Tag Archives: Berlin

19 August: Shared Meal XV: A Powerful Picnic.

 

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It’s Saturday, it’s summertime in Europe, it’s a good day for a picnic.

A very good day for a picnic. On this day in 1989 there occurred a mass picnic on the border between the then communist Hungary and democratic Austria. It became known as the Pan-European picnic because the two neighbours agreed to open their borders, allowing citizens of Western and Communist nations to cross borders and mingle without let or hindrance.

Many East Germans took advantage of the open border to leave for West Germany as the border between Hungary and Austria remained open.

Within a few months the Iron Curtain, as it was known, no longer cut Germany in half; many other nations also fulfilled their citizens desire to leave the communist bloc.

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It wasn’t all because of the picnic, but that helped maintain momentum for change, thanks to politicians in Austria, Germany and Hungary, and to many brave, ordinary people.

It won’t take a great deal of bravery to hold a picnic for your family today, or just to share fish and chips or a pizza by the sea. But spare a thought and prayer for those brave souls who died trying to cross borders to the West; for the brave souls whose actions made a freer Europe possible, and for those brave souls who still try to cross borders as refugees or migrants.

And as you enjoy your picnic, thank God for the freedom to do so.

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Preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall, MMB

World Youth Day Pilgrims about to enjoy a picnic in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Poland. MMB

 Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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Opening Doors of Mercy

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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.

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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.

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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:

British Library

MMB.

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