helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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Berlin - Festival von Freiheit

Back from Berlin now. Well, actually, we got back very late on Tuesday night but I've been too hideously busy to write about it online. Currently we are having a power cut which means no Xbox, internet or lights, so there isn't much else to do other than sit in front of a laptop on battery power. Bah!

The overriding impression I have of the Festival of Freedom is that it was interesting and I'm glad I went, but I can't say that I "enjoyed" it as such. My mother kept bouncing up and down saying "Do you like Berlin? You don't seem to be enjoying yourself!", which didn't help. The main reason I'm not sure that I enjoyed it was because the history is rather grim and upsetting. It's not very pleasant to see how a government utterly oppressed its people for several decades. Seeing things like the parts of the Berlin Wall that still exist and realising the scope of the thing is incredible. You can read about it and see photos, but it doesn't convey the size. (It really was colossally wide - now there are several streets with buildings in what used to be no-man's-land between the two halves of the wall). And it's all very well to have a celebration because it's 20 years since East Germans became able to vote and travel freely - but what of all the countries in the world that still have dictatorships and totalitarian governments?

It's also rather thought-provoking to imagine oneself in that situation. What kind of person would I have been in East Germany? Would I have been one of the rebels, writing the underground newspapers and risking imprisonment or death on a daily basis? Or would I have been one of the rule-abiders, sticking to the law even though it meant repression of spirit? Could I even have been one of the Stasi (secret police), spying on my fellow citizens? It's impossible to know because I wasn't there and didn't grow up in that environment. Certainly I was incredibly rule-abiding when I was at school. (I've always liked to think that in the Harry Potter universe I'd be Hermione Granger or Luna Lovegood - very smart and willing to risk trouble if it was necessary, but really I was more like a Percy Weasley - unquestioning of the rules and determined to follow them because It Was The Right Thing To Do, even if they didn't make sense).

Also, while we were learning about what everyday life was like for "normal people", they were all apparently white, heterosexual and able-bodied. It's true that the Nazis made it very difficult for people who weren't white to live in the country, but we were looking at life in the 1980s. What happened to gay and bisexual people? What happened to disabled people? (Abortions were free for the first three months of pregnancy). What about the mentally ill? The communist government encouraged women to go to work by having huge state-run nurseries, in which children were potty-trained en masse. All of the toddlers would be put on the potty at the same time and they'd all have to sit there until everyone had finished. What happened to children who couldn't manage potty-training with their age peers?

So yes, lots of things to think about, and maybe some things to research when I have the time and feel up to it. I'll write more about what we actually did another time. Also, Richard has lots of photos which may go online eventually. I'll definitely go to Berlin again - it was one of the most excellent places to eat that I've found in Europe. (You think Germany's all meat and sausages? Well, there were tons of vegetarian & vegan restaurants as well!).
Tags: berlin, mum, travel

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