The wall jumpers

I shake my head. Dead days lie ahead of us at the trial.
We would wander aimlessly long after the shutters were up, unable to work or sleep. We had hardly spoken in years.
As she disappeared, after sitting with me on a pavement around Alexander Platz overnight, I must have discovered what wall jumpers felt like – who knows from what heights fallen. No shelter. No heaven. All books and papers burnt, all lines broken, all nails cut, all suspects confessed Continue reading “The wall jumpers”

The way I discovered the Berlin wall has fallen

Over the almost three decades the wall stood in Berlin, it was referred to as Antifaschistischer Schutzwall by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic, a legitimate concrete curtain incubating the socialist state. While from the East Berlin side it soon became the dull edge of the death strip, from the West Berlin side it often served as a natural, urban canvas for politically engaged graffiti art, claiming freedom for all. When every ideology needs a precise vision of the world to be conveyed, these pages state a well pondered sense of annihilation rather than of revelation, avoiding any speculation on icons and mass culture. The debris of the wall are the latest generation of the wall itself.

The book is available on | .de | .it | .uk
The Way I Discovered The Berlin Wall Has Fallen, Federico Federici, Morrisville 2017. ISBN: 978-0244930172

Die Beiden Seiten

Schwachsinn, zu fragen wie es dazu kam. (D.G.)
Berlin and the wall’s death strip on the east side seen through the eyes of a Stasi spy and of a contemporary traveller:
Die Beiden Seiten

Il video è una prima ricognizione di Berlino, costruita incrociando l’occhio della Stasi (da documenti d’archivio) con quello di un viaggiatore contemporaneo, che si soffermi, in un giorno qualsiasi, sugli scenari che lo circondano.
Tra i luoghi indagati, spiccano la striscia della morte a Bernauer Straße e la stazione di Nordbahnhof, una delle celebri “stazioni fantasma” dei tempi del muro.
La linea del tempo è azzerata: passato e presente si confrontano sullo stesso livello, attraverso il meccanismo della proiezione, che di continuo ribalta il primo piano e lo sfondo.
Da ultimo, il pallone aerostatico che simboleggia il mondo, ripreso in volo da dietro i resti del muro lungo Niederkirchner Straße, si erge a simbolo quasi chapliniano del goffo trasformismo di cui il potere è, per sua natura, maestro.

Peter Fechter (1944-1962)

August 17, 1962: Peter Fechter was shot while trying to make his bid for freedom. He bled to death in agony right behind the Wall in Zimmerstraße near Checkpoint Charlie.

Walled in, death
by wall and concrete,
neither too tall, nor thick
but an empty zone
open to the appointed
West. The last jump,
the spark long since kept
lit against the spying
of the dark, Continue reading “Peter Fechter (1944-1962)”

On foot to Ost-Berlin (from an old guide)

Take the U-Bahn line 6 (direction Tegel-Alt Mariendorf), or the S-Bahn line 3 (direction Wannsee-Friedrichstraße) or the S-Bahn line 2 (direction Lichtenrade-Frohnau). At Kochstraße the conductor will say on the mic: “Kochstraße – letzter Bahnhof in den Westsektoren, letzter Bahnhof in den Westsektoren!”. The train will proceed slowly then under the wall, reducing speed (without stopping) through Stadtmitte and Französische Straße station, that has been closed and kept in half-dark since 13 August 1961. Rdt police officers control the passage of the train until it arrives at Friedrichstraße, the frontier station. The atmosphere is quite unreal there, for it’s unusual to cross an underground frontier to move from one place to another within the same State. You’ll immediately notice the quite impressive coming and going and especially the huge number of old people, retired women and men, who are for one day calling on their relatives living in West Berlin.
All you have to do now is to follow the Grenzübergangstelle and stand in a queue at the Andere Staaten gate waiting for your turn.
Being there no later than 10 o’clock is a good trick not to be standing too long.

13 August 1961

Archie Shepp is blowing through his sax. I’ve been a jazz collector for years and this music leads me to wakefulness. Perhaps too much genius in it? Too much fire in the flame? My nerves go bad or perhaps too good. My childhood home smiles in the background, but I’m sitting up in the plain light and the old map is sharp: Berlin was split. The thick postwar wall was not an implausible invention, not only a death sentence put off, nor did it barely mark the trench between two opposite ideologies. It drew a rough circle around Continue reading “13 August 1961”

Taking stock of the Berlin Project (Original Manifesto)

