Crumbs From The Burden Of History

Not long after my last visit to Haus Bethanien, I went over there again to see a couple of so-so pieces done by people with Bethanien grants, and dragged along my painter friend, who I thought might welcome the opportunity to get out of his studio and into the real world. Not that Kreuzberg, and Bethanien in particular, is the real world, but it’s realer than abstract painting, I guess.

Anyway, it didn’t take any time at all to get from his house over to where the opening was, and we were early, so we took a walk around the surrounding neighborhood and stumbled on something that really spoke volumes about Berlin and its relationship to its own history.

Over in what must have been a corner of the city smack up against the wall is a collection of red-brick buildings which once apparently housed a school for young men. In a dark corner, shaded by large trees, there’s a monument with an Iron Cross on it, a real rarity in this country. The monument has four brass plaques, one on each face, with the names of students from this academy who died “in defense of the Fatherland” during World War I. So far, so relatively unspectacular.

But at the base of the monument, there’s another plaque, much more recent. On it is an inscription saying that after protests about the monument’s existence were registered with the Kreuzberg borough authorities, a dialog was entered into, and it was decided to add this inscription making it clear that the citizens of Kreuzberg found this monument shameful and pledged never again to fight another war.

In other words, they couldn’t stand the fact that this monument existed way over in the dark shade of the trees, but they couldn’t take it down because it was Historic.

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The Sauerkrautmeister, taking time off from the delightful little bundle of cabbage he and Ms. Arpa brought into the world recently, noted my mention of the 30-foot (I checked yesterday) aspirin in back of the Reichstag, erected there as part of the Germany: Land of Ideas campaign that’s got a truly hideous pile of books at Bebelplatz and a rather generic car somewhere else. “I love that,” he writes. “Guess where they got lots of human pain data to refine the formula?” Why, volunteers from the S&M clubs which flourished here during the Weimar Republic, right? No?

I guess what George Clinton said is true: “When you have a big headache, you need a big pill.”

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Last week the PEN International crew were in town for their annual convention, and a couple of them were waylaid by some of the folks who are now going to enthusiastically rebuild the Hohenzollern Schloss — well, as soon as the Palast der Republik is finally demolished. Apparently the neo-royalists have given up on the idea of turning it into a shopping mall (we really don’t need another shopping mall so much as we need the money that could be spent in one), and now it’s going to be a giant museum! They’re planning on putting the bust of Nefertiti, the Blue Gate of Babylon and who knows what else in there so tourists won’t have to schlep from one of Berlin’s museums to another! What a great idea: tourists here have little enough context with which to evaluate what they’re seeing, so why not confuse them further?

The good news, of course, is that these bufoons still don’t have one Euro to rub against another.

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And, nothing to do with the Burden at all, but worth noting: among the flood of World Cup crap being dumped into the stores is one item that expresses my feelings completely: Butlers, a chain of stores selling cheesy “lifestyle accessories,” is selling soccer-ball-print toilet paper. At

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