Those faces of Berlin


All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “ Ich bin ein Berliner!”      John F. Kennedy, June 1963

 This is really a refresh of a piece I had written a few years back. My motivation to do this is from the plethora of visions and thoughts which overwhelmed me during a recent re-vist…….

It started as most things do. With a simple mail requesting my presence at ITB Berlin, requiring me to lug my lazy bones across the seas to that wintry land. My flight was sustained by some pleasing prospects of meeting several business associates and the even more welcome thoughts of doffing a few German pilseners in a Pfeffersteak Haus.

 What is it about Berlin that envelops me every time I am there? I try to find out.

 ***

Walking on Friedrichstrasse, I spot a bunch of excited tourists waiting to be photographed and facebook uploaded with the ‘US marines’ at Checkpoint Charlie. A makeshift cabin and protective sand bags, stands forlornly in the midst of a modern office district. As I walk past, my mind goes back to an incident which happened here more than half a century back.

Checkpoint Charlie

It was October 1961. Allan Lightner, a US diplomat based in Berlin and his wife were great connoisseurs of the Opera in East Berlin. But one evening, while driving across Checkpoint Charlie, Allan was accosted by the East German guards who insisted on verifying his travel documents. This inspite of his diplomatic immunity. A standoff which snowballed into Soviet and American tanks facing each other across the checkpoint. A tale of how one man’s love of opera nearly pushed John Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev towards World War III a year earlier to the Cuban missile crisis.

As I look back at the incongruity of that checkpoint today, I sense societal evolution. What would it have taken to break the divisiveness between the erstwhile West and the East? What would it have taken to shift away from the WW II implanted belief of separation and hatred?

Does Berlin symbolise the promise of a choice made while negotiating the tectonic fault lines of political and societal beliefs?

 ***

Driving through one of the many avenues radiating outwards from the Siegessäule (Victory Column), I cannot help but notice the unbelievably serene “islands in Humanity’s stream” that Tiergarten, that famous parkland of the city, consists of. Built by the Prussian emperors Fredrich I and Fredrich II a few hundred years back, Tiergarten holds both a Baroque feel as also an English garden environment.

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Passing through Tiergarten in the evening, amidst the stark and leafless trees standing like sentinels in the dusk, I can well imagine stories of those hunting sprees by the Electors of Brandenburg, ,of shootings and murders,  of the Reichstag fire of 1933, of the devastation by air raids in the forties……

Does Berlin symbolise nature’s serenity and permanence through Mankind’s follies?

 ***

I get invited to a traditional German evening at the Zur letzten Instanz, arguably the oldest surviving restaurant in the German capital. Built in 1621, this remains one of the very few buildings from the medieval times to have miraculously come out unscathed from the carpet bombings of World War II. As I go up the original spiral staircase to the upper floor, marveling at the old wooden panels, I can almost envision Napolean Bonaparte sitting by the oven yonder and warming himself during his occupation of Berlin those many years back.

Zur letzten Instanz 1

Zur letzten Instanz 2

Does Berlin’s spirit embrace foes and friends alike?

 ***

I fast forward a few centuries to a non-descript old building block close to Schweizerhof Budapester Strabe 25. Bendlerblock, as this building is named, happens to be of enormous historical significance. In July 1944, this building became the focal point of German military resistance to the Nazi regime. The “Valkyrie” operation, as it came to be known, was a plan for a coup d’etat against Hitler hatched by senior military officers when it became quite clear that Germany was not going to win the war. The plan led to bombing of Hitler’s eastern headquarters, the “Wolf’s lair” in East   Prussia. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Hitler survived the day and members of the uprising were executed by a firing squad in the courtyard of Bendlerblock.

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While the Valkyrie plot is well known and in fact formed the basis for the 2008 Tom Cruise starrer movie of the same name, what is little known but more interesting is the fact that famed field marshal Rommel, the “desert fox”, lent support to the plot since he felt he had to “come to the rescue of Germany.”

Is Berlin about the whisperings of History gone astray?

***

Finally moving to Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB)  at Messe Berlin, the mother of all Travel and Tourism Shows on the planet. Spread over twenty six interconnected halls, more than ten thousand exhibitors from 188 countries and regions, ITB symbolises Berlin’s hosting of  the first industrial exhibition almost two hundred years back and the  ordinary German’s propensity to travel and discover.

ITB 1

ITB 2

Does Berlin ultimately showcase both the German solidity and passion?

 ***

 As my flight takes off on the way back, looking down at the endless vista of building blocks and roads, I ponder again over what it is about Berlin that resonates.

Is it about reexamination and refresh of our beliefs?

Is it about acceptance and sustenance of an environment that serves?

Is it about the heightened consciousness of a past that no longer serves?

Is it about a mindset that appreciates and embraces?

Is it about being where our passion is?

Or is it about a mix of all this?

I wish I could be certain…..

In Learning………..                                                                         Shakti Ghosal

Antalya and Mindfulness


“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

                                                ― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Massachusetts Medical School

 

Antalya town sits on top of a rocky outcrop on the Mediterranean coastline.

