Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tree Penis, Berlin 2007

(Tree Penis, East Berlin, 2007 Image © FatherCrow 2007)

All, I am away for a few more days, next post will appear this coming week. The posts are infrequent I know, but they're long, they have to be interesting to me, and they take some time to write.

Patience is a virtue.

By the way, the Tree Penis was autographed "Penis Crew" so props to them. Funnest piece of street art I've seen in ages. You think the damn thing is some kind of disease infected branch when you are walking towards the tree it's attached to.

Who says the Germans have no sense of humour.

I must away.

Peace and Hope


AFTERWARD: All right, all right, I admit it, the above information ended up being a non intentional lie, I really did have an intention to write more posts, but damnit, real life and painting just kept getting in the way. This blog will kick off again soon enough, I can't give you all a precise date, in the meantime keep on keeping on, whatever that means.

Also if you want some blindingly sensible reading that is to do with our, how shall I say it, generative organs, you could do far worse with your time than go here

More Peace and Hope


Friday, March 09, 2007

The Short History of our Future(s)

(above: sand robot at "save the robots" exhibition, image © FatherCrow 2005)

When you think of the future, what visions do you see?

Does your vision create our future as one of benevolence, of technological aspirations? Of buildings rising through the firmament like modern day Towers of Babel, luminescent in steel and silvered glass, bulging in pregnant rotund geometry at points. Do you see these manifestations of human will linked by veins of suspended transport tubes that circle and join these great structures. All the while they rise and race the sun to it’s zenith with their promise of humanities potential? Or do you perceive our species breaking the fetters of Terra, constructing great galleons of the stars, sucking energy from the fabric of the universe and roaring like great beasts as their engines fight the oppressor gravity, pushing their leaden weight upwards through the ozone and the Van Allen belt and outwards toward new planets and new homes for our future evolution?

Or is it something grimmer, the fall of man perhaps, endless wars, precipitated by endless global crisis of fuel, water, food, minerals, nuclear technologies. Do you see our species fall, driven downward into the dirt and filth of this savage planet by the hand of God or Gods or even just blind fate. When the future of this world enters your head, are we in rags, scrabbling for food and guzzoline, reduced to mere beasts. Do we beat each other with bones before stripping the flesh so that you and your kin can live. Do we kidnap and rape and enslave women so as our bloodlines can continue to move into that amorphous and uncertain future.. Are we clothed in rags with sunken empty eyes dragging frightened children behind as we push carts full of filthy survival necessities across a ravaged, sterile and desolate wasteland?

What is it that you see? And where is it that you get your visions from? Do they filter in from the digital ether of television shows, Radio, Usenet and the World Wide Web? Or do they come from more time honoured sources; books, newspapers, conversations with your peers, even dreams? or a hybrid of them all?

Ultimately what is it that creates our future? Is it, as Giambattista Vico the 17th century Neapolitan philosopher says in his verum factum principle that truth (in this case “future truth”) is verified (or in this case manifested) through creation or invention. And why is it that what awaits for us in this amorphous future is always changing, always mutating, metamorphosising into something that seems to depend on a cultures current economic, philosophical and technological zeitgeist.

How many futures do we have now? How many futures have we had in the past? How many futures that yearly are discarded as the present incorporates unexpected and surprising aspects of ideas turned to technology turned to societal change? How much turbulence on the crest of the wave form that lies between today and tomorrow?

The future isn’t what it used to be. It’s an ever changing multifarious beast that is constantly sprouting new limbs and discarding old ones. Has it always been like this though?

Have we always had a future?

I don’t think so, at least not in the way we envision the continuance of time today.

Back in ancient times, before the Renaissance, before the Reformation, before the Industrial Revolution we as a species had spent thousands of years as an essentially agrarian mammal. There were thousands of years between the advent of sedentary farming and mans imagination, ideas and vision coalescing into the iron, smoke, oil and grease of James Watt’s steam engine, Richard Arkwright’s water frame and the great belching blast furnaces in the Iron Foundries of the industrial revolution.

Agriculture first arose in Mesopotamia around 9500 BC and spread to Egypt by 7000 BC and from there across the world until the Industrial revolution which historian Eric Hobsbawm states 'broke out' in the 1780s did not completely establish itself until the 1830s or 1840s.

