My first ever Berlin visit took place last week. It was a very emotional trip for me: To the city where my father was born, less than two months after he had left us. I was supposed to plan the visit with him, take some relevant addresses, and share my experience with him during and after that visit. Instead I found myself spending a 4 day journey into skipping between past and present of a city that has many stories to tell and loads of scars to show. And still it was sort of a memorial trip.
My father was born and spent the first 4 years of his life in a part of Berlin later known as East Berlin. His family history is entangled with this city’s history, and his wounds are, too. His first ever visit to Berlin as an adult was paid for by the German government. After years of deep resentment and anger, he was able, well, not to forgive, but live with what had happened and narrow his anger to the individuals and circumstances, and not a nation or a country.
We were so lucky to meet Aviva Brueckner in Berlin on our visit. She has made it into a really special visit. I think I found a kindred spirit there. She is an amazing story teller in person as well as through her remarkable art. The whole strange mixture of the Berlin history, the promise it keeps and the horrors it experienced, came to life. Touched us and confused us in a way we couldn’t imagine.
Being an Israeli all you can think of when you first visit Berlin is The Holocaust. But Berlin is a war stricken city for centuries, and the last holocaust it experienced was actually the dividing of the city into east and west, good and bad, us and them. The city and its residents are still licking these wounds. It didn’t exactly end on 1989.
Since Aviva grew up on the east, and was only 14 when the Berlin wall was taken down, it was the first time we could learn how things look, or looked, from the other side. How the east was happy to find freedom, yet unhappy to feel concurred. How teachers became confused. Or how it is to be young people growing up in the 21st century in Berlin, belonging to the German nation and living with movies like Indiana Jones, who portray German as the ultimate evil. But young Berliners aren’t just living with it, they love these movies, exactly like their peers over the ocean.
And all through this trip, I could feel my dad’s presence, or lack of, in and around me. Pointing me to childhood photos like this one, taken 1938 or so on Unter Den Linden, the main avenue crossing Berlin. Taken by a loving father he didn’t get to know.