An old gate opening a new Window : The Brandenburg Gate

a gate
Having come so near to the earlier post, its only fitting that I continue to linger a while longer. To what can possibly be called the Gate which threw up so many new windows to the world : The Brandenburg Gate. 
Please allow me to explain. 
Gates and arches often hold more history than mere architectural splendour. They catch a symbolic strain and colour the ground they stand on, in myriad ways.  A visit to the Brandenburg gate is de rigueur when one visits Berlin. (Or so I am told and would automatically believe now, given what I have experienced). It has truckloads of history, poignant appeal and a remarkable pageantry in the present day to complete a colourful ensemble. 
But, History first. Built in the late 17th century, the Brandenburg gate has stood as a gateway of sorts for victory and peace.  To date, the Quadriga atop the gate, representing the Goddess of Victory (or peace) on a four horse chariot is a fetching sight and provokes free thought. 
Years after it was built, Napoleon marched in, had his victory parade here and even took the Quadriga and the Goddess of Victory, all the way back to Paris!  In a few years, when the wheels of fortune turned, Napoleon was defeated and the Goddess with her four horses reclaimed their place.  
The Germans thought it fit to add, when they were reinstalling the Goddess of Victory atop her old perch, a new iron cross and the famed Prussian eagle to her lance.  That one addition to the Goddess of Victory, kind of gave her a German stamp! 


Of the six large columns that the Brandenburg gate has, passing through the inner most ones was reserved for the royal family. Common citizens could use the passages between the outer columns if they willed. The gate has seen sways in political powers after Napoleon too. Hitler rose. His Nazi party even adopted this as their symbol. The allies bombed. 
People died. Victors were defeated. And the defeated arose again. The gate just stood on. That very thought made me feel vulnerable. Days later, when I was thinking of the place and researching all the tales that it probably held in it, the internet threw up some pictures and videos. Some pictures like the ones below from the annals of history make what it is today, a far cry by many miles. Yet, it is remarkable that it continues to stand the way it does. 



The three pictures above are obviously not mine. I dont have rights over them. Showing them to here to make a point on how much the place has transformed.
Through later years, much of the cold war happened on either side. The Berlin wall ran very close to the gate and Ronald Reagan gave his famous speech of “Tear Down this wall” from somewhere close by.  
Theres a plaque on a footpath nearby, that everybody tramples on in their aimless saunter or vigil filled gaze of the gate. 


Enough of history. Lets cut to now. Every visiting leader and commoner comes to the gate to get a window into what was once, and what the ‘once’ is now! 


The transformation is gargantuan at many levels. First off, there is no traffic. No cars. No bikes. Only people on foot, and a few horse carriages. The sombre spectre of war, persecution and division, replaced by joy and a certain bouncy vibrancy in the mood. 


Just in case you wanted to see how the Soviet stamp on the passport was like, 
there was a man and a post to this too!
Right underneath the Brandenburg Gate a variety of perpetually alive fancy dress kind of stuff is on. Soldiers in uniform carrying flags of different countries play to the gallery.  It is a sight to see people have a good time in the name of a flag and under the covers of uniform. Uniform of the past, became sort of a fancy dress outfit for today.  And that singular thought held both the astonishing silliness of war and the beguiling hope for the future.  
It was sheer delight to watch the sense of humour. No one is “taking offense”  that some sensibilities are affected etc!  There are many ways to look at flags, nationalities, uniforms, symbols and the like. One way is to just look at them as artifacts and leave them at that.
There is so much happening at the Brandenburg Gate of such order that it completely eclipses the suffering, the separation and pain it has seen. People seem to be at ceaselessly working to turn all the sorrow that war and loss left behind in the quest for victory and supremacy.  Commerce, pluck and pageantry hold centrestage. 
The Goddess of Victory extends her steady gaze from atop.  I wanted to stop and just look at her intensely too and hoped my intensity will catch her attention and that she will entertain me in person with a story or two from a time that only history books and the internet bring alive


And then I looked at the people having fun. The horses neighed. Flags unfurled. Artists performed. Giggles of joy all around. I turned away from the Goddess of Victory. Some other time, the history bit, my heart tells her. For now, I was going to soak into the simple joys that people were having here.   

War and Peace

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.   

7 stones

Back then in school, oh yes, you remember when you were in school, don’t you? When the biggest possible worry was what the questions in mid term results could be.

When chief amongst the wonders of the world that you couldn’t figure out would be the acute deprivation in that human mind that caused him or her to think up of something as weird as Trigonometry. And then roll your eyes with even more wonder on the mind that thought of including as vile a subject as that in the syllabus!

