It’s an odd feeling you get burning away in your belly; when you leave the world you know behind and when you return you won’t quite be the same person who left.
In just under a month Andrew and I will stand in the place where thousands of our countrymen lost their lives and the notion of Australian nationhood was born. But what is Australian nationhood and what is the ANZAC spirit?
It is a beautiful mythology, our very own Iliad. Young men and women called to serve an empire only to find who they truly were in the heat of battle. They held on against insurmountable odds against an enemy defending its homeland. And in the face of enmity they created a special bond with the men in the trenches opposite. They saw themselves through the hardships with laughter and mate ship. Then when it came to retreating our very own Odysseus, Lt. Col. Charles Brundell White hatched a plan truly worthy of Trojan horse fame and not one man was lost.
It’s the stuff of glorious paintings, plays, movies and legend. It’s quite a daunting thought to think that we will forever be a part of that mythology, in the smallest of ways as we remember those who fell in a foreign land.
But before all that… Berlin, Munich, Berchtesgaden, Salzburg. There will be drinking and carousing and many many museums.
Yesterday, we left Berlin behind us. It was a sad leaving as it seems to be a city that can crawl under your skin and beg you to stay. I read a quote from the Dali Llama that said
We can let the circumstances of our life harden us, so we become increasingly resentful and afraid. Or we can choose to let them soften us, so we become kinder …
It seems Berlin chose the latter of these two options. The people of the city are exceedingly polite and tolerant. Perhaps it’s because they purge themselves through art? Everywhere you look in Berlin, people’s voices are being heard, even if it is in the uninteresting scrawl of graffiti adorning a train carriage that you pass by, it’s still there and for some reason so permissible.
This is the way the city chooses to engage with the horrors of its own past, it turns them into art.
The East side gallery, a poignant expression of division and reconciliation.
You can’t help but be overawed by the way Berlin uses art to express and heal its wounds. They have the truth of art itself, as a medicine and a hammer with which one can affect change. This is of course one of the central lessons of my great theatrical idol and it seems only appropriate to me now that this is the city in which he would choose to create his theatre and leave behind his legacy.
Brecht and I out the front of his Berliner Ensemble
Dem Deutsches Volk, “The German People”, simplicity itself adorns the German parliament. A glorious reminder that in a true democracy the people are governed by the people and for the people. It seems to sit there as an almost ironic statement given the division the city has passed through over the last 100 years or perhaps it is a very timely reminder of those words from Primo Levi:
“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
At the end of the day Berlin and Germany makes me think a lot about Australia. At the moment there is a very strong, very nationalistic ideal amongst many Australians. To be fair it has always been there, but perhaps a little obscured or glanced over. In the 30’s there were race riots in Kalgoorlie, the Italian population was sent packing into the desert, we had instances on the gold fields of white prospectors scalping Chinese immigrants and we as a nation still struggle to find reconciliation with the treatment of indigenous peoples. And now we also have a media blackout on the fate of people who come to Australia seeking asylum, what is worse is we are taking those people and subjecting them to the terror of detention centres; men, women and children.
It all catalysed for me as Andrew and I visited the very solemn grey concrete rectangles of the holocaust memorial. Soaring above you and always at a slightly different angle, they reminded me of the irrationality of persecution, but being laid out in a grid it spoke of the regularity with which it happens. Again here is an artwork that invites you to engage with it, to play an active part in remembrance.
I found myself questioning when we may have to erect such memorials of our own. To remind ourselves that our past as a nation is bloody and fraught with injustices, but that knowing our past we as a nation can come together and seek a brighter future.
So, where does this all fit in along the Road to Gallipoli? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that yet. It’d be nice to tie it off with a little bow, but there’s still a long way to go.