Brussels/Berlin 2023

Monday 24th July 2023 – Penultimate and Ultimate

This was to be my penultamate day in Berlin and my last night, as my train to Brussels was to be at 10.56pm the following night. After breakfast and a workout, I took the U8 line and M29 bus to the Schwules Museum. This was advertised as the first LGBT-orientated museum in the world. Inside were two galleries. The first had an exhibition of LGBT groups in Berlin through the years. Much of this was in German but I managed to use “Google Translate” to great effect as I proceded round. Typically over the years many groups had popped up represting different aspects of LGBT culture be it a lesbian group, a bi group, a trans group etc. I was struck in particular by the connections with socialist politics that many groups seemed to foster (these being I think groups formed in the West of the city).

The group that received most promenance was the “Sonntags-Club”, formed in 1987 in East Germany. This had formed from another club, the HIB (“Homosexuelle Intressengemeinschaft Berlin”). This had roots in the 1970s but had been banned by the government. The group subsequently went underground, meeting in homes and aprtments, remerged in the 1980s as the Sonntags-Club and has been going ever since. From what I could understand, this felt to me very like a German version of “Stonewall”. They had the inevitable and common falling-out in the 2000s over whether trans people should be included but this later seemed to settle. The group now seems to be a focus for counselling, visibility, and legal representation for all members of the LGBT+ community.

The second gallery was a photographic exhibition of LGBT+ life in Berlin over the years, taken by the photographer Rüdiger Trautsch. The variety of people was very noticible. I was struck again by the visibility of BDSM and leather “kinks” with many photographs featuring the “Folsom” fair where these things are the focus. The “live and let live” attitude of the city is very clear.

My next destination was the Jewish Museum, which I reached via the M29 bus. Before entering I had coffee and a piece of apple pie at the cafe, lest I should waste away from lack of sustenance.

The unusual design of this museum was the first thing to strike me. It had rising floors and sloping walls to ensure that there were no 90 ° angles. This creates a feeling of discomfort. I think this is what the architect intended.

The first few galleries were video art installations on a number of themes. I have to be honest in saying that while I enjoyed the calm aura of these areas, the meaning was perhaps a little lost on me. However, in one area I thought I heard the sound of glass bottles being recycled. This turned out to be an installation of hundreds of metal-cast faces on the floor that one could walk over. I enjoyed this piece very much indeed. I’m sure there were multiple interpretations but to me it was a representation of the extent to which Jewish people (and many other minorities) have been proverbially “walked over” through the years.

The gallery then took me on a history of Jews in Germany from the very early centuries AD right to the present day. It showed the extent to whcih Jewish artifacts have been found all over Europe and how by the late 1920s, the concept of being a proud German Jew was very much a thing and equality was on the horizon.

Of course, that all changed in 1933. We all know the story. I was pleased however that yes, the holocaust was discussed but was not the central part of the narrative. There was much more prominance given not only to Jewish history pre-1933 but also to religious and cultural practice, music, food etc. The final rooms were of German Jews in the modern age, very much part of the life of the country. It was interesting to consider had the holocaust not happened, what the extent Jewish population would be, what would their culture be etc. Sadly, this is a question that can never be answered.

I took dinner at an establishment I have had my eye on since I arrived in this city. On the corner of Rosenthalker Platz was “Frittenwerk”, a seller of “loaded” fries. This was my opportunity to sample the Berlin staple of “Currywurst”, which I had with a small side salad and a coke/fanta mixed drink.

Back at the apartment, I toasted the city with a glass of wine, watching the rain and wind doing what can only be described as “pummeling” the windows. Had I seen everything there is to see in Berlin? Absolutely not. I came here to experience living in a different place for a few days, see some sights, learn some history, have a cultural experience or two, but most importantly to relax and piece my head back together after a somewhat tough and busy year. Had I done that? Absolutely.

Danke, Berlin.

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