That’s a long time.

A long time where nothing much happened, save for the occasional advancement in drainage in the middle ages or of crop rotation in the Renaissance. I would say that it was easy to let the future take care of itself, as every day, every year, every decade was much like the last, save for the occasional change in King, Baron, Lord or whatever vicious bastard that had fought his way to the top using violence, guile and flattery. It must have been easy to view the only future as a personal future. A future filled only by personal relationships, and relationships between the individual and the land that stretched only as far as the coming harvest.

There were of course prophets and diviners, oracles and soothsayers, the like of the Sybilline and Delphic Oracles of Classical Greece, Zoraster in Persia, Nostradamus, while proto-sciences like astrology and sputtered into existence as well. These individuals who were viewed as instruments that could commune with powers beyond to divine the future were some what limited. Mostly they divined the personal futures for individuals who wanted to divine what would happen in their personal, near term futures, even the most expansive view of the future tended to be personal, the like of Kings asking what would the future of HIS kingdom be like within the years of his life? Those few diviners and prophets that went beyond the merely religious and eschatological, men like the French Nostradamus, wrote only in code and allusion, so that, I imagine, his “prophesies” would retain their applicability to whatever current situation happened to be in motion at the time. This may be the reason that Nostradamus’s Les Propheties have so rarely been out of print since his death in 1566.

However these visions of the future are so alien to our current view of it, as to appear comical, the stage set does not change, only the players do. The “future” always happens within the framework of the agrarian age. This does not seem to change until the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which as mentioned before did not step onto our stage of world history until the decade of their lord, the 1780’s. This is whe/n/re the future was born.

Mary Shelley's (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) books, among them Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826), were to initiate the age of Futures. These books were to influence the other founding pillars of Science Fiction, men like Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) who wrote a story about a trip to the moon, more and more examples appeared throughout the 19th century spinning mythological tales. These stories were not about the past, but about our distant future where not only were the people different, but so was the landscape. No longer were people’s imaginations limited to the pedestrian tales of purely human interaction but those characters took flight into space, aided by the endless mutating shapes of nature and machine. Then as the Industrial revolution continued and new technologies like the telegraph, electricity, the steam engine, and even the car rolled over the face of the earth transforming not only the way we lived, but the environment in which we lived. Factories belched smoke and drew the peasants to the great new metropolises and almost overnight transformed them from farmers to workers. We had transferred our evolution from a species that evolves itself to deal with changes in its environment to a species that evolves its environments to allow for the existence of the species. And it was then at that time, at that fulcrum, that crux, that we essentially began to invent the future(s) that we imagine today and sometimes, experience tomorrow.

More writers such as Jules Verne (February 8, 1828–March 24, 1905) and H. G. Wells (September 21, 1866 – August 13, 1946) forged ahead and created the new environs of what was then known as philosophers of foresight working in the genre of what was then called “Scientific Romance”. These writers pollinated their ideas even beyond the intelligentsia of their societies and down, down to the average literate citizen who devoured these tales of the fantastic, and allowed these mostly utopian visions to first paint the walls of their grey industrial existence and then infect scientists, philosophers and sociologists with what would today be called memes. These men of learning almost like academic avatars of the ideas themselves set about seeing if these thoughts could be made concrete. Some succeeded more than others, and some not at all. Our species had taken a hand in it’s own destiny and had begun to manifest the futures of it’s own imagination.

Then as time progressed so did the ideas, which spread out across the planet with the increase of industrialisation, eventually making their strongpoint in the United States of America. America was then one of the greatest industrial powerhouses in the world. This was partly as a result of the savage futurist reality tunnel of “manifest destiny” where the white man moved Westward across America taking his God and his machines with him, exterminating and destroying any opposing views as he went, it being the will of God, in the view of the proponents of the theory, as the white man was superior and destined to improve this land by any means necessary. For God and Country and Commerce. In 1925 “Amazing Stories” magazine was founded by Hugo Gernsback who gave voice to a whole generation of people, mostly men, who looked to the stars, and to technology as a means of facilitating man’s future evolution. Then in 1937 John Cambell took over editorship of “Astounding Science Fiction” in New York and triggered what is known as the “Golden Age” of Science Fiction, he escorted writers the like of Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Donald A. Wollheim, Frederik Pohl, James Blish, Judith Merril and many others, they called themselves the Futurians. Other writers also contributed to the magazine, writers the like of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and A. E. Van Vogt. All of these men wrote and infected the men of science with their fevered and hallucinogenic visions of mankinds glorious and, for the scientists, an idyllic future. Everything from mobile phones, to weapons to our reach from the stars had their genesis in the realm of science fiction

But then, the Future changed.

