Berlin Visions, Jamming, 25/02/2017

In our entire time in Berlin last week, I don’t think the GF and I went more than a few meters into West Germany. Our hostel was in the east, the Holocaust Memorial and Brandenburg Gate are in the east, all the clubs where we partied were in the east, my old friend Grey’s apartment is in the east.

The early morning hours of Berlin.
Well east. Almost the definitive east. It may have been because we visited him at 11.00 on a Sunday night, but we got off the U-Bahn on a street of near-total darkness and utter quiet. Streetlights were spare, and every building was more shadow than stone.

And this was still in the centre of Berlin, only a few subway stops from Alexanderplatz.

We were visiting Grey’s house by surprise. I knew he lived in Berlin, but I thought he’d already be in Singapore for his art show before we arrived. Biennale was flying him across the world for this exhibition, so he had connections. But not much money, since his apartment building’s stairwell was covered with splotches of white spackle over the faded blue concrete.

I feel as if Grey likes it that way. If he had Hurst-level money, I don’t think he’d know what to do with it. You can’t take as many drugs as that money could buy and live longer than a year. Unless you’re David Bowie.

One of my most pleasant experiences in Berlin was visiting the Cold War museum at Checkpoint Charlie. It was the most blatantly touristic think I think I did in the whole country, but it was a marvellous laugh.

A grizzled hipster democrat in the Kaltkrieg Museum.
What I enjoy most about it was that the entire site was an enormous middle finger to the politics of the police state. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the climax of the collapse of brutal police states that dominated the societies of eastern Europe for half a century. There’s a cartoonishly artificial photo stand where actors dressed as Soviet soldiers will pose for pictures with you. The block features a McDonald’s, whose exit doors feature small signs at eye level reading, “You Are Now Leaving the American Sector.”

Let the victory of democracy over communist police states ring with hipster re-enactment actors and immaculate fast food bakeries.

I had an idea for a film while dancing in a techno bar. A comedy that turns into an action movie that turns into a love story.

A Jewish-American girl with a German father goes to Berlin to study chemistry on a scholarship. During a term’s break, she meets an incredibly good looking Arab-German at a club, and they decide to travel together around the EU for the week.

In Slovakia, they run into a gangster who’s a good friend of the guy – he smuggled him and his entire family into Dresden from Syria in the back of a truck, and has since risen to a mid-level position in a Russian-run human trafficking circuit. But our touring couple has seen too much and now has to go on the run.

Our very authentic first meal in Berlin – döner kebabs and salad at a
Turkish-owned shop.
The old human trafficking friend is put in charge of killing them both, but he actually likes them and doesn’t want to have to hurt his friend over a mistake. So when they all find each other again in Amsterdam, he gets himself arrested and takes the rap for everything. So our American and Syrian live happily ever for the next few years anyway.

The last scenes of the film would be a silent walk the couple takes through the exit maze of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, then a shabbas meal when she invites him to join her at a local Chabad House.

Have I mentioned the Holocaust Memorial? I didn’t take any pictures because I felt like my camera phone skills couldn’t do the place justice. But it is harrowing.

Since Germany – for obvious reasons – had no right to any artifacts of the victims themselves, they recreated the experience of the Holocaust through reconstructions of victims’ letters and displays of representative families from throughout Europe.

In one room, victims’ letters are blown up to the size of floor panels, backlit displays that you must stare into to read as you walk over them. These dim floor panels are the only light sources in the room.

Darkness is everywhere. An adjacent room is a lit only by the appearance of names projected on a wall-sized screen. Each name has a brief story of a few sentences in German and English, read out loud from a recording that plays from speakers at the corners.

The narration describes who each person was and what happened to them in the war. The Memorial says in a descriptive panel that it will record these brief accounts for every recorded victim of the Holocaust. Listening to the entire finished product would take more than six months.

You leave the coat check and gift shop and emerge into a graveyard. We were there at night, among the last visitors at the end of Sunday. It had been raining all day, a dark mist drifting over the city from the Baltic Sea. Air chilled you, a still, unmoving prickling against the skin. The black stones dripped with water from the rain falling all day.

Row on row of smooth black stone whose only features were the tracks of the rain. They were ten feet tall, blocking almost all light from the street lamps and nearby buildings. Just enough light to tease its existence, not enough to see.

On the train to Berlin from Amsterdam, we saw countless flat fields. Some were planted with solar panels or windmill generators. Most were featureless, their grass almost grey as well as green. We couldn’t help but imagine how many mass graves were under those fields.

Men, women, and children, naked and huddling together in the rain, yanked apart, crying. Hearing bang after bang getting closer and closer until nothing. Blood pools in the dirt like water, bodies crush together under falling clumps of dirt. That was the filthy work of the Holocaust, the endless drudgery of bullet after bullet.

With nothing but cement, the attentive visitor to the Holocaust Memorial will learn something of what it means to be one of the anonymous dead. Motionless under the soil of Europe.

No comments:

Post a Comment