The New Berlin – Memory, Politics, Place
By Karen E. Till
University of Minnesota Press – £19.50
Geography and memory can often play havoc with our minds. Not often is there a true-blue, surprising confluence of their organic representations. Hardly ever, does the quintessential essence of geography and memory collide; for the simple, ever transcending reason that they are fundamentally as one.
Indeed, the geography of ones’ memory always retains its place in time – and visa versa. Whenever one inadvertently returns to childhood via memory, the layout, even the topography is insistent upon remaining the same. Regardless of whatever triggered the memory – be it a certain smell, a piece of music, a collection of words in another language or from another era. All is superfluous, especially with regards arriving at the actual geography itself, wherein everything secondary is utterly redundant. But then imagine multiplying the manifestation of said geography and memory, and then injecting it with such a shameful and cataclysmic ideology as that espoused by the Nazi Party, and you might, reach a pinnacle of (regal and confused) tumultuous potential, otherwise known as Berlin.
The city I now call home. The city herein, under such dense sociological investigation by authoress Karen E. Till, that it’s nigh impossible to grapple with the sheer enormity and idea of Berlin having arrived at where it is today.
To be sure, by hurling literary cats among contentious pigeons, The New Berlin – Memory, Politics, Place invariably sets one record straight, only to disperse and totally diffuse another by way of reflective historicism. For instance, in the first chapter ‘Hauntings, Memory, Place,’ Till writes: ‘’Being haunted involves the desire and repetitive practice of returning to a past time and self that never was. People create homes for their ghosts through telling stories about places and returning to the places that haunt them. Returning to places that haunt our imaginations folds and warps imagined times and selves (past, present, and future), yet the ritual practice of returning creates a sense of temporal continuity and coherence. When someone goes back home (and each of us may have many homes), he or she may experience such vivid memories that it may appear (even if only momentarily) as though the place and the person returning are exactly the same as they once were. Time stands still. Such moments are actually quite rare, but it is in pursuit of those moments and rediscovering the emotions tied to them that individuals engage in such pilgrimages.’’
In the city of Berlin – which is itself made up of a number of towns – it’s not hard to imagine the complexity involved in the pursuit of childhood/teenage rediscovery. The kaleidoscopic enormity of emotions contained within such a pursuit, shame, guilt and confusion to name but three, are surely as profound as they are simultaneously ambiguous: ‘’During times of social change, people may wish to return to the past and search for a mythic self through place making as a means of confronting inherited legacies of national violence that haunt and influence their everyday lives. Their place-making activities and stories teach an important lesson, one that Shakespeare and Freud knew all to well: we must learn to take our ghosts seriously.’’
Suffice to say, the ghosts of Berlin are still being tussled with. This is as much in metaphorical evidence, as it is in the streets, the bars, the parks, the railway stations and the city’s literature. Among other things (and there are many), The New Berlinis a curious and very worthy consideration of this evidence, which, like the book itself, is as equally contentious as it is worthwhile pursuing.