I deserve a holiday and being on my lonesome isn’t going to stop me so it’s me and Jack Jones and off we go.
I’m often intrigued by the random and inconsequential things in life and I expect that this little travelogue of mine will be a series of random ramblings which may or may not alight upon some sort of narrative theme.
Randomness strikes early on my journey – at the airport a fancy voting machine asks me to rate my ‘security experience’. Excuse me? Well, I emptied my pockets into a plastic tray and walked through a metal detector. This isn’t an ‘experience’, it just is. But no, in today’s world it is apparently an experience that requires us to pause for critical reflection. I’ll pass thanks, not wishing to encourage a culture that assigns meaning to the most inconsequential of routine actions, a culture that ends with every kick of a PREMIER LEAGUE football being recorded in the history books for some obscure reason or other, where every meaningless statistic serves to scream at us that THIS IS SIGNIFICANT.
(Ahem, put your soapbox away Matty, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself…).
Random airport vignettes; a gentleman emerges from a toilet cubicle and announces that, “it’s blocked that one.” A proud moment to be sure. A couple seated in a cafe quietly sing along to Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’ to each other. Of course, I can’t approve of the song but I can’t help feeling a sting of loneliness as I head towards my first holiday alone. Arriving as a stranger in a strange city is a disorienting experience; where the hell am I and how the hell do I get to where I want to go? A good metaphor for life I guess. Entering the U-Bahn for my first underground journey added to the sense of dislocation; I may be a seasoned traveller on the London Underground but here I’m a freshman once again. Fighting the temptation to jump on either of the two trains waiting at the platforms and hope for the best, I instead decided to take a step back, look at the whole picture and try to make some sense of it before attempting to navigate my way.
Click. Is there anything more satisfying than the moment when clarity bursts forth from amidst confusion?
The tangle of coloured lines and foreign place names reveal their logic and I’m on my way. And as I emerge from beneath the ground and my destination reveals its imposing majesty I’m reminded that it’s often our most challenging journeys that carry us to the best destinations.Strolling along the magnificent avenue Unter den Linden (Under the Linden Trees) it’s impossible not to marvel at the stunning beauty of Berlin. From the classical columns of Brandenburger Tor past former Third Reich ministeries there is an undeniable sense of a history both glorious and terrible. Indeed, it is hard to reconcile this magnificent, modern metropolis with the home of state sponsored horror of mere decades ago.
It is clear that the city has confronted the horrors of its past and the Neue Wache serves as a quietly moving memorial to all victims of war. Bebelplatz, scene of the infamous Nazi book burnings of 1933 feels particularly poignant, a plaque permanently commemorating this act symbolic of fascist oppression.
I owe so much of who I am, of what I know, to the hundreds, possibly thousands of books that I have read. Pages contain power and books symbolise freedoms that we have the good fortune to be able to take for granted: freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to challenge authority and freedom to pursue our beliefs without fear of persecution; the act of book burning is a knife through the very heart of these freedoms.
Such freedoms were won with the blood of men far more courageous than I. In their memory and in the memory of those whose lives were cruelly, unjustly taken from them, today I celebrate my freedom in a way that feels somehow fitting:The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an incredibly, almost unbearably moving experience. Comprising dark grey ‘steles’ (stone slabs) of varying heights, a walk through the memorial invokes an undeniable sense of foreboding. Beneath the memorial an information centre explains the causes and history of the genocide.
There are no words to be found that can convey the heartbreaking power of this experience; instead we have preserved voices that must never be silenced, echoes of humanity’s shame.
That the country that produced such great minds as Marx, Engels and Einstein, should also give birth to the most abhorrent regime of modern times should never be forgotten in the complacent consumer culture that cloaks much of the modern Western world.
“The view of Nazism as an aberration, a society inexplicably gone mad, or taken over by a ‘criminal clique’ against its will, has not been corroborated by the historical evidence.” (David F. Crew, historian)
“Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”” (Eric Hoff, writer)
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to do is tell them that they are in danger of being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” (Herman Goering)
“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” (Adolf Hitler)
Berlin – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club