Sunday, May 18, 2008

Looking for Berlin Wall and other curtains

Gjergj Erebara in Berlin

On 1971, in a western Berlin movie, an old man walked looking around and asking: “Once, here there was the Potsdamenplatz. Here there was the crossroad of Europe. Where does that square lie now?!” The unspoken answer was that Potsdamenplatz, the heart of Berlin in the ‘20s and ‘30s, was not anymore. The old man could imagine that the place was nearby but he could not see it.

On 1990s, more than 100 people, 20k cars and thousand carriages passed through the Potsdamenplatz daily. Today’s Berliners like to say that on 20th of October 1924, at that place there was build the first traffic light in Europe, but this information is untrue, according to Londoners and inhabitants of Brussels.

Our days tourist who visits Berlin, usually asks: “Where is the Berlin Wall? I had heard so much for the wall which one time divided the entire world, but I cannot find it!”…

It’s true. Today’s visitor can easily find Potsdamenplatz, using any kind of public transport or using a bicycle. But, to find the real Berlin Wall, they need a professional tourist guide. Berliners had hated the wall so much and destroyed it so fast. New roads, new buildings and the very new railway station had destroyed any sign of the wall. Potsdamenplatz, where one time two worlds faced each other in a hostile way, turned to be the biggest construction yard in Europe. Only a decade after the collapse, authorities had tried to find the traces of the wall, identifying were it stayed as a historical temple of division. In the streets, sidewalks and gardens, a 155 kilometers long strip of causeway to identify the places where one time the wall stand and where people died hoping to escape to freedom.

I was born and grown in a communist country. Evis Karaj, my aunt’s daughter told me today that she had met e Berliner from the East Berlin. The story that the East-Berliner told about her life under communism is unbelievable and makes no sense to people from the free world, but we can understand each other. The story of the coca cola bottle, imported in a so rare occasions, that East-Berliners and also Albanians, used it to adorn their houses. Perhaps it was not because Coca Cola was the symbol of freedom, but because that was such a beautiful bottle and we had not so many beautiful things. So I really can understand the hate of Berliners against the wall. A friend of mine from Kosovo, who was born also in a communist regime, but not like Albanian one, hates me when I point out the story of the Coca Cola bottle, such a story makes us look like jungle people in the movie “Gods must be crazy”, which tells the story of the first Coca Cola bottle in Botswana. Instead, I hate many other things. For example, I hate discussing about visa issuing every time that I have to travel in Europe.

No man’s land

This happened on Wednesday, April 23rd, my last day in Berlin, in the evening. We, the fellows of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalist Excellence had a dinner at Paris-Moscow restaurant, near the railway station, exactly in the place where the “no man’s land” lies. There is an open field in the middle of Berlin, along the Spree river. After the ’90s, billions were spent there for new public buildings, new bridges and a new railway station, but still there is so much space and the division is clear. As for the restaurant, it’s clearly a nice place, but German cuisine is absolutely not good to me. In the eastern part there are the concrete prefabricated apartment blocs, very familiar to me, because there are so much “ghetto”-similar quarters in Tirana build up with the same technology. There are also the streets’ names: Karl Marx Boulevard, Rosa Luxemburg square and bigger than life-size Socialist Worker statue, near Alexanderplatz, the visionary worker dressed with the same clothes as the rest of the East-World. The Berliners have the sense of humor: they have designed genital organs onto the statue turning the socialist art to a classic concept of beauty.

The current mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, a social-democrat, who rules the city in alliance with the former communists, an openly declared homosexual who is considered as very good in marketing. In November 9, 1989, when the wall collapsed, artists and state officials were at cinema, to watch the first-ever film produced by state entertainment company of East Berlin, dealing with homosexuals. In the middle of the show, someone interrupted it crying: “the wall had collapsed!” And people said: “Well, let us finish the film”! That movie has not yet finished. It was so unbelievable an alliance between a social democrat homosexual and the former communists. But this happens in Berlin, in the city where you can see Nazi- style skinheads with piercing in the nose.

