It’s Christmas in Berlin. I’m writing from a small café in Xberg, as the rebels call it when they’re sure they are amongst friends. The regime has ears everywhere, or so it seems to the besieged people here. No one is prepared to take a chance.
Berlin having tumbled from the Weimar Republic’s crippling debt burden, which offered a foothold to the fledgling fascist movement, grew into a forbidding capital built on lies, oppression and genocide, and finally ‘liberated’ by Stalin’s colossal army which at times appeared to operate solely on the basis that they had more soldiers than you had bullets, and they were not afraid to use them. From the brief liberation it was not long before the remaining rubble of Berlin was carved up between the Allies… And then simply between Capitalist and Communist regimes. It became the frontline for a bizarre and quietly brutal war, with two bullies circling each other for decades, refusing to throw the first punch – much preferring their tiny minions to get thrown into the napalm or machine gun fire or whatever their weapon of choice was at that particular moment. Berlin was only given some respite and chance to become one again at the tail end of 1989. Citizens had been marching for weeks in other East German towns like Leipzig. They grew in confidence. In the end the collapse of the DDR was eerily meek. It was as if the people just en masse ceased to believe… and in turn the DDR ceased to exist.
There was a fabulous story by Anna Funder in “Stasiland”, where she recounted stories of the citizens storming the HQ of the Stasi. (Imagine US citizens just walking in to Langley – that’s the level here.) Such was the effect of the regime that while “storming” the building, the Stasi officers at the door were checking ID papers upon entry… and people complied! If Berlin were your friend you would have to take pity on him/her (Berlin’s gender anyone?). The unlucky friend, fantastic to spend ashort hedonistic time with but ultimately too self destructive for anyone’s health, falling from one abusive relationship to the next, and finally when everything seems to be turning out okay against all the odds, it finds itself somehow under the control of another cruel despotic regime.
Any Westerner will recognise the claws of the new leader. Spending most of his time in the shadows, like they late Kim Jong-Il, his public presence is trapped up massively at the end of every year for the anniversary. Just like the Parties of old, both Fascist and Communist, the city is decked out in colours and bright, shiny things to attract and indoctrinate the youngest citizens and to stir nostalgic feelings in the older ones. Few rebel. Unlike days of old they do not fear being disappeared in the night by the Gestapo or Stasi thugs. No, they fear alienation. They are vastly outnumbered. To rebel is to be seen as curmudgeonly, mean and ill-befitting the self proclaimed most prosperous country in Europe. Throughout the winter months, the bulls up begins. The party colours cleverly re- engineered by some marketing experts in the thirties. Families are forced from sheer weight of expectation, peer pressure and relentless TV propaganda to splash out on the anniversary celebrations. The threat of not celebrating while oft threatened is never realised. No one dares. Everyone caves. In historical terms-it’s a phenomenal achievement, evil as it is. Like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, The Roman Empire… You just have to marvel at the drive in achieving such things, horrific as they may be. The young family next to me in the café are surrounded by shopping, and the little bit is totally in real to ask the present sing things and that elusive promise of happiness. His parents look weary and drained. They speak in hushed tones of these jolly one, but we all know his true form. Another year of empty promises and short lived satisfaction. They’ve seen it all before. XBerg and Berlin will rise again I’m sure. As will the West. Shake the shackles off. But when?