On Monday 3rd October it was German Re-unification Day. I’d forgotten and popped to the post office and drugstore (chemists are Apotheke here, pharmacies) only to find them shut. After trying to understand a Romanian man explain why, in his broken German, I realised it was a Feiertag – holiday – and remembered the cause – October 3rd, the day chosen to celebrate the point East and West Germany re-united.
Although the celebration was mainly in Bonn this year, I decided to U-Bahn over to the Brandenburger Tor and see what might be going on. Getting out on Unter den Linden, once in the East, I walked towards the Gate, following the route I’d seen East Berliners use in film footage when they were protesting in the latter days. On Monday it was still warm and the bright sun cast long shadows through the Gate’s stone openings as I walked towards them. There were people of all nationalities milling about as it’s obviously quite a tourist spot, usually incorporating actors dressed as US and Soviet military guards in the re-modelled ‘square’, which is edged by embassies. Strikingly, the gate wasn’t entirely open to walk through (partly because there was a big stage on the opposite side) but the barrier across it was a bright red advert for Coca Cola, which, I think, was sponsoring the concert or even, maybe, the whole festival. Not only ironic as a makeshift ‘wall’, it reminded me of the moment in Goodbye Lenin, the affectionately bitter-sweet German film about the changes after the wall fell, when the mother (who doesn’t know it has) sees the big Coca Cola banner being unfurled down the tower-block opposite and her son has to make up some story about why it’s happening.
As I then walked through the side opening, the singer on stage was belting out the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ (I wish those days could come back once more…etc) and I wondered “which days?” but as the song is a kind of celebration of past simplicity, the ethos of less being more, it leaned more towards the “days” being those of less ‘choice’ but more simplicity as (perhaps?) in the East. The other songs the singer (young female and German-speaking) sang were all in English while I was there (the next was Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay).
I walked down the 17JuniStrasse, which runs straight ahead from the gate and is named after the 1953 uprising when East German troops and police opened fire on striking workers during a protest. It leads through the big Tiergarten Park. The road was closed off to traffic and lined with food stalls, hat sellers, trinkets and souvenirs. Straight ahead, well before the Siegessäule (Victory Column with the golden angel on), I could see a garish oblong construction with “Happiness Monument” emblazoned on it, it looked like some kind of temporary structure and reminded me, for some reason, of a helter-skelter. I decided to see what it was but as I got closer, I found another, smaller but very striking statue on a plinth in the middle of the road. This depicted a barefoot, walking figure (maybe a woman because long-skirted, but flat-chested like a man – so maybe meant to be non-gendered). The figure’s head is thrown back and the hands up around the mouth as s/he hollers something out loud. Round the top of the plinth is the following inscription: „Ich gehe durch die Welt und rufe ‘Friede, Friede, Friede’ – ‘I go through the world and cry: Peace! Peace! Peace!’
This sculpture, only slightly bigger than life-size and of an anonymous everywo/man telling truth to power, calling right up to the Brandburg Gate and with its back to the Victory Column and the temporary ‘Happiness Monument’ was very moving and truthful – more real than the Real Thing TM.
The ‘Happiness monument’ turned out to be another Coke sponsored thing, ostensibly there to hide cabling or generators, it seemed. It had, once again in English, some kind of slogan about dreaming the world could be a better place and, as I passed, a large security guard, looking like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction eyed me suspiciously. At the side of the 17JuniStrasse, the Soviet war memorial was fenced off, as was The Caller (Der Rufer) the sculpture described above- maybe to stop damage? The thinning, but still milling, crowds looked at both curiously while massive ads for private health-care companies filled the giant screens in lieu of the band who had finished their set.
In the new and expensively marbled Brandenburger Tor U-Bahn station, there are slogans from the Cold War and it struck me as I re-read Ronald Reagan’s famous exhortation to Gorbachev, that it’s now being re-framed by New York protestors as “Mr Obama, tear down this Wall Street.”