Monday, 18 July 2011

Memories of Berlin -1

Both Dr B and I used to live in Berlin, at different times and when the city was still divided. Technically I was in Spandau rather than Berlin proper, but in the West. Dr B lived in Friedrichshain in the East, a stone's throw from the great budget hotel we're staying in.
Every time we come back to the city it has all sorts of layers of meaning and memory for both of us together and for each of us.
Since we've been coming here together we tend to stay almost exclusively in the East, making occasional excursions to the West. This means that we are rarely walking around the streets of my former haunts, tho' I do sometimes take myself back to shop in Spandau - these days it's no distance at all.
For me this city is the place I grew up. I came here when I was 18, I worked, earned money, learnt German and how to party. Without that year I would have remained much more provincial and prissy for far longer.
But this is also my father and aunt's city. Sometimes sitting on the older trams I think about them and their cousin Elsa - who died when she was 13. The three of them would go around on public transport speaking German backwards and getting strange looks and incomprehending smiles form fellow passengers. Part of me likes to think I can hear them chatting still somewhere on the city's trams. That makes me think of the many other smiling Jewish children who must once have also travelled the trams, U and S Bahn and of whom there is no trace other than ash.
Yet here in Berlin, alongside the brash and crass adverts and commercialism there are countless memorials to many kinds of pasts - the national socialist past, the communist past, the Wilhelmine past, the "greatness" of Prussia and much more besides.
Recent very happy visits with our mothers and families are also part of our memories of Berlin, their pleasure and discovery of the city we love. Another layer of what being here means, as are the friends we have who live here - and whom we have hardly told we are here this time. Now we are here to do very little indeed. Just potter from coffee place to bookshop to then find a beer to drink.
Tomorrow we leave again, but we will be back and there will be more memories of Berlin as we travel forwards. Being next to the Spree has even inspired the beginnings of an idea for the sermon for my mother's wedding. It seems fitting that the city her first husband was born in should offer me the gift of time to think and creatively work around images for her second marriage.
Berlin destroyed and so much rebuilt, holds all the layers of memory and allows much creativity to bubble up.