Sunday, September 8, 2013

In Berlin

Harvey and I first came to Berlin in 2002, after he retired for the third and final time. We stayed with Ulrike. She had come to Wellington in 1996, with her husband and daughter, as the German language schools advisor; at that time the teachers' college council oversaw the advisors, so Harvey was her boss (she said he was the best she ever had). The family spent five years in New Zealand and we became close friends.
      Being a historian, Harvey was totally gripped by this city. Our  first visit to Europe together had been in 1989, and we were in London when the wall came down. On a train two months later, we met a Berlin businessman who was keen to talk to us. He had grown up with the wall, and after it fell he started working in East Germany to help them overcome the immense gap with the West in computerisation. For two hours we listened as this sensitive, intelligent man spoke frankly of what this profound change meant for him and his country.
      So now here we were, and we could go everywhere: to the synagogue, the Kathe Kollwitz house, the new Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. We saw the last remaining scrap of the medieval city wall, and the long piece of the 20th century one by Checkpoint Charlie. If you go to Harvey's blog at and search for Berlin Diary, you can read his account of two days in our time there.
       I came again on my own in 2006, straight after I got my PhD. I saw the museums that had reopened since 2002, and recovered from them at our favourite cafes, the Einstein and the Oxymoron.   I went to the market with Ulrike and carried home fat buds of pfingstrosen, "Pentecost roses", as the Germans call peonies, to decorate the house for the public holiday. And I emailed Harvey to tell him my adventures.
        As his illness worsened,  I told Ulrike I would come to her after he died. I waited till she retired and their new house was ready, and now I'm here. Yesterday we cruised the river, past so many of the landmarks I'd seen with Harvey - it was such a calm, easy way to pay my respects to our shared past. For the hundredth time this trip, I told Ulrike how much he would have loved being with us. What I meant, of course, was how much I would have loved him to be there.



  1. Anne, what a rich history you have in this place. Fancy being there so soon after the wall came down, and how marvellous to have such good friends to visit. Berlin sounds full of special places, but of course there's the jab of memory to deal with as well, missing Harvey as you do.
    I'm reading a remarkable book by a Canadian, Lee D. Scheingold: One Silken Thread: Poetry's Presence in Grief. After Lee's husband died she took consolation from the Russian poetry that she had studied and loved. It's a moving and uplifting charting of the harsh territory of grieving. I thought of you when I found it (Brian Boyd, my brother-in-law passed it on to me)

  2. Berlin is a place I have yet to visit but I would love to. I look forward to reading about your travels. I hope you enjoy your time there.

    1. Berlin is endlessly absorbing and as Juliet saw above, I do hav my own rich history here.