Mornings, summer and winter always begin with a mug of green tea. Years ago it was espresso, then espresso with a cigarette and finally around 11 am, espresso with a sandwich and a cigarette. This continued until one day my stomach got really sore and my sister, a dietician spelled out the obvious. The pot of espresso doesn’t appear until around 10 am now well after I have lined my stomach with a good breakfast, more advice from my sister. Several years ago I replaced the daily two packets of cigarettes with 3 to 6 cigars a day, some weeks ago that also stopped.
Early morning tea is accompanied by the jingle of the laptop being switched on, a four note perversion of the Bernstein song New York New York ’s a wonderful town. For a former computer luddite I spend an enormous amount of my time staring into the screen these days keeping in touch through email and Skype, writing, editing film, processing sound, watching You Tube, listening to the radio and keeping an eye on the news.
Whether smoking or not, the hours spent sitting at the computer during the cold months have given me stiff-winter-legs, so today I decide while it’s still cool outside to take an early morning walk before starting work. Prior to leaving I check my emails and for any up-dates on the BBC news page about the Libyan situation, in particular, the reactions of the people and politicians of Great Britain. Since I started living in Berlin I view a number of British domestic affairs to be none of my business, I do however carry a British passport and consider it important to keep informed on her foreign policy, especially when it comes to dropping bombs on other countries.
From the coolness of the stairwell I step into a sunbathed street and make immediately for the shade across the road but not before checking for bikes. Berlin is more or less flat and therefore a great city to cycle around the only down side to this are the cyclists. Due to the amount of bikes that thunder down it, pedestrians are often no safer on the pavement than if they were to lie spread-eagle in the middle of the road. The two wheeled panzers that speed along are frequently manned by mummys-in-a-hurry top heavy with children, dogs, bags and boxes perched on every available horizontal surface of the machine. With the overall weight of a small elephant, little consideration is shown for any fool out walking on the pavement and even less to someone stupid enough to get in the way. I cross the road cautiously with the assistance and support of a car driver; whereas bikes are a menace the cars in Berlin can at times be almost freakishly too considerate towards pedestrians and cyclists, this morning is no exception as the approaching car sees me waiting on the kerb, slows down and beckons me to cross.
The bombing of Libya or the NATO No Fly Zone that Britain and France pushed for, began back in March, I was still smoking then. I remember puffing out gloriously rich plumes of cigar smoke while listening online to an episode of the News Quiz. Rory Bremner and Jeremy Hardy were joking about the way the government’s Foreign Secretary William Hague had pronounced Benghazi, (BenNGaaazzee) during a statement to the press, but however funny that was, British fighter planes had begun flying over Libya and British Bombs were being dropped on Libya. Back in 1986 on April 15th, I can remember standing on the central staircase of Grays school of Art in Aberdeen, telling Stevie O’Donnell what I had seen on TV earlier that morning; American planes, ordered by president Ronald Reagan, taking off from British air force basis, sanctioned by Prime minister Margaret Thatcher to go and bomb Tripoli or more specifically, go and get Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan involvement in the bombing of a disco in West Berlin was the reason given for the American attack back then while in 2011, the protection of Libyan civilians is NATO’s stated aim while barely disguising their support for the Rebel forces trying to topple the Gaddafi regime. Today, Gaddafi still holds on to power in Libya after 40 years, Reagan is dead, Thatcher is even more senile and I don’t smoke anymore.
Starlings bounce into each other and roll around in the sandy soil of Teutoburger Platz giving a frenzied and chaotic picture of their daily schedule, blackbirds on the other hand stalk their regular routes alone and with purpose. Years ago I worked as a Hall keeper and each morning as I opened up the various fire exits around the building I became aware of a blackbird on his daily forage around the grounds. At first I thought it was just coincidence that any old blackbird happened to be there at roughly the same time and place but as this continued like clockwork for weeks on end the evidence mounted to suggest it was the same bird each day. Of course I couldn’t prove it as I can’t distinguish one male blackbird from another and although I often acknowledged his presence as one might a passing dog, cat or neighbour, blackbirds in my experience show no interest in our petty pleasantries and therefore no tail wag, purr or nod of the head was ever returned. And it is the same with the blackbirds I see this morning in Berlin, stalking without distraction through bushes, over the odd shrapnel-scarred granite paving slab and amidst the vast spaces, made over 60 years ago between houses.
