There were all kinds of moments in Berlin. A couple of poignant ones for this post. Berlin packs enough and more of history in the most modern of settings that the contrasts are not just obvious but rather arrestingly present their friendly coexistence in every crevice and corner.
Somewhere close to the Branderburg Gate are two relatively small places ( read as ‘less opulent’) that held my attention and fetchingly sought my thinking going.
One was the “Neue Wache” or “The New Guard House”. The twists and turns of time stood firmly etched in poignant detail here. Think about this. A building starts out as a Guard House in the early 18thcentury and gets transformed into a war memorial in the 1930s. Going on to get bombed in World War II, surviving to see a revival and continue to serve as war memorials of some kind through the cold war era and now in the Unified Germany era as well.
There are no guards there now. Behind the huge pillars that welcome you well, I could imagine guards walking about. There are none of them now, but the iron in the gates could let you know how it was. For now, there sit a statue of a Mother and her dead son by Kathe Kollwitz. It is an impeccable work of art and if you stare at it for long enough and soak the wrinkle and the despondency of mother and son, and the uselessness of war will almost call out your name.
In the middle of a large hall, the mother and son sit there and implore you to think. An opening right, a circular, and well done opening above them, shows the sky. No glass. The statue has the sky as the ceiling. On the day I was there, a stream of light hit the statue with masterly elegance but then, it didn’t take me long to realise that the elegance of streaming light could stand replaced by the harshness of rain. Or snow, for that matter.
And then I learnt that it was done to symbolise the suffering commoners go through during times of war. It couldn’t be more appropriate.
The steady shuffle of the tourist footwear accompanied by incessant clicks of digital cameras and mobile phones didn’t for a minute cause the mother or her dead son to flinch. As people took pictures of themselves before the statue. A few of those perhaps would have made it Facebook or to other albums showing off a visit to Berlin!
I would have preferred a trifle more of sombre. A moment in reflection. Perhaps some silence even. But me and my preferences stood engulfed by the sepulchral mother and her dead son even as natural light continued to shower all its attention on them!
Speaking of silence, down the road, right under the noses of the horses of the God of victory, atop the Brandenburg Gate is the “Room of silence”. An incredible place of quiet. In the thoroughfare of all the commercial cacophony that envelopes what was, until a few decades ago, a place of great history, stands this simple room.
A room bereft of everything but a a couple of chairs, a large painting and a some amazing silence. Its website reads
“…provides an opportunity for everyone, independent of background, colour, ideology, religion and physical condition to enter and remain in silence for a while to simply relax, to gain strength for the daily life, or to remember inside this historic place the dark but also hopeful events, to meditate, to pray..”
I sat there for a while, noticing the number of people that came in and went out initially. But shortly, I didn’t notice anything beyond the peace that enveloped me. There were some details like the fact that the UN has a similar room like this in New York and Dag Hammarskjöld, the former Secretary General of the United Nations had it built and used to get there often to just sit in silence, were consumed later.
I don’t think of a better, bigger time than now, for this room to scream ‘silence’ down your ear drum. Poignancy personified, in the most delightful and delicate of ways. Its a small room. But if you are in Berlin and standing under the Brandenburg Gate, well, this room can be missed easily.
And so, watch out. Step in. And be still. For a while. It is helpful.