return to the West, of the West, in the West

German ringing in my head, voices clamouring to be heard, after going to the theatre last night.

We bought Tageskarten, day passes, to the transport system, allowing us to train-hop, tram-hop anywhere in the city, and in the morning made our way by U8, U2, U6, to Hallesches Tor, the old neighbourhood, our old U-bahn station. A beautiful day. Jet-streams passing like comets overhead all day against an enormous sky.

The immediate impression on returning to this part of West-Berlin after so many years – 27 – was that all Berlin’s money – such as it is, poor – but sexy – must be going on the East. I decided I was suffering from Westalgia – in contrast to the Ostalgia said to be suffered by Ostis – residents of the East – after the fall of the Wall.

The pedestrian zone on leaving the station was dirty and graffiti and stickers covered the walls and public art. The obligatory sandpits in the park had grass growing through the sand and the green areas were overgrown with weeds. The area had boasted many pieces of Mauerkunst – wall art or murals – and of course the Wall itself and on it. In the eighties the murals had been so numerous they had been celebrated in books and used to advertise the city. So it was nice to find a new work on the blank side of an apartment building where the path from the park came to Stresemannstrasse. It depicted the arrogance of wealth – among many other things. Themes that were as typical and topical now as they were then. A man in a suit stood in dogshit and the legend read: Arrogance is no insurance.

The West felt unloved with fewer pedestrians, wider streets, more buildings dating to the seventies and eighties that had not been regarded as of sufficient merit to restore or renovate, and possibly were not. And, another reminder of a quarter-century ago, empty lots still, between apartment buildings and hotels, vines growing over the fences, weeds, areas of dereliction. While, as one approached the Wall and entered the swathe it had cut through the city, the strip of No-man’s Land, otherwise called the Death-strip, where there had been no buildings, only watch-towers, booby-traps, tank-stops, and rabbits, now there was Berlin’s famous building-site, buildings planned with no respect for the way the Wall had changed the urban landscape, going up with an earlier time in mind. Completing the city, perhaps, but after the awful scarring, like plastic surgery, also covering over the scar.

This is unexpected. Just like the Wall had had no respect for what existed before it, closing the entry, in one well-known example, of a church, or arbitrarily dividing a neighbourhood, a crazy line, a civic insult, so now the raising of new blocks of apartments and businesses showed no respect for it, and no desire to incorporate it, the Wall, into the fabric of the city. Carefully sewn back together as if never torn.

I found where we used to live, on the corner of Stresemann and Hedemannstrassen. A middle-aged guy watched me from a cafe table in the street. Who are you looking for? He asked. I used to live here.

We chatted for a while, in German. I said the city had changed completely. He said the street had. I asked about the Turkish population. He said there were many Turks still living in the area. Immernoch. And we did pass many women in headscarves.

When we’d visited Checkpoint Charlie it had been upsetting to mark the passing of time, but here the dilapidation of the area was comforting. Going home and finding the place run-down is also a kind of comfort. Simply I suppose because the time is there: it is not simply oneself who has aged.

We visited an exhibition beside the Walter Gropius Building – which had been the goal of many evening strolls along the Wall all those years before – at the site of the former Gestapo cellars. These had been in 1983 marked with a sign, a mound, where kids dug holes and dogs were taken to pooh.

The Topography of Terror. Now the area occupied by the building has been excavated, remnants of brick walls and tiled floors are visible, and a permanent pavilion, a high-tech shuttered metal box, houses an exhibition detailing the history of the SS, SD, Gestapo and the elaborate policing system of the National Socialist period. Its elaboration being as much a matter of efficiently carrying out the execution of millions as sustaining the lies by which the Nazis came to power: as much about PR as terror. I suppose this justifies the place’s name, the Topography of Terror. A discrete space on the map, Topografie des Terrors. As if the actual topography could be constrained to this small square.

The lies or mythology or propaganda, it was interesting to see, arose fully formed, had achieved a startlingly consistent form, well before 1933. As if the ad campaign preceded the political reality. Had been consciously planned out in order in a relatively short time to brainwash a nation. To become the accepted form reality then took.

The exhibition reminds you of how far this reality spread, from how far afield the victims of genocide were brought, and in how many cities and towns the atrocity occurred. It makes the point that murder was given a political justification, was first and foremost a politics. A Realpolitik. And how with the execution of this policy such disparate categories could be made one political enemy, a mass, or masses, from countries all over Europe, from Rome as from Warsaw, rendered a single identity, in order to be annihilated. In that identity. In order, therefore, to protect the people, das Volk, from the political threat that it posed. In the name of ‘protection,’ in other words.

We met L. & D. and visited the Reichstag, well, the dome, Sir Norman Foster’s glass replacement for the one which was destroyed by fire after the war, under the DDR. A beautiful day. The view incredible from the double-helix of the ramp leading to the apex of the dome, the top, where, as at the Pantheon in Rome, there is a hole.

Our guide for the cycle tour interpreted it this way: when parliament is in session they only have to look up to see who is really in charge. The prominence of glass as a building-material is there to say, no more will the business of government be done behind closed doors. It aspires to the transparency of glass. And there is, running up through the middle of the dome towards the hole, a tornado of mirrors, a spout, broadening as it rises, reflecting down into the building those who are ascending and descending the ramps inside the glass superstructure of the cupola.

In the evening we had tickets to Der Menschenfeind, Moliere’s The Misanthrope. Some confusion about tickets, but, thanks to L., at concession prices, down from the usual 50 Euros to 12.

The Schaubuehne. Renovations going on in the foyer. Still an extraordinary building. The production only occupied half the usable space and the house was full. We were lucky to get in.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the production had everything we wanted to see: high-tech, trash, sex, violence. And a devastatingly funny take on a classic. Which from previous productions I would’ve said doesn’t deserve to be one. Here the comedy was king. Nihilistic outrageous comedy. It offended the young people behind us, who seemed to be on some sort of school trip.

The actors threw themselves at the Moliere with carefully choreographed abandon, their commitment to the demands set by the production extraordinary. In terms of how much flesh they were prepared to show and what they were prepared to do with it, or put into it.

In one scene a party is interrupted by Alceste, the eponymous misanthrope, jumping on the table, squirting chocolate sauce on his head, squashing a cream pie on his head, then emptying a bowl of berries, putting twisties up his nose, pulling down his pants and sticking chippolatas and other food up his bum, a baguette down the front, and with exceptionally good aim squirting mayonnaise in the face of Eliante. Which she then wore for the rest of the scene.

But it worked. Nothing gratuitous. Perhaps extreme. But only on paper. In the production it is exactly what Alceste ought to have been doing. Dumping rubbish all over the stage. From a dumpster out in the alley. Where we had followed him. Two cameramen forming an integral part of the action. A large partitioned screen slightly stage-right of centre. Brilliant fun. And funny.

The packed house loved it. Even the prudish young people. The performance getting the obligatory multiple ovations. That it deserved.