Having got sick of the daily yahoo homepage headlines of -knobs, dogs, kiddie porn, crims, pop stars, film stars and footballers I changed my homepage settings a couple of years ago to Yahoo Deutschland, I am still met with a daily dose of Knoepfe, Hunde und Kinderporno, so at least now I read this guff in German. At the start of the NATO No fly zone regular reports appeared on Yahoo Deutschland giving me a very general overview of things, however because of a Royal wedding in Britain and probably also due to the slowness, in popular news desk terms of the NATO military operations, reports about Libya have begun to slide into the background.
Crossing Schoenhauser Alle I stop to look at the Solnhofen Limestone statue of Alois Senefelder the inventor of lithography. Erected in 1892 the sculpture is fairly pedestrian considering its subject’s innovative contribution to both art and newspaper printing, although the mirror reversal of the redlefeneS siolA chiselled name is a nice touch and it is uncanny how much the litho stone that Senefelder stares into, looks like a present day ipad. A little to the side stands a Litfassseuler, Berlin born Ernst Litfass’s invention to present public announcements and advertising in a regular and tidy manner to the public. One can only speculate and wonder at the volume and variety of information that has been displayed around this particular column in well over 100 years, displayed here today however, is the hard copy equivalent of yahoo homepage, large posters for the American, summer box office film, Zoo Warden. I am now on Kollwitzstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg, an area of former East Berlin that since the fall of the wall in 1989 has experienced a creeping gentrification that many Berliners call, chickey mickey. From this spot there are a number of streets, squares and boulevards named after individuals from the 19th and 20th centuries who in their own way sang out for the common good of humanity, often paying a grim price for doing so. One of my favourites is Paul Robesonstrasse, named after the American bass-baritone singer and civil rights activist. The names of Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Marx are also acknowledged just five minutes south from here where the latter of these 3 political heavyweights replaced Stalin, in street-name terms, on a certain Berlin boulevard sign in 1961.
While searching more purposefully online to get news on Libya I came across a film clip of a recent Prime ministers question time, David Cameron being questioned on military matters by, Leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband. Their exchange made no real reference to killing, war or destruction and even though the word “War” was mentioned once, both men appeared more focused on the battle to be seen as the best protector of the British tax payers’ money. At no point was there any reflection on what happens to civilians, (numbering 800 so far in a recent Pravda report on the NATO No Fly Zone over Libya) who get in the way of a Dual-Mode Brimstone, Paveway, Tomahawk or Storm shadow missile. Although the media named this PMQT exchange a percentage winning performance by New Labour’s Ed Miliband I could only make out a tuneless drone produced from two career politicians singing from the same song sheet and as far as I know neither have had a street named after them yet.
At the north end of Kollwitzstrasse I reach Danziger Strasse, a wide road with trams rumbling heavy yellow down the middle. Road signs tell me that if I were to turn right here I would be heading for Frankfurt and Dresden and taking a further left would see me on the road to Hamburg. I take the first left and head back to the flat. I could kill for a smoke.
It is just over 100 days since NATO began its operations over Libya. My online reading informs me that so far 5,000 strategically placed Great British bombs costing 250million strategically placed Great British pounds have been spent. Another report claims that in 2009 various arms trading nations including Great Britain sold $470million worth of weapons to Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Statistics like these are fairly easy to find in the news, delivered by politicians and traders with a confident, dry, matter-of-factness, statistics for casualties remain less clear.