Friday, June 19, 2009

Last Full Day in Berlin: Clarifications and Some Tentative Conclusions

I finished my last interview today, and will be returning to Montreal tomorrow via Paris. Before I review some of the things I have learned about Berlin, Germany, and myself, a few clarifications of earlier posts.

Art Questions:
  • I had wondered about how the new painters at the East Gallery (the Berlin Wall) got their spots. It turns out that there is an effort to get the original painters of the first round of striking paintings to re-create the efforts since graffiti has taken its toll.
  • I had registered some surprise about the especially vicious statues in the park on my first day. It turns out that the park used to be the hunting grounds of the Prussian kings, so statues of hunting makes sense.
Outstanding Ironies:
  • I forgot to mention a very strange set of streetnames. Well, one strange one. Near the intersection of the Reichstag and the Chancelry, three streets intersect: Konrad Adenauerstrasse (leader of West Germany after WWII); Willy Brandtstrasse (leader of West Germany when it softened and opened relations to the East); and .... Otto Von Bismarck Allee. Known for unifying Germany in the late 19th century via a series of wars. Hmmm.
  • Got booted out of a church that remains bombed out. I think it was a museum for forgiveness now but I didn't have time to read the displays. And isn't that ironic that they could not forgive my lateness? No. Never mind.
Things I Missed:
Besides the family, of course, two weeks in the big cities of Europe left me adrift to a degree. I had a great time and learned a great deal for the project (will I land in Montreal with proto-chapters? Depends on the onflight entertainment!), but I missed the comforts of home, including:
  • A bigger computer screen. The laptop screen by itself is ok but not great for trying to juggle webpages for blogging or anything else. I am spoiled by my big screen setup.
  • Decent tv in English. Finally a decent story on CNN--a feature on Obama's flying killing and the webstuff spawned by it. Otherwise, the CNNIntenational and CNBC are repetitive, boring and annoying. The Quest money guy is super-annoying, utterly destroying the stereotype of the charming British accent. I am glad that Jon Stewart didn't take him on since it would have meant endless repeats of painful TV. I even tried out a few MTV Germany programs that were in English with German subtitles. I now wish I didn't understand English--the shows were appalling--reality TV at its worst, making the young men and women of America look incredibly bad (Rock of Love, some other dating show as well). If this is the future of America, it is a good thing the country is declining in relative power.
Best Parts of Berlin:
  • The beer, duh. The rest of the food was good, too, both German stuff and various other foods (Tapas, Turkish, etc).
  • Friendly people. The interview subjects were very helpful, even if their point of view was a bit, ahem, structured. They were generous with their time, and quite interested in what I was doing. And nothing makes me happier than folks being interested in me and my ideas (see the blog sidebar).
  • Some incredible art and architecture. There is a bit of the "Mouse that Roars" syndrome in that the city was entirely rebuilt 1.5 times. Once after WWII, and, half again over the past twenty years as a fair amount of East Berlin is not recognizable as a Soviet satellite. Of course, there is still Stalin-esque stuff remaining, but lots and lots of new buildings and mostly done quite artfully.

  • Berlin is the flattest city I have ever experienced (only because Lubbock does not count as a city). I really wish I rented a bike for my first weekend here--much less death-defying than biking in Paris.
  • A spunky people. The stereotype of uptight, introverted folks not true here. A lively city, compete with protesters, marriage celebrations, heaps of semi-retired German tourists, and so forth.
Lasting confusion:
I still really don't know how I should feel. There are plenty of museums and memorials dedicated to the World War II period, with a clear acknowledgment (mostly) of the role of Germans and Berliners in the Holocaust. There has been a more conscious effort to erase signs of the East German period (they got rid of all of the guard posts, minefields and the like but then reconsidered whether to rebuild some of the defenses to teach the next generation--Germans favored this, Berliners were strongly opposed). It was hard not to think of the Nazi period with Nurmbergstrasse near my hotel, s-bahn trains which ended near Wannasee (a beach area) where the Final Solution was planned, and other reminders of the past.

And perhaps most in my face, the fact that the German people and German politicians are in deep denial about the war in Afghanistan because they want to avoid war. I don't think American aggression is always the answer, but there is a fight to be had in Afghanistan and it is coming north to the German sector of the country (not to mention that Al Qaeda folks did use Germany as a base of operations). Refusing to fire on Taliban because they are retreating is problematic, but definitely part of the WWII legacy. Overcompensation may be rooted in the pacificism that comes with living in the ruins and in the realization that your country was largely responsible.

I don't blame today's Germans for what happened 65 years ago, but I wonder if they might want to re-consider their fairly repressive stance against Scientologists.

So, I am left confused, both about Germany and how to write the chapter. The good news is that I did get a lot out of this trip, personally and professionally. Now I just need some grant money to go to Australia and New Zealand.

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