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…]
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.
A few days later when we buried
the old regime,
we thought we’d given birth
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.
- Bowie’s back – 8 January 2013 (paulsmith.co.uk)
- Germans Look Back at the Night The Boss Railed Against The Wall (thejakartaglobe.com)