These were brief interludes. At other times, you were free to do as you thought fit. Many times you just did and only then thought about if what you did ‘fit’ into acceptable scheme of things.

Ah. School days.

No this post is not about school days. Technically. No. this post is about a game called ‘Seven Stones’. That’s a game that caught attention much before games like basketball and volley ball emerged in the horizon.

It didn’t predate cricket, but then, cricket required equipment that was banned by the school. You had to be a Houdini to be able to smuggle in a bat and three stumps. Tall ask. But you could always find seven stones and on the field, and take aim with a smuggled rubber ball.

The rules were simple.

1. There were two teams. One that had to aim the rubber ball at those stacked up seven stones. As soon as the stack was broken, the same that broke it attempted to rebuild all of the seven stones again.

2. Oh yes, the other team weren’t twiddling their thumbs or picking their noses while this restacking happened.

3. They had to aim the ball and hit the members of this ‘rebuild’ team beneath the knees to get them ‘out’. If the ball ‘hits’ you, you are out.

4.Eventually there are fewer and fewer players around to rebuild.

5. The team that would build all of the seven stones before all its players are knocked down, or the team that knocks down all of the players before they can build up the tower of seven stones, is the winner.

Detailed rules are here

After this game ‘players’ would then go back to wondering whoever invented Trigonometry. Or why some crazy Midsummer Nights dream wasn’t as interesting as some of the other dreams that they would rather talk of.

Does this sound familiar ? Well, hold on. The world thinks that the Iraq war has no precedents. I beg to differ.

Examine it if you will. What were established cities, dams, roads , hospitals and the like were pulverised with remarkable accuracy. The news channels giving it a coating of pulchritude, as though it was some fireworks show! People died. Many were maimed. And many more left to fend for themselves.

Ofcourse, the rebuild effort started with greater speed by the same folks who pummeled the land. Like in the game of seven stones, the other team werent sitting there twiddling their fingers. They hit the re builders, usually, beneath the belt.

The other day in an animated discussion about the validity ( or the lack of it ) about the Iraq war, an animated participant said that this was the original idea of one Mr.Bush and another Mr.Blair.

Which is when the animated participant was calmly told that it was a ‘stolen’ idea. With an ever smart twitch of the corporate collar, a smirk and a slanted neck ( which is corporate speak for ‘ha ha you moron you shot yourself on the foot – I got you’) “so whats the evidence ? How can you prove this? “ the participant asked.

With an all pervasive calmness that would befit a zen master, the participant was told ‘go get me seven stones and a rubber ball’ !

Silence of the guns !

The Daulatabad Fort houses some canons. Big bad canons. Canons that must have maimed and killed at will.

“A range of 35 kilometers”, says our guide with an arm movement that seems to stretch to the end of the world, looking at one that sits pretty atop the fort.

A tourist attraction. Pointed at the city. Its ornamentation and heavy metal frame, intact. The dance of death seems to have been an art form back then !

Its easy to imagine its hey day! It must have instilled fear in the enemy and pride in the rulers ! And presided over death universally.

Today, a royal steadied silence permeates the touristy air. The canon looks down on the city and on the few monkeys jumping about nearby and the newly weds who rest on it for a moment to be captured on camera !

As the snaps register on the digital camera, the only sound that can be clearly heard is the sound of silence. A sound that vanquishes the war cries, victories and wails of earlier times.


A few hundred kilometers away in Ahmednagar is the Tank Museum. A bristling bevy of Tanks from around the world sit (should i say ‘stand’ ). Quite a bevy http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/cancer/ they are. Patton to Rolly Royce to others.

Driven by a litany of armies that reads like a list of countries out of a Geography test. Jordan. Israel. China. India. USA. Russia. Germany. UK. France. ETC ! All of them stand tall.

Pure metal. Pure hard metal. From the early 19th century on. Some with those metal tracks firmly on. Others with nuts and bolts where perhaps tyres stood once.

One of them is called Valentine. If irony were a ballistic missile, it sure would get launched from this gun ! . Today, a regimented steadied silence permeates the tourist air. The tanks stare aimlessly into the plastic roofing as the bees hover and the odd crows crow.There are newly weds here too clicking snaps and walking about.

As the snaps register on the digital camera, the only sound that can be clearly heard is the sound of silence. A sound that vanquishes war cries, victories and wails of earlier times.

Man ! His life. The frenzy of his pursuits. The noise of the guns and those around. And finally silence ! Silence survives. Only silence survives.

Of course not counting the odd crow, bee or monkey.