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Walking in the gardens after breakfast, I spot a wooden dhow sailing out.

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As the wind pushes the dhow, it whispers its secrets of days gone by. Of, Attalos II the  King of Pergamon founding this strategically important port city more than two millennia back. Of pirates seeking refuge in the steep rocks and mountains, biding their time to loot the arriving merchant ships. Of the waxing and waning of Christianity as the Byzantine forces fought and lost naval battles to the Arabs in these waters. I listen entranced as I watch the gardeners lazily tending to the shrubs. Can they not hear these whisperings?

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Strolling through Hadrians Gate and into the old historical quarters, I am reminded of  Ibn Battuta, that prolific Arab traveler in the fourteenth century, and his impressions of Anatalya. Of a beautiful town, well laid out and counting amongst its citizenry an impressive social diversity of Christians, Greeks, Jews and Muslims. As I walk the narrow cobbled bylanes, I can almost “see” the comings and goings of these diverse people in the centuries gone by. But do these souvenir shop owners sitting here day in and day out, not share my vision?

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I sit near the clock tower, a nineteenth century stone citadel of the Ottoman times. The Kaleici district, replete with old houses and narrow lanes, slopes down to meet the Mediterranean shores. As if in an effort to balance on the slope the rooftops and terraces point out at awkward angles. Folks sit around peacefully, hardly a word being spoken.

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The stillness gets broken by the tingling laughter of two girls as they come running to the chestnut selling vendor. School over, they speak excitedly about the beautiful weather and their plans to go down to the harbourside. Young open minds, soaking in the sights and sounds, passionately open to possibilities. Scarcely a head turns however to watch the girls excitedly canter down the narrow lane. What stops these good folks from appreciating the beauty around them?

I wonder what is it that stops the gardeners, the souvenir shop owners and those folks near the clock tower from seeing and appreciating the “here” and “now” as I could. Could it be that as a visitor, the newness of the place opens me to receive all that is around me? And could it be that for all these other folks, the familiarity and routineness of their daily lives makes them go on autopilot? A mode allowing them to escape a boring present. As they choose to enjoy the thrill ride negotiating between a “what I could have been” past and “how I would show up” future.

And so as I walk away, I muse on how we could bring that curious visitor mindset in our day to day lives, free of clutter, mindful of the present, open to possibilities. What we  could do to shift ourselves  to live our passion in the moment, make choices free of fear, guilt or societal expectations.

“Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.” – Unknown

 In learning…………..                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

The Other Side of Sadness


Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars. 
Violata Parra, Chilean folklorist, early 20th century.

Met Death last month.

I asked, “What brings you here?”
He said, “My job.”
“But don’t you think it’s a bit too early.”
“Well maybe, but who cares.”
“I do.”
“Who are you?”
“A wife, a mother.”
He curled his lip and sneered, “Is that all you are?”
“Uh…. Yes, that’s all I want to be.”
“I’ll give you a new identity.”
“And what is that?”
“…. A rebel.”
“But who do I rebel against? You?”
“Yes.”
“But I’ll never win.”
“Trust me, you’ll never lose either.”

And he left, his job done.

Facebook entry of a young wife recently widowed.

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A close relative died young last month. He lost the war to leukemia, leaving behind a young wife and a five year old daughter. The daughter still goes around asking and searching for her Dad. She believes he has gone away on a long journey.

Having watched him through birth, childhood and adulthood, I find my own emotions swing between a connection severing anguish and a “out of mind, out of sight” normalcy. Sometimes when I see myself normalising thus, guilt returns in waves. Am I a betrayer, is my self-centeredness making me forget a loved one? Or could it be that as I reach out to others in my normalcy, I initiate my inner healing?

I read the Facebook entry again. Is there some coping mechanism here too? Is it a way to confront and face the very intimate and intense feelings the widow holds? Could this creative piece of writing be a vent through which she in fact is acknowledging Death?

My thoughts shift to that path breaking book, The Other Side of Sadness authored by George A. Bonanno. Dr. Bonanno refutes the widely held belief that a surviving family member needs to necessarily go through several stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Hurt before he or she can reach the healing stage of Acceptance. The good doctor contends that the person in grief would in fact find a surprising inner storehouse of resiliency that would take him or her to the shores of Normalcy. He further maintains that “the natural sadness that actually follows a death is not a thick soup of tears and depression but a fluctuation that is nothing short of spectacular, the prevalence of joy during these times can in fact be striking.”

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As I muse on Dr. Bonanno’s thesis, I begin to see that while there can be no common pathway through grief nor a pre-determined structure for the grieving process, we may indeed share common responses. The Facebook entry for the widow and my periods of normalcy could just be the catharsis the doctor has written about. With this thought my emotional pendulum swings again. I understand the need to acknowledge my present emotion of normalcy just as I feel the urge to shout out to my widowed relative.

“Feel what you feel without embarrassment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell, to cry. It’s equally okay to laugh, to find your joy and let go when you are ready.”
In learning………..                                                                            Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Other Side of Sadness: What the new Science of Bereavement tells us about Life after Loss by George A. Bonanno Ph.D, September 2009.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.