Saturday, December 11, 2010

All right, all right, all right. They brought me up short. But if we'd been thinking about it, we'd have all seen that coming. After a long, delicious nap, I zipped up my down vest, jammed my fur hat back onto my head and headed out into the Berlin evening, the night air snapping and cold around me, the sky dull with the snow that's coming tomorrow. I walked down the Friedrichstrasse and ended up at Checkpoint Charlie, or rather, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. This was the border crossing, the legal one, between the east and the west. The actual guard shack stands in the street still, but is now flanked by the ubiquitous McDonald's. Ah, the burdens of freedom. It is a magnificent museum, if it smells of something unidentifiable but undeniably rank. But maybe that's all part of it, helping to make this museum so real, so visceral, so authentic. They have the stories and exhibits of of the cars, suitcases, and surfboards (!) that people used to smuggle themselves to freedom. They have one huge room dedicated to the memory and honor of Ronald Reagan, who they give huge credit and have gained huge inspiration from. They have the stories of the people who died trying to cross and the testament of the outrage and frustration of the people on both sides of the wall; it is well done, under funded, and a statement that cannot be answered with anything but a prayer. And they have art.

First, as you climbed the stairway to the second level, they have an entire gallery of children's' art, commenting on barbed wire. There's kids playing in barbed wire; playing soccer in barbed wire; chickens and barbed wire; flowers, barbed wire; symbolistic renditions of a Germany tied up with barbed wire. All out of the mouths of babes…

Then, those rascals, the Germans have an entire floor dedicated to Picasso's mega, uber statement about war and fascism, Guernica. I remember vividly the first time I saw the real one, the huge mural named for Picasso's hometown in Spain, and ached and ached for Coeur d'Alene, my own sacred Guernica, my hometown. And the Germans chose to discuss it here, as their feelings about the war and the wall, tumbled out of them and, judging from my walk earlier today, continue to dribble out of them now. How do you get over this in one generation? How do you get over a war in one generation? When I was growing up the 1960s, my father talked vividly about the Fire of 1910 that ravaged North Idaho and he wasn't even alive at that time. But he grew up hearing about it and the legend entered his heart. And so it is with these people, my Germans, the terror and heartbreak of the Wall and the war live in them still and even though they have and have always had Siemens, Schering, Agfa and AEG, and now have BMW, Daimler and the Vatican, they have to figure out life without the wall and who and what they are as a country and it simply is not that easy. The terror and pain were acute and in my opinion, still exist quietly in plenty of neighborhoods here today. My heart is with them. Germany and the Germans went through so much in the twentieth century.

And they make me laugh. I have laughed long and hard today. They have the funniest, most cunning, most clever souvenirs of any country I have ever been in. And they make me concerned: out of 10 people smoking here, 9.3 of them are women. You'll see a mother and daughter smoking, while dad stands by with his hands in his pockets. Good luck on those ovaries, girls. For a country that practically had the World Cup sewed up, there is a remarkable lack of futbol frenzy; they can't even tell me the name of that Turkish kid, 19 years old he is, that scored the most goals in the Cup this year that plays for the German National Team. We got a lotta Turks here, they say, with a polite smile. And everything you hear about the hot wine? completely true. It is phenomenal. As is the sauerkraut, which is creamy, and the roasted nuts. Tomorrow I'm going in for chocolate.

So my discovery continues; I am proud to be an American but I'm proud too, that before we were American, we were German. We know how to work hard, how to stay faithful and wait for things to change and how to laugh. I don't know if I was filling my own order personally if I could ask for a better combination.

On Location
Berlin, Germany

1 comment:

Carla said...

Fabulous! You've summed up all I thought on my visits to Germany. I have a good friend here who grew up in East Berlin. When the wall fell, she saved every last cent she had, bought a one way ticket to Vancouver and has never been back...just in case they decide to change their mind. Heartbreaking.