And the Second world war began. A time of almost apocalyptic terror and destruction. A truly world war, from Europe to Aisa, Africa to North to South America the scream of children and the uproar and tumult of millions of guns and bombs.

Humanities second unsuccessful suicide attempt.

The world, save for North America was left in ruins and our glorious dreams of voyages to the bottom of the sea and flying cars temporarily crumbled to blackened brick and burnt flesh. It was then that our dreams of the future, became dreams of our survival as men and women wandered searching for family members, brethren that most likely lay as flayed corpses in the gutters of destroyed cities. It was then that science fictions future inventing twin, “futurism” was born. The term “futurology” had been coined in the 1943 by a man named Ossip K. Flechtheim, a German Professor. The term Futurology means, quite literally, “the study of the future”. Flechtheim developed a coda for the newly born Futurology, that of a systematic and critical treatment of questions that related to the future which would become a new science of probability that took in many possible permutations of many variables so as to come up with a probable view of what may happen. If it was to be for the good, it was to be encouraged, if for the bad (like for example the second world war) options were to be made available for its avoidance.

Also in the mid 1940’s various futurist consulting firms sprang up, that proffered their services to the American government, companies like the RAND corporation and SRI. These companies used techniques that they termed scenario development, systematic trend watching, visioning and long-range planning. These programs were first run under the auspices of the U.S. government and military and then for private corporations. It was not unusual for different corporations and think tanks to come up with different memes of the future that were to compete for the headspace of the public and the public’s leaders. That period of time, from the 1940’s to the 1960’s signalled the birth and then the honing of methodological and scientific attempts to measure future trends. Methods that continue to be used up until this day.

From the future of hover cars and robot butlers, to the future communist world takeover, from space migration to earthly bio-extinction it has literally been in the last 200 years that we first envisioned these technological and evolutionary heavens and these hells, 200 years since we worshiped the modern potential for the manifestation of them. 200 years since we began to watch the battle between mental abstractions and the manifestation of possible futures. 200 years since we began to learn that what is allegorical fantasy today can be scientific reality tomorrow. 200 years since we invented and began to disseminate a multitude of possible futures from the differing geographical centres of the creative imagination, and started infecting the minds of the scientific imagination. Thus in turn changing the physical and societal form of this spaceship earth. 200 years since we the people got to choose which model we, personally and individually would build our reality tunnels around, paranoid or positive, even before “it” happened. 200 years since the future invaded the present.

200 years since we began inventing the future(s).

Peace and Hope


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Berlin Impressions

(top: The modern Televison Building in East Berlin, below: Untitled, Images © FatherCrow 2007)

With a sly grin,

And a mouthful of stars,

The above inspired the below.

Peace and Hope


Monday, March 05, 2007

Remembering The Reich

(Image: Close up of one of the blocks that make up the Jewish memorial in Berlin: © FatherCrow 2007)

Introduction: This piece addresses but one aspect of my trip to Berlin, and a dark one at that. There were many aspects which fascinated me, writing, art, culture, clubbing, architecture, drinking and other intoxicants are among them. This piece represents only one aspect, please treat it as that. There may well be more posts on some of the other perspectives,, depending on the time I get to write over the next few days, which could be limited as I’m also working on a painting as well as actually “working”, so I’m not sure how long I’ll actually have for blog posting. This should keep you going for a while whatever happens though

"And the Germans kill the Jews
And the Jews kill the Arabs
And the Arabs kill the hostages
And that is the news" - Roger Waters

They hang above us all, silhouetted black against the blacker night, splinters of electronic static spitting and screaming at us in bursts from the needle straight ribs of the four P.A. speakers that loom above our heads.

