Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lessons from Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin
The former checkpoint between East and West Berlin
I missed my flight from London to Berlin, because of poor planning on my part. (There were other reasons, like the subway being really late.)

In London, I choose to spend extra time (instead of hauling myself to the airport) in looking at all the suits and coats in London's famous Saville Row, where the tailors stitch a custom suit for you by measuring you from head to toe. The suits were so expensive, but they looked so nice. I couldn't afford one, but when I looked at the coats, it made me think that Detective Sherlock Holmes would wear a suit and coat from Saville Row.

I went in a shop in Saville Row, something I dare not do when I was 19 in London, because they would've known I was too poor to afford a suit. The associate greets me. He's very friendly. But because of spending too much time in Saville Row and spending too much time studying the designs of the posh suits, I missed my flight to Berlin by about 30 minutes.

So, when I get to the customer service line, the guy at the counter tells me I have to pay $80 USD (about 80 Euros) now, because it's a mileage ticket and that's the standard fee. He then says that he's leaving work, and he'll inform his next colleague that I have to the $ 80 USD. The next person takes over.

She waits for the guy to leave.

Then she says, "I've changed your ticket to be on the next flight. I'm not charging you. Just don't tell anyone."

I open my suitcase and find a box of American Almond Roca. I give it to her. And say, "Thank you so much. You made my day. Merry Christmas."

She says, "You made my day too."

Well, my friend Volker and another friend named Karen, both say I'm the luckiest person they've ever met. In fact, my mother says the same. So, maybe I am super lucky.

Then I almost miss my next flight, even though I'm checked in. I started studying World War I and forgot about the time. Also, London Heathrow Airport is huge. You need a lot more time to walk to a terminal than any other airport I've been to. This time, however, I catch my flight to Berlin.

When I arrive into Berlin, the first thing I realize is that I forgot all my German. It's been two and a half years since I've been to Germany. I want to say something in German, and I know I should know the phrase, but in my mind, I draw a blank. Nothing comes out.

It's the first time I think I know what it feels like to have a speech handicap.

I say in German, "I'm sorry. Just a moment please."

Then I say in English, "I'm sorry. I just forgot all my German."

The guy at the counter laughs and says, "Do not worry. It will come back."

* * * *

It's been two and a half years since I've been in Germany. It's been over seven years, since I toured Berlin, on a wild road trip with Volker and his friends. The memories of that roadtrip come back. I remember our tour on the boat and the night clubs and the food and all of Volker's worries on that trip. Now, I'm back in Berlin again.

In Berlin, I went to two museums. The first one was the K├Ąthe Kollwitz Museum. Kollwitz was a famous German, woman illustrator, who captures the pain, poverty, hunger, and the effects of the war on the poor. Although a small museum, I really learned a lot from it. It's the only museum I've been to dedicated solely to a woman artist.

Misery by Kollwitz
Mother suffering over child
Kollwitz was the first woman artist elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts. Because of her father's influence about caring for the poor, most of her art focused on the poor and working class.

I was most impressed by the fact that she stayed to live in Berlin during Hitler's reign, when she could have move elsewhere. The Gestapo visited her and her husband, and they decided to commit suicide if they were sent to concentration camps. Kollwitz opposed war in general, because she lost her son in World War I, and as a result, the themes of pain, loss, and dead children surface and resurface in her works.

The second museum I visited was the Topography of Terror. The museum to dedicated to exposing the horrors of the Nazi regime. It's built on the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo.

In general, I was rather disgusted and angry to see how an entire state moved towards destroying the lives of the most vulnerable people of their society. The one thing that stood out to me was one of the first steps that the Third Reich needed to achieve to fulfill their plan of total destruction was to wipe out dissent and criticism.

In the early stages of Hitler's reign, those who criticized the Third Reich, were paraded around town, with a sign that often said: "Enemy of the State." They were then ridiculed and humiliated in front of the people.

I had a few thoughts when I saw all those who criticized Hitler and were punished for it. Why didn't anyone in the City protest that humiliation? How could the police accept such orders to parade one of their own citizens around? Why didn't anyone in that town help those out whom were being punished?

Although you can't compare the former German state with Baldwin Park, isn't the same thing happening in Baldwin Park now? When you leaflet in the park, you get arrested and strip searched and jailed. When you plaster signs criticizing our elected officials, you get cited by code enforcement. And why do public officials need to chill such speech?

Because, as we're seeing in South Korea right now, when people lose faith in the character of their public officials, they no longer have the right to represent or rule them. So, such public officials need to silence criticism that tells the truth and stresses the abuse of power of such people.

All in all, the Third Reich terrorized their citizens to maintain control. I can't say seeing these exhibits was all that pleasant.

After finishing my tour there, I walked to the cafe across the street. I ordered a spiced wine and ate currywurst, which is a German sausage, cut up, and tossed into a curry sauce. I caught up on my emails and started making arrangements to see my friend Volker in Germany.

Although nothing stood out to me about Berlin on this trip, it was certainly I place I liked. I felt like I could work and live in such a city. 

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