8th May 2020. Befreiung

Outside my window the sky is blue over Berlin, just wispy clouds and birdsong.

I watched the Himmel über Berlin in another time, in another hemisphere, long before I wanted to come to this place. In English the film is called The Wings of Desire. I guess because the double entendre of Himmel doesn’t exist in English. Sky and heaven. Angels melancholically perusing this place in black and white, perching on the Victory Column that was moved to the Tiergarten in 1939, all the better to parade Nazis past. The heavens over Berlin?

On the 8th of May 75 years ago, the heavens were crisp too, as I understand it. It was a warm spring day, around 14 degrees. But no one looked up. Soviet soldiers looked for child-snipers and revenge. Nazis looked to escape, through death or deceit. But first the Nazis took the time to hang those hanging grubby, off-white sheets out the windows of jagged ruins.

This year we have time off to mark the Tag der Befreiung. In other countries they call it Victory Day. But victory is of course in the eye of the beholder. Here it is the day of liberation from National Socialism. A some-times public holiday in East Germany before East Germany capitulated. The rest of Germany seemingly doesn’t care about liberation. It is only here in Berlin that we celebrate the Tag der Befreiung by being freed from work this sunny Friday. And only this once. 75 is not a round number, but it is a big one, worthy of a holiday.

I flew to this place because I desired the freedom to reinvent myself, to create a life worthy of my desires. It became a place I both love and hate with passion, that constricts and nutures me. The trick is to pick the battles I can grow in. That requires selectively obstructing my view when I can.

I bristle at the word Befreiung today. It tells me that Germans were liberated from the Nazis, as though they were not one and the same. A victory of sorts, for history is told by those who won or in this case, by those who were liberated from the imagined others, the baddies. History is not told by those Germans who were in fact othered, not by those who were persecuted by the Nazis, for of course those Germans existed too, until most Germans – let’s not kid ourselves like whoever decided to call it Tag der Befreiung, the majority of Germans were Nazis, whether active or passively complicit - until most Germans defined those other Germans as non-Germans. Until most Germans defined their Jewish neighbours, their gay neighbours, their Romany neighbours, their disabled neighbours, hell, their own disabled children, as non-German, as deviants, as vermin, as life unworthy of life. They had to sew stars and triangles on them to be able to tell the difference. Most of those once-Germans-but-no-longer did not live to tell the tale. So, who exactly were the Germans liberated from?

Today I see quips in the media of it being the day of liberation from restrictions in place to protect us from a virus. People are dying, but fewer, and the health care system here can cope so people are celebrating the regained freedom to shop, the victory of capitalism. People are on the streets protesting those restrictions that remain. I see photos of members of the German right-wing AfD party holding signs saying lockdown is social holocaust, of left-wing Germans comparing a face mask to a yellow star, of Germans calling Covid-19 a Jewish virus, or a Chinese conspiracy, or both. They make me want to stay in self-isolation forever.

It’s 21 degrees today. Unseasonably warm, although it’s hard to know anymore what seasonably warm would be, what with climate change. People are out airing their children. I can hear them through my window, but I don’t look out. They opened the playgrounds last week. Although in fact they had been used a lot despite the red and white tape tying the gates shut. Adults had stepped over the fences and sat around on the see-saws, enjoying the sunshine and drinking beer, sitting 1.5 m apart as restrictions require. Now the children have recaptured them and squeal with delight as their parents sigh with relief.

On the 2nd of May 75 years ago, Polish soldiers raised their flag on the Victory Column. But it took another 6 days for the final capitulation. I learnt this from Wikipedia when preparing a walking tour soon after I arrived in Berlin. It was one of the few jobs I could get at the time. When the papers were signed in Karlshorst - not far from where I sit looking out my window - it was already after midnight in Moscow, so their day of victory was a day later. On the 7th day their 26 million dead rested in peace.

What is the opposite of victory? It is not liberation.


Dina Rosen grew up in Aotearoa New Zealand and has lived in Berlin, Germany, for a long time. She is just starting out as a writer. She tweets @DinaRosen1