Where Are We Now?

This song by David Bowie from his latest album ‘The Next Day’ always has me in tears.  Not because it is a love song, but because it talks about Berlin past and present.  Berlin has always exerted a powerful fascination over me, because it is a symbol of more than one dictatorship.  I visited it back in the days when it was a very sad, divided town. [Incidentally, a journalist friend of mine at the time said that nearly all major cities starting with a B are heading towards destruction and unhappiness: Beirut, Belfast, Belgrade, Bucharest…]

Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany (Photo credit: OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons)

Of course, Berlin is no longer gloomy and schizophrenic. It has become the trendy place to be for creatives and young families. Yet this song reminds me that the revolution we hoped to achieve in Eastern Europe – and which entailed quite a bit of human sacrifice  ‘walking the dead’, as Bowie puts it –  was supposed to be about more than having more consumer choice or becoming trendy.  It was about starting over, about being brave and honest, about establishing new ways of thinking and listening to each other,  a new kind of culture.  Where are we now?  Very far from all that.

So this is a very long-winded introduction to this draft of a poem that I wrote – am still writing –  for dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night, based on this idea of a failed revolution. But then, perhaps all revolutions are doomed to fail.

That night we bade farewell to fear.

Tanks and bullets became real.

No game.

No bystanders.

Fences fell.

A few days later when we buried

the old regime,

we thought we’d given birth

to hope.

flagWe drove down roads in whooping glee

waving cut-out flags.

Fists pumping in air so cold

we knew we could cut it

into purest blocks

to conserve that moment and our courage


Then start afresh.

Breathless with hope,

giddy with joy,

there was no wall we could not climb,

no paths we could not forge.

How we dared dream.

Till undergrowth smothered us.

48 thoughts on “Where Are We Now?”

  1. Marina Sofia – What a powerful and evocative poem! And a first draft too? Wow… I think what most affects me is your use of undergrowth. All of those things that people didn’t think about at first…have become problems. And how do you keep the good things and still destroy the weeds and undergrowth…. Really strong!

    1. Yes, that’s exactly it: it was all those tangly little messes that hadn’t been rooted out properly which then started to sprout and choke the hope. I might add more of that in my next version of the poem.

  2. as you know, i am in berlin right now – and i’m fascinated by this city’s history, it’s vibrancy and creativity but most of all of its diversity and peaceful co existing of so many nations and different people – and i think what i love most here is the spirit of carrying on – no matter how harsh things are – there’s light at the end of the tunnel – there’s a palpable courage and braveness… i could stay here forever…

    1. It’s one of my favourite cities now, and yet it (and its inhabitants) still bear scars. Look at the protests against gentrification of Oranienburgerstrasse – all the squats giving way to shops and yuppy flats – or the hostility towards the new residents of Prenzlauer Berg.

    1. It creeps up on you and your dreams gradually – like weeds killing the fragile buds. You can never quite pinpoint the moment when your hopes died.
      Thank you for reading.

  3. I remember when the Berlin Wall came down. There was so much hope and optimism. Sadly, harsh economic realities have meant that the optimism is in need of life support.

    1. But even then: the very next day the market was flooded with Western goods and a few months later it was impossible to find the (very good, well0loved) local chocolates anymore. I’m getting rather cynical in my old age.

  4. You capture not only the spirit of revolution but you touch on what it take to revolt – strength, energy, youth, innocence, naivety, hope, sureness that you’re on the side of right, when right will make things better. But often the flames burn too hot and truth turns bitter when the engines of conflict are engaged. A fierce poem. It may change again; it’s an important idea and you are definitely on track.

    1. I didn’t expect that ending either. Perhaps that’s why you need young people to carry out a revolutions – they can still believe that this time it will be different.

  5. ouch…that last line it rather like the snuffing of the candle, putting the light out…playing off tony, i think in our more recent history we had a lot of hope generated with a YES WE CAN attitude…which turned out to be not much different than what we had before….

    1. Mmm, yes, or that ‘economic crisis is going to make us rethink capitalism and set out some new rules or ways of doing things’. As I said, perhaps all idealism is doomed to fail.

  6. Marina Sofia, I have never been to Berlin, but it has held a certain mystique for me as a city of arts and artists, as a city that not only tolerates but welcomes differences, as a city that could rise out of its own ashes. What a pity that these revolutions deliver nothing but market growth opportunities. I suppose it could be even worse — look at Russia. This is a solid piece of work, and very thought-provoking.

    1. Ah, Russia! I remember an anthropologist friend was trying to do fieldwork in Russia in the mid 1990s and said that it was very hard to talk to people, because everyone was crying all the time (because things had got worse, economically, and people were losing their jobs and starving). And I don’t know which is worse: flowing tears or when those tears calcify to cynical scars in your heard and move back to rigid intolerance.

    1. Thank you, Jacquie. I don’t know if I should leave it as is (the last line, I mean), or explore a more extended metaphor about the evil that does not get weeded out and how it gathers force once more.

  7. LOVE your poem, not entirely sure about That Song. Berlin is an awesome city and I can’t wait to go back. I remember going before the Wall came down, and then again after. What a transformation. Great post, thank you, Marina!

  8. Very, very nice. Evocative and powerful. When I was reading and got to this part <> it felt like the poem left the ground and was barreling faster to its conclusion. Really well done.

  9. Marina, I agree with the others, that last line is like a punch. This powerful and the short, choppy lines add to its impact. Well done on intro and poem.


  10. O! I was with you in hope and wistful until that infamous last line. I have two pieces of the Berlin Wall right here in my poetry space. I am not smothered yet. My fingers are crossed. Thanks for the essay, the poem, and Bowie.

    1. And thank you for your kind comments. Maybe change will come – it has come, in parts – but oh, twenty-odd years later there was so much more that could have been achieved.

  11. Hope tangled up in undergrowth – great images and so true. Enjoyed this very much. I can picture the scenes so clearly with your words.

    1. My heart still beats faster when I think of those few days where anything seemed possible, when we lost the fear of speaking out. Thank you for your comment and for reading the poem.

  12. A great tribute to a city I know to little about. certainly hopes been crushed so many times. I recall the joys of the news when the wall fell… a joy shared with the world… certainly disappointments came.. there is a streak of a Phoenix in a city like that.

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