The other morning I have attempted to improve my German by re-reading the first pages of the experimental book from the 1920’s Berlin: ‘Einbahnstrasse’. I have compared the original text to my Dutch copy at the point of advice regarding the recollection of dreams. I do sleep very well here, but I have no dreams, or, I do not recall anything. Not yet an intruder, I am slightly above the surface among the monuments and tectonic shifts of Berlin’s history. I went for a bike ride yesterday evening.
‘Not touching anything on my way!’
Experienced biker but here just clumsy – the traffic is out of any proportion I am used in the Netherlands. One thing seems to be the same; the locals on their bikes are openly annoyed by the newcomer getting in their way. I went down the street, along the Landwehr canal, to find Rosa Luxemburg’s monument smeared by layers of black paint. The signature was a few steps away.
‘National Sozialismus heilt corona!’
My actual plan was to bike next to another spot nearby. Surprisingly, the Nazi’s spray felt just as a mild shock comparing to my encounter with the statement on the square called Walter Benjamin. Later, I dug up online that I wasn’t alone in experiencing it as a textbook example of fascist architecture. This neo-antique two flats monument stripped to its bare essence was finalized in 2000. It consists of two symmetric blocks too high for the size of the square and, in this way, compressing it into a temple without a roof. The buildings are painted in greenish-grey, producing in me further militant associations. This square named after the famous exiled Berliner is an ongoing scandal. As I have now learned, it is not a small detail, or a footnote, that it served during the Third Reich as a ‘shelter’ for forced labourers. Any sign to commemorate those people would be on its place here. But, the inscription to accompany the architectural statement was the quotation of poet Ezra Pound. Not a detail that it was not Walter Benjamin. Also, it is not a small detail that Ezra Pound, in his later years, became a psychotic propagator of Mussolini’s fascism. Finally, the inscription was removed in January of this year. Intended as simple, uniform and solid, the grim architectural statement still stands. What went wrong, how is it possible that it was built even after massive protests by residents in 1995?
However, I am informed that, while in Germany, it might be wise not to engage publicly in controversies of the historical present. For any German person, this is unstable ground, and it might be rude in my position of the outsider to go into this. I have understood that a locally born person, who is not yet totally German, is not expected to deal much with this stuff neither. I am thus back to my quarantine. Or, let’s say, I was not outside at all – I have viewed Walter Benjamin Platz via Google street view, and I have talked with Magali about Rosa Luxemburg by phone. All right, I am back to level zero of my raw material: the snapshot from 1976. As a way of introduction, and as mentioned here below, I said to re-read this (un)familiar image produced about one year after the disappearance of Nikola in Berlin.