It was five years after the wall had come down when we took Ruckblick to Berlin. Everything was still very raw. When we weren’t in the theatre rehearsing or performing, we were touring around a city that looked like a building site, or visiting buildings where hideous events had taken place – Wannsee, where the Nazis planned the fate of the Jews, and Plotzensee Memorial for the resistance workers who were hanged by the Nazis. I remember the bitter wind of April, and an aching sadness. That said, there were brilliant moments too – the camaraderie of the company, the great welcome we received from our hosts, roses falling from the fly-tower of the theatre after our last performance, and the late night walks back home, singing and dancing along the streets, past the river and parks. One evening a few of us were taken into East Berlin to visit an arts centre in an old school. It was the bleakest place, broken down, grey, cold, the wind and rain whipping around the corners of the blocks. We shivered as we were taken around, marvelling at the courage and resourcefulness of the artists who were trying to build a new world out of the rubble. Later, we huddled over hot chocolate in a little corner café.
My son now lives in the east, in an area called Friedrichschain. The trams are bright yellow instead of grey, the streets are lined with trees, the buildings painted in many colours, as well as covered in graffiti. There are little shops, markets, and cafés everywhere – so much life and colour and vibrancy. We walked by the river alongside the remains of the wall – how can it have been such a flimsy construct – barely six inches thickness? We sat on the riverbank, in the sunlight, drinking beer, and I marvelled that this was the same city I visited twenty years ago. How successfully the ghosts are scribbled out. Or are they?
Bucherboxx, Gleis 17, and Teufelberg
Between 1941 and 1945, men woman and children, destined for the ghettos of Poland or the death camps, were loaded onto cattle trucks leaving platform 17. Along the edge of the platform are embedded 186 cast steel bars inscribed with the dates of the transports, the number of people and where they were taken.
In silence we left the station and walked into the woods. The sun shone and we passed wooden chalets in the middle of allotments full of flowers and vegetables. We took a sandy track leading up to Teufelsberg, or Devil’s Hill with its far-reaching views over the trees towards the city.Teufelsberg was created with the debris of post-war Berlin. Underneath it is the remains of the never-completed Nazi military-technical college, designed by Albert Speer. The allies tried to destroy it using explosives, but it proved so robust that in the end it was easier to cover it in rubble. On the top, surrounded by a wire fence and barbed wire, and dense in dark green vegetation, is the now derelict listening station of the US National Security Agency, used during the Cold War. We walked around the perimeter. The monument itself, such as remains of it, is guarded by a group of people living in a caravan, who charge an entrance fee. It’s an eerie, sinister place, even on a bright July afternoon – a monument to distrust, dividedness, and legitimate paranoia.