Saturday, July 01, 2023

part 5 :: long weekend in berlin :: east vs. west

these small smooth stones and bricks look like they could have been collected by me. i have a very similar stash at my house - bits of brick that have been in the water, a stone that resembles a bird, smooth stones, a general impulse to collect. so much i can relate to and find in various baskets and on shelves in my own home. 

we had a lot of interesting conversations over the weekend. i learned so much. and in some ways, it was a blessing that there was a language barrier. if i'd have been able to converse on equal footing, i wouldn't have had to listen as much as i did. it was good for me. and i was exposed to some very different opinions than my own. i think in these times when people are very polemicized, it's too easy for us to shut off and not listen to someone whose opinions are different from our own. i'll admit to having done so myself. but not being able to jump in with my own opinions made me do more listening and less formulating my own answer in my head instead of listening.

it was eye-opening. today, 34 years after the fall of the wall, this family still regrets it. they miss the society they had in east germany. they were important artists with meaningful work and a beautiful home. they traveled all over the eastern bloc, practicing their craft, participating in exhibitions and meeting other artists. and when the wall fell, it all went away (except the house, they do seem to have kept the house). and they do seem to have still been able to live from their art. but a big part of the prestige crumbled with the wall. and they had a lot of regrets.

it seemed to make them especially susceptible to conspiracy theories and it also weirdly made them love putin and hate america. they were very much on the russian side of the war in ukraine and very resentful of the ukrainians who had flooded into germany. they completely saw ukraine as russia and understood that putin wanted to bring it back into the fold. they blamed the entire thing on biden and nato.

and maybe there are some grains of truth in that. letting ukraine think they could be part of nato was a provocative act. it's one thing with the baltics, but quite another with ukraine. 

and listening to them, still fully in thrall of the propaganda they had been brought up in, i realized that i too am in thrall to the propaganda i was raised in. and even though i've been resisting it for years - i did after all study russian due to a deep and abiding loathing of ronald reagan - i am still stepped in it myself. 

and perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. 

maybe what we all want is for our foundation to stay the same. it's hard if your country disappears and is absorbed into another country over night, or if it's falling apart before your eyes due to craven, power-hungry politicians driven by financial interests who wouldn't know the truth if it hit them over the head. or a supreme court hell bent on taking it back to the stone ages. it does something to you and your picture of yourself. 

i know trump being elected shook my foundations (and my back teeth). so it's no wonder they still have regrets that the only country they ever really knew was on the losing side in a battle that wasn't entirely theirs to win or lose. 

and while i do not agree with them that putin is right, it did me good to have to be quiet and just listen.

and to look around their beautiful home, at their beautiful collections of things and realize that we actually have a lot in common. 

people are such complex creatures. we can hold so many contradictions at the same time - praising putin's war while being a gracious host. hating america, yet welcoming one american warmly into your home. there's so much more to us than we let ourselves see these days. 


celkalee said...

Well, hello there. Your blog had been lost to me for quite some time due to fickle feeds and lost lists! I have just read several of your recent posts and did enjoy your plastic melting buttons, your bench cushions, and sadly the tragic end to your beautiful rug. When last I was reading blogs, I remembered photos of your red kitchen floor but never saw the finished product. So fun, so different from my muted limestone blocks!

This post struck such a cord with me because of a relationship my husband had with an East German man over their mutual philatelic hobby. His opinion was entirely opposite of the one you describe with the family you discussed. In retrospect, however, we discovered that his opinions were likely formed in an effort to seek a sponsor to emigrate to this country. (USA) Conjecture, of course, but when then action was not possible he seemed to disappear into the land of nod. The tragedy of the last several years among friends, acquaintances, and neighbors, is the loss of understanding, the loss of one's ability to listen. Your ability to listen to this personal history in and of itself, is most certainly a key to how we can solve large and small issues, whether we agree or not, with a targeted attempt to learn and to respect. (please excuse run-on sentences, a passionate subject for me)

Yep, little lessons for big problems. Good to find you again.

julochka said...

@celkalee - so nice to see you again! thank you for kind words. it was definitely good for me to listen instead of jumping in with my own arguments. that happened due to the language barrier, but it was so good for me. i'm definitely going to try to remember it the next time i'm in such a situation, even if i do share a language.