Sunday, April 7, 2024

Berlin Week Sieben

I am now more than half way through my time in Berlin, which is flying by.  The weather has mostly turned to spring so this weekend I walked around in shorts!  I am making progress on both the main project and other stuff, while embracing the best doner I can find.  

Upon returning from the Austrian Alps, my research project picked up.  I not only interviewed a German admiral and a former adviser to the Defense Minister, but I also interviewed a Finnish general via zoom.  I am headed off to Finland in a week to study that case, and I got a head start since the aforementioned general couldn't meet with me while I am in Helsinki.  

No, we didn't hold the workshop in the elevator
but I did selfie us when I had the chance.
The latter part of the week was focused on a workshop run by Christian Gläßel, a Hertie post-doc, and Adam Scharpf, a U of Copenhagen prof, on authoritarian politics.  They presented drafts of their chapters of their amazing book--it focuses on the logic of careers within autocratic institutions and how losers in the career competition either get detoured to the icky jobs (secret police) or try to force their way up (coups).  They also invited sharp folks from around Europe and North America to present their work.  I was tempted to play a favorite Sesame Street bit as I did not really fit.  But I got super useful feedback.  

I spent this Saturday enjoying the weather by walking around an old neighborhood with much Jewish history.  It reminded me of a commonality between Jewish sites and US embassies: you know you are close as you notice increased security measures.  Not great that this is necessary.  On some of the buidings, there were plenty of references to Kristallnacht, the night that the Nazis incited much violence against the Jews across Germany, a major milestone towards the Holocaust.



So, for a lighter Sunday, I went to a park that had heaps of people enjoying the sun, a very nice beer garden, and, oh yes, one of the largest Soviet WWII memorials.  I was struck not just by the size but by all of the Stalin quotes.  I remember enough Russian from way back when to

understand Stalin's name when I see it, even if I can't understand the quotes. I could not help but notice that there was hardly any German writing anywhere except in the room at below the big statue.  On my way out, I learned that there are still 20,000 or so Soviet soldiers here who were buried at the end of the war.

Whenever I am in Berlin, I can always feel the dark history, more so than anywhere else I have ever visited.  Whether it is hearing or seeing the train directions towards Wannasee or Spandau or the little markers in the sidewalk noting where Jews lived before the Holocaust and what their ultimate fate was (more often Auschwitz),* the Nazi period is inescapable, and so is the Stalinist period.  The Germans do a far better job than other folks of remembering their dark past, which is a good thing.  Even after seven or so weeks here, it has not faded or gotten old.  


Good thing I could embrace my favorite things to lift my spirits: ice cream and beer but not at the same time. 

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