Sunday, 21 October 2007

Impressions of Berlin

I have been away in Berlin at the ELDR (European Liberal, Democratic and Reform) Party Congress, where delegates of parties from all quarters of Europe met. 100 out of 270 Members of the European Parliament, and 10 of the 27 European Commissioners, belong to the ELDR's bloc (though ELDR's geographical scope is wider than that of the EU). This is new and important: previously in both Parliament and Commission there was a deadlock between socialist and conservative blocs, and I suspect those blocs are at a loss what to do about such a major rearrangement of the pieces on the chessboard. The future may be exciting.
This was my first visit to Berlin, and the city struck me as a particularly fitting place for the Congress because of its central position not only geographically but also historically: if we needed a reminder of the importance of keeping on fighting for liberal and democratic ideals in Europe, this place is one, for evidence of its dark past is everywhere. Remains exist of the concrete wall (torn down in 1989) erected by the communist East to keep in its own citizens from escaping, but I found earlier features still more chilling, such as underground torture chambers from the Nazi period which have been found near the base of a section of wall that remains standing. In 1945 the city was in ruins but not all government buildings fell: apparently what is now the tax office is where Himmler conducted the business of implementing the Third Reich's plans of conquest and genocide, which so nearly succeeded and were stopped at such huge cost. This grim place was created by imperialism, militarism, fascism and communism, and all of them ended in havoc and misery.
One oddity is the North Korean Embassy, well inside what was formerly East Berlin, near the building where I stayed. It is a huge oblong white building with high railings and many windows. Outside it are some rather dreadful photographs of their leader and grand parades of the masses in Pyongyang. Apart from them, it has a blank look. The place resembles some unfortunate water creature stranded when a lake dries up.

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