The Germans as a people bend under the unrelenting and unforgiving weight of a history that shrieks and threatens us all with an extinction, which seems immortal and ever present.

And they listen, despite the pain, all the time.

This is the price the German participants children’s children have paid, are paying, and will willingly pay it seems, for time immemorial.

I had landed in Schonefeld airport tired from too little sleep, due to the sadistically early flight departure time of six am, that my delightful low fares carrier Ryanair had decided to inflict upon me. The only thing that was keeping me upright was a continuous blast of 80’s American hardcore punk rock that battered me into consciousness. I made it to the S-Bahn station and settled down on a bench to wait for the Alexanderplatz bound train. Wild and grey skies, wind and weak sunshine. I was almost alone on the platform, only the occasional businessman, standing scattered about the expansive platform like statues, negative shapes outlined black against the light. The train came on time, as expected, this was after all Germany. On the S-Bahn, Berlin’s suburban rail I began my journey into the historical heart of the 20th century. A heart that was scarred and bled by two world wars, the holocaust of Jews, Gypsies, Socialists, Communists, homosexuals, the mentally ill and anyone else who disagreed with the sharpened bloody dagger of Nazi dualistic ideology.

There was much to explore, I was going to be here a week and though I did have significant other interests in the City of Berlin, the Second world war, and beyond that, the whole evolution of the entire poisoned Nazi regime was, if I am to be honest with myself the primary reason for the journey. My interest is not that of the visceral war movie fan, when I think of explosions I do not think of our much presented Movie Star™ leaping bravely from the edge of the screen to save his comrade from the collapsing building, I think only of the family that in real life would inevitably be trapped inside that building.

To us in the comfortable West, War has now become our entertainment, woven into the fabric of our lives, it has always been that way to some extent. But it is a long time since we whispered the mythic tales of warriors to each other around a campfire, a long way indeed that we have travelled. Now Edward Bernays’ Perception management techniques have evolved beyond even his wildest dreams. We sit in simulated rehearsal for the new technological war in front of our playstations and wii’s being groomed by first and third person shooters and military simulations for exposure to the repeated military movie blockbusters that grace our screens. Then, finally, we are gradually led like unknowing cattle to service in the military itself. The movies about war and the television recruitment propaganda that emanate from the actual military seem one and the same. Above this media drone of subconsciously absorbed memes of indoctrination, stand the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom, smiling shark grins, telling you this war without end on the amorphous beast of “Terrorism” will be over by Christmas.

We are daily being infected with a memetic serum that teaches us to love war.

In early 2003 when the United States the United Kingdom and Spain proposed what they called the “Eighteenth Resolution” which would give Iraq a deadline to comply with previous U.N. resolutions Germany along with Russia and France opposed it, and any military intervention. In the United States these countries were demonised for it in the major media. This hysteria was particularly pointed against France, bringing itself to an onanistic boil with the renaming of French fries to freedom fries. I think little thought was given in the U.K. and the U.S. as to the reasons these particular three countries were against the war.

One good way to find out that I would recommend, is a trip to Berlin.

The S-Bahn suburban rail whispered across the remaining few feet of track into Alexanderplatz station and shunted itself to a stop, I shouldered my luggage, made my way to the hostel and checked in. I have always preferred hostels to hotels. In hotels the social interaction generally involves listening to some drunk businessman whine about how his wife is cheating on him as he leans over the bar like a child trying to climb to the other side. Hostels, on the other hand, tend to have a more itinerant crowd who are more open to interaction and enthused about the novelty of it all. The Hostel was as I expected, large high roof, plenty of light, friendly staff, a clean environment and a nearby park where, it may appal you, as it did me, to know the demon weed marijuana is sold openly in the evening. So as not to keep you all in suspense the name of the Hostel is the St. Christopher, ask for Franz, he’ll take care of you. In fact he’ll even kick your ass at pool if you let him.

So my bags being stowed and my bed assured, I had time to take a breath and start to get my bearings in this great city of Berlin. My first move was to head out to the famed Potsdamer Platz, which was easy to find, once you concentrated on the expansive map of the city’s transport system that, though carefully thought out, was of such a size that unless you had yourself some good light to read it by, you may well be looking for one of the smaller stations for up to a half an hour. But you know, once you found the station you were looking for on the map it was really easy to get there. Such is the German reputation for organisation deserved. Everything seems to work in Germany and work well.

