Berlin – a city with a conscience

From Winston Churchill’s speech


September 19, 1946. University of Zurich

Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join a union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and every land from war and servitude must be established on solid foundations, and must be created by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than to submit to tyranny. In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America — and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well — must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live. Therefore I say to you “Let Europe arise!”








I was in Berlin last weekend, staying with two new friends who live there. She is German/American and he is British. I asked how they were dealing with the possible consequences of Brexit. The younger couldn’t actually believe it would cause that much of a problem, the older was much more pragmatic. Both were born post the fall of the Berlin Wall whereas I remember the wall going up and coming down. I am concerned for them lest Britain’s hostile stance provokes a reaction that affects their relationship by making living together difficult. That would be a pointless tragedy brought about by ignorance, prejudice and posturing – in fact the antithesis of everything Berlin, as a city, stands for.

The photographs above are of the Jewish Memorial and two columns of the Neues Museum – the bullet holes from the Allied invasion of Berlin at the close of WWII still visible – and between them, the Fernsehturm, the Television Tower, opened in 1969. If anything was iconic for me about Berlin, it was these two sights.

The first, a series of concrete blocks set in ground that slopes down towards the centre until the height above you becomes oppressive, symbolises the seemingly immovable horrors of the Holocaust. It had a profound, emotional effect on me.

The second brings history into sharp contrast. It is fitting that these columns have not been repaired as the reminder of conflict, not so very long ago, is a warning to us all. And yet, visible between them is an example of progress in technology and communication. Whether we use them for good or bad is our choice.

I did, of course, do the usual tourist trek around Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall Art, Brandenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz. Also, never forgetting my theatre roots, I went to a performance of The Ugly Duckling, not the Hans Christian Anderson children’s tale, but a very clever and riveting production about drag artists at the Deutsches Theater (English with German subtitles and vice versa – hats off to the superb actors – and to the dialogue operator).

I was aware, though, the whole time I was there, that Berlin is very much in touch with its recent past. The modern Jewish Museum concentrates on Jewish history from 1930, the rise of Fascism and its catastrophic effect on Jewish people. It is guarded 24/7 by armed police, a sad recognition that the Right is on the rise again. There is also a Remembrance Garden, opened in 2012, of the Sinti and Roma victims, who met similar fates to their Jewish fellow countrymen. Guilt is a recognition that the city finds hard to shake.

And now, unashamedly, comes my political statement. The greatest peace project we have in modern times is the European Union. Forget squabbles about trade and funding (even though Britain had a better deal than any other member) and remember that we have been at peace for over seventy years. Yes, there are problems, I recognise them. Greece has borne harsh austerity and unemployment which continues today, but this is a complex story and financiers are at fault as much as Europe. Much of my heart lies with Greece, but my hope lies with the EU.

As a writer, I am featuring the plight of refugees passing through the Greek islands and the aid workers and volunteers who help them in my next book, Jigsaw Island. I have met people who have been through unspeakable experiences to escape war, talked to those who work with them and for them. I feel anger and shame that innocent people are in such desperate situations and we do so little for them. It is the disconnection of politicians who, as you read this, are committing crimes against humanity; the greater the crime, the more likely they are to get away with it. And the biggest culprits head up the largest states. And we know who those are.

Let us never forget what lies, misinformation and demonisation of a people can do. The scars are still there to see. Berlin, thank you for your conscience.

This entry was posted in Britain in EU, catasrophe, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Desperation, Greek Islands, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Personal, Refugees, Religion, Remain in EU, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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