May 3 2016

Image of Berlin

Picture: BG

Berlin is a melancholy city. In the centre, the 'mitte', bulletholes pepper most of the pre-war buildings. Those that are unmarked are newly built recreations, as the city aims to recapture its mid-19th Century glory, before Nazism and Cold War division wrecked it. In places, efforts have been made to cover the bulletholes with cement, but over time the fillings have discoloured, and now serve only to draw more attention to these tangible reminders of times past. In most other cities, such uncomfortable echoes of suffering - and let's face it, guilt - might have been erased. But Berlin itself, the whole city, is a memorial, and all the more moving for it.

For Britons used to seeing the war as a heroic moment, something we constantly revisit with endless books and films, and even still laugh at in programmes like 'Dad's Army', understanding how Berliners can live daily with such frank reminders of the war, and its destructive end, is not easy. Would the weight of history not feel oppressive? But Berlin teaches us that while places and buildings can retain the physical scars of war, people and life must move on. Remembrance and pride are one thing, reveling in the war, as we have tended as victors to do in Britain, is quite another. Berlin is best understood as a place of reconciliation and hope. Where once there was total destruction and despair, unity and peace can prosper. Berlin is a not a melancholy city. It is a glorious city.

Update - perhaps you can tell I'm not voting for Brexit...

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