I was headed to Potsdamer Platz and so crossed the street markers of the Berlin Wall that scar so many of the streets of the city and down into Rosa Luxembourg Strasse U-Bahn (underground station), Rosa herself, a revolutionary, was one of the founders of the German Communist party who was captured by the German Freicorps during an uprising in Berlin in 1919, clubbed unconscious, shot in the head and thrown into a nearby river. Rosa, another martyr to another dualistic ideology. You’re wrong, I’m right, I live, you die. It always seems to be the same simple mathematics.

Rosa’s station eventually delivered me to Potsdamer Platz, the place is the architectural centre for the new Berlin it is also near the historical centre of Unter Den Linden (under the lime trees) in East Berlin which is where the 20th century began to grow it’s arteries and pump the substance of itself outward, spreading across all the worlds terrain and filling the fibres of time, like ink would fill a sponge. I step out at Potsdamer and head to my left, as I walk around this city I find on so many street corners these little bronze cobbles small and lonely in a sea of concrete. They drop below your awareness, unless you actually lower your eyes to the pavement and begin to actively look for them. All over Berlin these cold little cobbles lie, just below your feet, whispering the eternal mute protest of ordinary people. Ordinary people who were taken from their homes and beaten, broken, tortured, shot, gassed, drowned killed by exposure and taken down many, many other brutal paths to extinction. A mother taken from this house by the Gestapo, fate unknown. Children taken to the concentration camps, never returned, Men executed. All over the city, every time you feel an uneven bump on the street, you could be standing in front of one of the homes of these victims of the Third Reich.

You are always near their cries, you have but to listen.

Look up however and you are surrounded by the geometry of success, these sharp edges that reach to the skies, so much more inventive, whimsical and creative than those plain soaring monoliths of New York and Chicago, here in Potsdammer Platz and beyond that, I later find, to the whole of central Berlin these buildings rise at odd angles, here a skyscraper designed to look like the top of the building is falling off, and there, a façade of an apartment block leaning to one side of the main structure, painted brilliant red and giving a diamond shape to the windows, and a star shape to the dimension of the whole building. It’s almost as if they have re-built the whole city so many times, and have gotten so good at it, that the Berliner’s are just doing it for shits and giggles. If you kept your eyes on the LCD Screen buildings that advertise Vanity Fair, you could almost become anesthetised enough to forget that history is filling your pores. Jumbotron in New York, eat your heart out, buildings as LCD’s.

Moving on from Potsdamer Platz, away from the Sony Centre and through the Tiergarten, Berlin’s green lung, soon the Soviet memorial to their war dead emerges, this monstrous thing squats, huge and heavy, guarded by two artillery pieces and two t-34 tanks. The huge arches are inscribed “Eternal glory to heroes who fell in the struggle against the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union”. This memorial, with its armoury pointing out over the city of Berlin, whose arches are made out of the marble that once composed the walls of Hitler’s Reich Chancellery is a constant reminder to Berliners, at least four lanes of whom commute to and from work just in front of it, that, if the Germans ever behave in such a way again, another Ragnarok of the city will be upon them.

I walk onwards and through the Brandenburg gate, down through the thin February crowd and around to the left where I come across a field of grey stone cuboid teeth that tear through the ground of this prime real estate that lies in the centre of the cities financial district. As I walke into this field, it starts to rain, the beginning of what was to be several synchronous changes of weather that happened whenever I visited Second World war sites of particular emotional resonance, this was the first, the last was several days later in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The Grey blocks begin around waist level and as you progress through the uneven ground that lies beneath these plinths, they gradually begin to grow and rise, first above your hips, then shoulders and then finally head. At any point you can see the way out, which is a reassurance that the Jews of Europe, to whom this memorial is dedicated, never had. The rain begins to pool into odd drops on the surfaces of these cold grey columns, a result of the graffiti proof paint which is necessary due to Berlin’s thriving tagging and street art life. The anti graffiti paint was manufactured by the people who brought you zyklon B, the gas that was used to murder concentration camp inmates. There was some consternation about this, but it was eventually decided that the majority of employees of the company now were not even alive when the holocaust happened and should be allowed to contribute to this act of remembrance. Below the memorial is a museum to all the Jews that lost their lives during the Reign of the Third Reich. Again, there were discussions as to whether the memorial should commemorate all the victims of the Holocaust, or just the Jews. It was eventually decided that part of the funds would be allocated to remember the others that fell victim to this terror, but no additional memorials have yet been build. It is said that they are on their way, but as I heard more than one person remark upon, no one is holding their breath.

