Sunday, 22 April 2018

Berlin Umbrella: How it Happened Part 2: the Poet's p.o.v.



On another day, I made a trip up and down the Spree from the Dom (the Cathedral) round the Museum Insel (Island) then up past the Reichstag to the Tiergarten and back again which was a good introduction to the city's history. I knew I wanted to incorporate that inner-city trip but for it to be more than just a description of architecture plus facts about World War 2 destruction and the Cold War. (For instance, I learnt that the river was one of the boundaries during the Cold War.)

Stories, people connected to the city's history through its river is what I wanted to discover.  Back home, during research into river connections with the Nazis, I came across two horrific atrocities - the first, the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, communist and critic of the Nazis, whose murdered body was weighted and thrown into the Spree; the second atrocity happened in Hitler's last few days, when he was hiding in his bunker and heard rumours that the Russians were advancing through the underground systems. Hitler ordered the wall separating the underground from a lock on the canal that leads off the Spree to be blown up, so that the underground was flooded, drowning thousands of Berliner civilians who used the tunnels as air raid shelters, also drowning wounded troops lying in hospital carriages.

But that is to jump ahead.  To go back to my on the spot research in Berlin,  it helped to already have seen the white crosses put up in memory of those who were shot and drowned attempting to swim to freedom during the Cold War. 

 I knew that the giant statue, Molecule Man by Joseph Brodsky, a symbol of hope, would appear in one of my poems. The statue appears to walk on the river between the opposite banks of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, districts separated during the Cold War, but now united.

One warm evening, Sonja had another engagement, so I sauntered along the river to Montbijou where people were relaxing with beers sitting on deckchairs or on the grass banks around an open-air tango area. I too watched the impressive tango dancing, had a beer and a hot-dog (Sonja was horrified when I told her. That was not a German sausage) and also chatted to a few people - who mainly turned out to be tourists from other German cities, and one English couple, about what they liked about rivers/ water in cities, so some of their thoughts appear in my poems. Thanks to any of those people if you are reading this. As the sun set and the lights came on along the river banks, it was time to head back.

Not all my research was river-based. I also visited the Nikolaikirche which is now a local history museum as a graphic way of learning about Berlin's history. Also the Film Museum, because Berlin is Film and you can't not go. 
Asta Nielson, silent movie star

I'm delighted I managed to get Asta Nielson, one of the early stumm (silent) movie stars into the poems. She refused to work for propaganda films for Hitler and managed to survive. Her films were made using silver nitrate film (later discontinued since they were highly flammable) but which gave films of that era their glossy black. 
Films unspooling, looping like memory, images rising and falling like reflections in the river...the metaphoric possibilities already playing in my mind.  To see what resulted,  you will have to listen to the poems.






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