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1 April 2013
Is nothing sacred?
No, nothing is sacred.
Or at least that is what the money men would have us believe.
But what about a nation’s heritage, what about the symbols of the soul of the nation, what about the nation’s landscape, its literature, its paintings, its history?
Take Germany, for instance.
The Germans are the Americans of Europe.
Germans tend to go in for modern things. They furnish their houses in a contemporary style. Their cities are modern, forward-looking, efficient.
This is only natural.
Just as America does not have much of a history, since it has not existed for long, so Germany does not have many mementos of its history, since so much was destroyed in the Second World War.
All the more reason, you might think, for treasuring those symbols that have survived.
Moreover, some icons of German history do in fact remain, not least perhaps the discrete remains of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin in the post-war era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.
No fewer than 136 people were shot by East German border guards while trying to escape across the wall to the relatively free world in the west from the Communist dictatorship in East Berlin. Those parts of the wall that remain are a memorial to the escapees and would-be escapees and a grim reminder of what they were escaping from.
On 9 November 1989 the wall was breached in a popular revolt by the people of East Berlin. On 3 October 1990 East and West Germany were united under West Germany hegemony.
The longest remaining length of the wall – a 1.3 kilometre stretch built in 1961 at the height of the Cold War – has been decorated by as many as 120 artists since the fall of Communism. The murals are referred to as the East Side Gallery, the wall having been built just to the east of the line demarcating the East-West border.
However, last week, like thieves in the night, a gang of demolition workers attacked the wall in the small hours and demolished four sections of the East Side Gallery on behalf of a developer who wishes to build high-rise luxury flats near the site.
Preservationists claim that the developer is sacrificing history for profit.
In the London Guardian on 28 March 2013, Kani Alavi, head of an East Side Gallery artists’s group, is quoted as saying: “I can’t believe they came here in the dark in such a sneaky manner. All they see is their money. They have no understanding for the historic relevance and art of this place.”
Ivan McClostney, who moved to Berlin from Ireland a year ago, is quoted as saying: “If you take these parts of the wall away, you take away the soul of the city. This way you make it like every other city.”
The business argument is that the past is all very well, but we must pick ourselves up and move on. If we were to remain fixated by the past, they say, how could we progress, how could we innovate, how could we improve?
It is an argument that is certainly persuasive, particularly if we restrict ourselves, for instance, to areas such as medical progress. The life of man today, from a medical point of view, provided that one lives in the developed world, is infinitely superior to the life one’s ancestors just a hundred years ago.
On the other hand, so far as politics and national history is concerned, can we simply jettison the past? Can we justifiably wipe the slate clean?
There is no one alive in our generation who does not remember the resounding address of US President John F. Kennedy to the people of East and West Berlin within a stone’s throw of the BerlinWall at Schöneberg town hall on 26 June 1963.
This is what Kennedy said:
“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum”, that is to say, “ I am a Roman citizen”. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
ICH BIN EIN BERLINER
Every stone in the Berlin Wall is an incarnation of those words. It is sacred ground. The bulldozers of self-styled progress have no right to demolish it.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.