Later when I was absorbing all this in the bar of the Hostel over a game of pool, I began to realize what continued to be reinforced over the remainder of my trip. Daily I explored all the aspects of Berlin I could, but this is about memory, loss and war. Daily I would encounter some aspect of either the Third Reich or the cold war. The day after my trip to the Jewish memorial I embarked on a street walking tour of Berlin, which encompassed many of the cities different historical era’s from Fredrick the Great through Bismark, the First World War, the Third Reich and the Cold War.

Sylvia Roberge of Brewers Berlin Tours was our Guide on that day, and I would recommend that if you ever find yourself in the city of Berlin, that you make a special effort to get on one of her tours, as not only is she educated and erudite, she also has a wonderfully humane empathy that brings all of these historical periods to life, and gives them a context and relevance to the situation that we find ourselves in today. So remember, tip big.

On that tour Sylvia (I hope if she happens to come across this entry, she will forgive me for using the familiar first name, but Ms. Roberge just sounds too much like a schoolteacher.) allowed us to experience, among other things, Goring’s Air Ministry, designed by architect Ernst Sagebiel, which is the single surviving piece of Nazi architecture within the boundaries of the city of Berlin. I would say fascist architecture, but the Italian version is far more, how should I put it, Romanesque. The Nazi version however, like all things Nazi, seems to be stained a wet grey, heavy, imposing with its sheer scale, and sunken into the Berlin soil. Concrete reinforced to last a thousand years. The Air Ministry was untouched by Allied Air Raids which levelled all around it, and left this, the then largest building in Berlin standing, fate as they say, is not without a sense of irony. When you stand before it, grey space yawns all around you. The building is now the German Finance Ministry.

Next to the Air Ministry building beside another seemingly vacant space stands the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, beside that, an absence, for here was where the headquarters of the SS (ShutzStaffel or Protective Squad) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, or secret state police) stood. The building was bombed during the final years of the war, and now only remains as an excavated basement and a long textual, audio and visual history of both the SS and the Gestapo which adorns the remaining walls of the excavated basement. It is appropriately named the “Topography of Terror” and is free entry. All the Nazi related memorials and museums that I visited were free, though some understandably asked for donations.

Travel across town as far as Zoo station, and you emerge to the sight of The Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, a picture of which appears in the preceding post. This mournful towering gutted ruin has stood in a permanent vigil over the people of Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Church has been a constant memorial to the stupidity and brutality of war since it was bombed out in 1943. The spire is sheared off about half way up its length, as if pierced by the teeth of some giant winged predator, which in a way I suppose it was, all is metaphor. The Berliner’s with their customary dry humour have nicknamed the building the “Hollow Tooth”. Inside the Tooth, there is a recreated mosaic that has been painstakingly reassembled over visitors heads, partially to save a work of art, partially to keep the rain off of those who venture inside. Also inside is a wonderful golden almost art-deco cross that remembers Stalingrad and even more appropriately a cross made from the nails from the old Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed by Nazi bomb attacks during the war.

Move back into the center of Berlin and you come across the memorial to the Victims of Tyranny, an almost Freidrich the Great period style of architecture from the outside. A cube of a building fronted by six simple Doric columns, and two German Flags. This is the closest the Germans come to having a memorial to their own war dead. Which is understandable since they bear responsibility for the war, and so many in their armed forces were Nazi’s. The memorial to the victims of tyranny makes sense because it in essence covers all those within Germany and it’s fighting forces who as a result of the horror’s the Nazi’s brought upon Germany, were as much a victim of Tyranny as some of those in the occupied nations.

