Friday, 16 March 2012


My summer visit to Berlin this year was a social whirr, and I came back pretty fagged: I think that was because it was emotionally so very highly charged, in that the complex and not very pretty past played such a dominant role. I was invited to attend the celebration of the laying of 11 Stolpersteine, those 4 inch square brass memorial plaques let into the pavement in front of the block of flats where Jewish Berliners were collected by the Gestapo for carting off to concentration camp and death. A woman I met at the celebration came up to me, and very diffidently enquired whether I, too, perhaps, had lost relatives for whom I wished to have such memorial plaques laid, and she is now doing remarkable research work for me, about dates and partners and their last voluntary addresses – Jews were collected and put together in ‘Jewish’ accommodation. My great uncle and aunt had loads of Jewish Berliners moved into their flat. And everybody was terrified when the doorbell went, in case it was the Gestapo, and some of their number were bidden to take their little suitcases and leave...  I have this from my great aunt, who told me in ’46 when I was in Berlin on leave from my Red Cross work. It is unpleasant to have to 
remember those times. My mother’s sister and her husband will get Stolpersteine. And my father’s sister and husband – I didn’t know that she had married. My grandfather’s sister and husband. And then there is my mother’s lifelong best friend, from school, Marianne 
Piorkowsky, her husband and her daughter Ursel, my age, a bit younger, came to birthday parties on the balcony of our flat in Haupstrasse, Friedenau, I have a photograph of her in the album, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. 1942.  70 years ago... Did one not grieve properly for them then???

And then I had been invited to be one of the 4 to propose the remarkable headmistress of the Loecknitz Grundschule, Christa Niclasen – see my earlier blog about that – the primary school headmistress, whose senior pupils had for 17 years built the wondrous memorial wall, each brick devoted to a Jewish citizens of the neighbourhood killed by the Nazis, researched, and annotated with name, date, and fate. I spoke to the two top classes about my turning from Berliner to Londoner, they call us Zeitzeugen, witnesses of the time. Christa Niclasen invited us 4 ‘proposers’ for coffee and cakes at a cafe in the district by the school, the Bayrische Viertel, and after that I had had my fill of the past, I needed music, and went straight over to the Deutsche Oper, booked me a ticket in the front of the stalls, and relished a superb production of Boheme.

I had to go back to Berlin a few weeks later to attend the official prize giving in the Berlin  City Hall, where Christa Niclasen was given an Obermayer Award for her inspiration of the memorial wall, which acknowledged the Jewish Berliners who had died. And there was a meeting in the school by the wall, too, with members of the Obermayer jury and Mr Obermayer, to honour the children for their work. 

Then I spent 4 days being interviewed by friends on camera about the knife edge of being both a Berliner and a Londer, how come! That was fun. We did most of it in a back room of the Bleibtreu cafe, a regular haunt round the corner from my pension. And I was continually invited, by old and new friends, and there was theatre, and lots of music, art, good Berlin food at the Treffpunkt Berlin, my favourite pub restaurant. So the Berlin of today came up trumps. I generally had three appointments a day... I spent ONE evening in my room in bed, reading, relaxing. But that terrible past... A cloud spreading a shadow over today...

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