. I was proud that our little church provided home housing for all our guests, Hans with Jim and Holly near Yorkville’s vestigial German neighborhood. 
The situation in the Mediterranean becomes more and more perilous as the fortress europe becomes all but impenetrable. Spain is effectively walled off.  Turkey erects a separation wall on the border with Greece.  German courts will no longer deport migrants to Greece as it is considered a collapsed state.  Italy grows closer to that situation. And still people continue to come. Like crossing the desert from Mexico.
Hans lives in an old DDR neighborhood in an apartment built for government officials. Some still live there, elderly, retired. Some are very nice people,neighbors, says Hans. His neighborhood was named for a German noble, then Lenin ,now the United Nations. He took pictures of the day they tore the Lenin statue down. And also another statue of Soviet occupation officer. Hans said that he was a good man, one who wanted the schools reopened, to make sure that people in his neighborhood  had sufficient food and their   medical needs responded to. We don’t have to tear down everything  that was Soviet, he says, that’s dishonest to history. We would not have defeated the Nazis without the Red Army. They paid a great price...       

Crushing the Swastika
Riding the tram through old DDR neighborhoods to Treptow Park. A cold, overcast day.Through a archway we walk and then down the path to the Memorial to the Soviet War Dead. Overwhelming in size. Ringed with weeping birches with a second ring of evergreens behind. Beginning with a weeping mother looking towards a modernist  arch of stylized Soviet flags and two social realist kneeling soldiers. Through a long central courtyard with 16 sarcophagi, one for each Soviet Republic. Ending with a heroic 12 meters tall statue of a Soviet soldier holding a child with one arm and a sword in the other while crushing a swastika. There are wreaths and red flowers laid different places around the memorial. Who brings them? Who remembers, is thankful?
There are maybe three other people in this massive area. It’s sheer size is breathtaking. Almost overwhelming. Walk up and look inside the giant statue. There’s an Eastern Orthodox mosaic depicting the different ethnic people who made up the army. 
Memorial at Treptow
The massiveness is appropriate to what it commemorates. Some 80,000 Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Berlin. Some 7000 are buried here. And then you remember over 20 million Soviets died in World War II. Almost incomprehensible. It’s easy to understand the sense that Americans never fully appreciated the depth if Soviet loss.  We didn’t. You think about what kind of a scar that could leave on a nation’s psyche, that level of loss. And how can you fully understand the Cold War without taking that experience into consideration?
The quietness. The bare trees. The massive size of the  monument. Humbling. And moving. For a moment, I ponder history. The strange narrative it is. Events and forces flowing by, drawing people into the streams. Could the builders of this monument have imagined a day without a Soviet Union?  Micah points to how strange it is to have a monument to the country that defeated you in your own country. 20 million. maybe it desn’t have meaning, it just is.

                                            * * * * *
There’s a disturbing tendency on some post reunification monuments and historical displays to elide the narratives of Nazism and communism as if they were two totalitarian sides of the same coin. Not exactly.
One of the columns at Treptow reads:
The strength of the Red Army was that it had none, and could not have any, racial hatred neither towards other peoples nor the German people and that they were raised in the belief of equality of all peoples and races, and in the spirit of respect towards other's rights.      
              Joseph Stalin
Acknowledging its history, communism was rooted in a radical vision of a world without racism, exploited labor, a world of justice and equality. That's what attracted the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Or men like Paul Robeson. The vision was humane and inspiring.
The Nazi vision was one of racial superiority, the natural right of superior human beings to rule over those of inferior peoples. Not the same, not the same at all. 
Of course we have to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by Communism. As we do that of imperialism. And religion. We are not all guilty.But we are all responsible. 

So many memorials. So much death here. But now, so much life.

Uli and Zeljko
Time for one more coffee with Zeljko, wth Uli. Then home. Home.


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