Walk through it’s Doric columns, after taking off your hat, you are confronted with a yawning, cold space. The building inside is one vast room, a massive eye like hole in the roof opens the room to the elements and you can hear and feel the wind that howls and batters itself off both your face and that of the building. The day I visited was a grey overcast afternoon in January and a light rain was falling. In the centre of the room a black bronze statue of a woman clutches, with a painful grief, her dead son to her breast. Her arms are locked tight, never prepared to let go, never going to let go. The woman is silhouetted under a column of rain, mist and light, which imprisons her forever in this ethereal frozen grief.

The list goes on and on, it is almost impossible to walk down the streets of this city without being constantly reminded of what they and their ancestors did. Even beyond the reminders that I have mentioned there are the ones that I have not, the concentration camps (one of which I visited), the Volkspark in Friedrichshain dedicated to the Polish soldiers that lost their lives during the war.

There is the memorial to the Aryan wives who were married to Jewish men, these women who the Nazi’s said were “race defilers”. These women who, just after Stalingrad were told that their husbands were going to be sent to the concentration camps, (men who up until that point had been “protected jews” and who were able to work and were prohibited from being deported). Many of these men were deported, but before all of them had been taken, the Aryan wives of these men, staged a protest outside the Reich's Chancellery from where Hitler ruled. It seems hard to believe but up until this point there had been no protest from the German people themselves, either about the war, or about the concentration camps, or other deportations, or the slave labour, there had been nothing. The Nazi government was at that point acutely aware of the public mood after the disaster of Stalingrad and were initially paralysed by inaction. They literally did not know how to react to a protest such as this by people who were considered “Aryan” and therefore people whose views mattered within the National Socialist Weltanschauung. Then the most impossible thing happened, the Nazis stopped all deportation of these privileged Jews, and even went as far as returning individuals even from as far afield as camps on the Ostfront. The lesson was not learnt then, despite the protests success, there were no others. No more people were saved. The memorial has a man sitting on a bench away to the side of the main sculpture, looking away, refusing to watch, or learn.

There are memorials to specific camps, and memorials at points that were used to deport individuals to the camps. There are memorials to bombing victims on the walls of neighboring, still standing buildings to the ones in which the dead met their end. The list goes on as the ghosts watch in mute agony.






Schools, Colleges, University level history education about the period, field trips to concentration camps, the Germans never let themselves forget.

And this may well be the the reason, I suspect, that the Germans, after having allowed themselves to almost be the harbinger of humanities extinction, will never, ever allow themselves to be reduced to that level of bestiality again. This is not just a German problem, as we have learnt many times since the Second World War, the Germans just seemed to have been the first to manifest the possibility for geonocidal mechanised extinction. Berlin now, seems to me, apart from the historical burden it bears on its back, one of the most liberal, artistic, tolerant and even humorous metropolises that I have ever been in. This seems to have happened as a result of the history, and an effort to remember it, rather than despite it.

Sadly the same lesson can not have been said to have been learnt by other perpetrators of genocide and horror upon the earth. I hear no apologies by the Hutu’s or Serbians for their respective Genocides. I see no tears on the faces of Russian Politicians to apologise for the massacre of many foreign peoples, then supposed “citizens” during the time of the Purges in the Soviet Union. No keening from the Americans over the men, women and children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Tokyo and other cities. Millions of civilians killed and maimed. No pleas for forgiveness from the United Kingdom for it’s gassing of Iraq, or Firebombing in Dresden. No cessation of the butchering of, so far, over 50,000 Falun Gong practitioners, harvested for organs with no anaesthetic at camps specifically tailored to that purpose by the Chinese government.

No Apologies.

My point being, is there a point to this? Well yes there is actually, the point being that the Germans and specifically the Berliners, remember. The fact that they remember, and do so constantly has allowed them to build up a liberal democracy, and prevent that liberal democracy from falling from grace. Precisely because of their memory they have learned that most rare of lessons. A lesson that is often spoken of by people and nations who have patently not learned the nature of the very lesson they speak of, that: “Those who do not learn from history, are condemned to repeat it”.

And perhaps we should thank the Germans for it. For they set an example many other nations could learn from.

Peace and Hope,