The Berlin Project has been outstanding for me for a long time, inspired by an old second hand guidebook published few years before the wall fell, which I had found by chance in a street market. A dedication on the inside cover addresses an unknown woman: ‘Paula, September 1989′ spurring her into taking a trip to East Berlin, “with care”. No underlining or other marks suggest whether she did, or which way she would eventually choose.
When I first wrote to British poet David Nettleingham about this, I intended to make for Berlin, travelling through time stirred up by those old roadmaps – crammed with and dominated by physical barriers, social prohibitions and subterfuges, and by the mysterious fascination of documents and excerpts which I had collected during my stays in Germany over the years. I wished to finally compare the original guidebook with a contemporary copy, though somehow aware of the ultimate uncertainty of them both. Where did the frame end and real picture within begin in such an historical entanglement? What faces lay behind the mask? What voices behind the language? Ich und Ick, was und wat, Appel und Apfel: the Berlinisch replies to both an official language and a newer slang are born and restlessly absorbed in the perpetual flow of passing strangers. In the most secretive way, misspelled words retain the naïve inspiration of speech, like the colourful splinters of a shattered object. No neat boundaries survive: words demolish cultural barriers and animate the vivid spirit of Babel anew, within an underlying process of creative change.
The more information we recovered the more a spell was cast on Berlin, re-attaching it to the vague idea of some seat of the soul. What has remained of the wall other than its colourful memorials, in front of which a crowd of sightseers queues up everyday to save another smiling shot? Are Mehringhof, Ufa Fabrik, Kerngehäuse, Schwarze Risse (the anarchic bookshop) still there? And what about the famous Café Kranzler, Das Sowjetische buch? Have all of these names survived only on these maps? What path would we tread while moving eastwards, according to the fussy expatriation procedure suggested in the guidebook, following the Grenzübergangstelle; maybe standing again in a queue where the Andere Staaten gate was, waiting for our turn?
Despite the widely shared and accepted image of Berlin as a hip, germ-cell of new trends, the irrefutable contradictions emerging from its bedrock draw a veil over the scar tissue covering the wounds, without really healing them. Clearing away the rubble from the Second World War has not soothed the grief and the Cold War that followed was an even harder, since invisible, fight.
While Berlin treasures its hidden places and looks after each more or less irregular inhabitant who has made it his wish to be there, something still unforgiven nourishes the Stadtgeist. The new topography is driven by the mandatory force of a vanguard building plan. As it allegedly absorbs old relics within a thick concrete shrine, it seems much more concerned about its propaganda impact, in favour of a peaceful coexistence of ancient Eastern/Western rivalries in the name of wider interests, than about facing the actual expectations of people.
The policy of disregarding the widespread request of radical freedom, with the hope of appeasing it, is indeed creating the opposite effect, spontaneously drawing the alternative movements behind the scenes together to concerted common action. The failure of the recent attempt of eviction of the Tacheles arthouse, a former department store due to be demolished, squatted in since 1990, and the subsequent revolt of the artistic community marching across the quarter, is just another hint of the simmering discontent. Walls let whispers and draughts pass easily throughout Berlin.
It is facing this variegated background that Nettleingham and I have decided to start our personal research into the literature, politics, films and art of the old city interleaved with the new, picking up ideas, stories, photographs, quick spontaneous street interviews and other audio/video samples; working out contrasts and personal experiences. In this process, Nettleingham is much more involved in the social implications of the new city growing within/without the old one, and I tend to give prominence to the “walled in” feeling under the shadow of an invisible barrier.
Our aim is ultimately to produce a series of joint socio-artistic works, multi-layered, rich in different languages, bringing together all the collected materials, and unveiling the skeleton or the soul of Berlin.
The developing state and progress of the project is currently updated on the pages of a blog, reworked and revived with each new stay in the city.
We are very grateful to Canterbury City Council’s Creative Canterbury initiative for their support in the research and development of this project and hope new partners will soon show interest and get involved as well.

Das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluss:
Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben,
Das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluss:
Der täglich sie erobern muss.

Faust, Atto V
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The Berlin Project lives on

Ever since I moved to Berlin for the first time, in December 2001, I have felt the need of conceiving of a project about this city, but the first step was made only ten years later, in the summer of 2011, together with David Nettleingham, a poet and researcher from Kent University. Though the original manifesto has scarcely been put into practice, owing to several events which occurred in our personal lives, the project still lives on through this blog, filed under a dedicated Berlin category.
Last but not least, some of the texts posted here were first hosted on The Morning Star, then overnight removed from it since, as Jody Porter wrote to me with a little delay: “The editor objected to the poems I’m afraid because of their anti-West Germany tone. I should’ve realised they wouldn’t be appropriate myself – very sorry.”
Well, that was instead very curious from my point of view – (smile!).