The city is considered almost in bankruptcy after two decades of heavily investments while the excepted economic miracle had not happened. Today, city population had grown only half a million, while it was expected to double from 3.4m figure of 1990. Communist-style buildings have to be demolished every day in order to recreate the old and fashioned Berlin. But still, differences between east and west goes deep. Julika, a German girl from Munich told me in 2003, in Nederland: “Someone believes that East Germany will become as south of Italy”. This means, poor, underdeveloped and discriminated. This is a little hard comparison because East Germany is in the way of Poland and Russia, while south Italy is in the road to sea and nowhere.
Anyway, the fact is that in East Berlin, you can drink a beer for two euros in midnight in very nice pubs, something not easy to be found anywhere else in Western Europe. In West Berlin there are the offices of corporations, while the East, must be considered the relaxed part of the city, with clubs where you can enjoy life.

I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry!

If you visit Germany, it’s hard not to feel the “I am sorry” sense in any discussion about history. All Germans feel responsible today for what had happen in WWII and in some cases, the continuous ask for forgiveness it is a bit exaggerated.

“Berlin was destroyed 95% during the war”, - the city guide tells us, but does not forget to tell that other cities as well like Rotterdam and London were heavily destroyed. (Both destroyed by Nazi bombardments).

It will be hard to find any other nation in the world so bound to say “I am sorry!” for its past. So much that some are worry also because that feeling of being guilty had appeared only in ’70. Today’s Germans have nothing to do with Nazi regime, but still they feel guilty.

In the ’70 had begun a deep change in German society, and we the fellows had the occasion to hear the story from the mouth of one of the protagonists. There was the student movement of May 1978.

Activist Beate Klarsfeld, a French Nazis-hunter, publicly slapped CDU chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger in the face during the 1968 Christian Democrat convention, calling him a Nazi. She did so in French but - whilst being dragged out of the room by two ushers - repeated her words in German saying “Kiesinger! Nazi! Abtreten!” (”Kiesinger! Nazi! Step down!”)

In the election of 1969, the Social democrats won, ending the uninterrupted post-war reign of the CDU chancellors. The Student Movement of May begun to turn out as an intergenerational conflict. Klarsfeld had heard about Holocaust for the first time from his school friend, whose father was responsible for the death of 70k Jews of France. Some consider that 1968 Movement had failed in its major objective, turning into a revolution. But those events had determined the history of the next 30 years. Some of the movement leaders became social-democrats. Some others became Union leaders while some created terrorist organizations, responsible for many bomb attacks which claimed the life of innocent people.

“Someone accuses us today as responsible for any uneducated boy”, Frank Herterich, one of the protagonists told us. He works today in German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and does not like to speak about his personal story as a student leader.

Students at that time were Marxists, but some of them changed their mind when Prague Spring ended because of the Soviet Invasion.

“In our countries there is not a class clash, but a father uprising against their sons”, Milan Kundera wrote at “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, pointing that Prague Spring, the symbol of change and reforms from a young class of communist leaders was suppressed from old guardians of pure communism. Ludvík Svoboda, 72, had defatted reformist Alexander Dubcek, 46. This confrontation produced far less sufferings in West Germany, but in 1970, Government pushed a new law which allowed firing public officials based on political views.

This intergenerational conflict is still present in Germany, but now it seems to be more a propaganda model developed from the left wing against the conservators. Left wingers accused the entire ruling class as collectively responsible for Holocaust and had benefited in politics, while such politics had created a collective sense of being guilty which still continues.

There are many governments in the world which had asked forgives for crimes committed in the past. But I didn’t now if there is any other nation which feels guilty as Germans do. Students of 1968 were interested also in international politics. Some of them had gone to Cuba to help Fidel Castro. “We had sympathy for Tito or Suharto, but now we know that those were dictators as well”, Mr. Herterich said. It’s also widely believed that the deep awareness about environmentalism and anti-nuke in today’s Germany derive from student movements of ’68. Today, the former Czech President Vaclac Klaus believes that environmentalism is a new utopia created by the former communists in order to find a new job in politics, after their first ideal society, communism, died. “Fighting global warming has turned into a religion that replaced the ideology of communism and threatens to clip basic freedoms”, President Klaus said.

No comments: