It was a joy to visit old friends in Berlin, Oskar and Kristina. Oskar has lived through many changes since his birth in 1944: bombs, occupation, partition; flights to the West and shootings by border guards; the building of the Wall and its demolition. Visiting his family in the East was restricted and only via certain checkpoints. Doors of not much mercy.
The S-bahn and U-bahn (Surface and Underground metros) no longer trundle through ghost stations where lines cut through the East. The united city is growing: buildings like the Reichstag being restored, bright new ones rising around the centre. Oskar and Kristina’s son’s new flat is almost finished; we saw the block from the river tour, itself inconceivable before the Wall was toppled. Oskar showed us a stretch preserved for future generations.
Berlin felt like a city at peace with itself.
Immediately before the wall came down the checkpoints, the doorways between the two sides of the city, were thrown open; the wall became pointless.
What can happen if we open the doors of mercy, the doors of our hearts?
Berlin had to grow up and learn from the past. The Nazi regime tried to rewrite the past, excluding the contributions made by Jewish people and those whose thoughts did not tally with National Socialist policies. Hence the burning of books, a crime against everyone.
This monument is a window into a basement of haunted empty shelves, where those lost books belong.
In Margate’s Turner Contemporary the bookshelves are full. The British Library by Yinka Shonibare also challenges our memory of who we are. His books are bound in bright West African cloth, and bear the names of ‘foreigners’ who have contributed to Britain as we know it, from Brontë to Disraeli, from Ben Kingsley to Margate’s own Tracey Emin. A sense of peace descended on the party I visited with. All these people, and we ourselves, belong together. Follow this link: