Berlin, 20 December 2016

Horrible – the word that came to mind last night in Berlin. I thought of the people selling in the wooden huts in the Christmas markets, people trying to make a living from making candles and glühwein and knitted hats. Working long hours in the cold weeks before Christmas. And now scared, hurt, even killed. That is the detail I found myself going to, with respect and care for them.


at the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market, 2015

What else is there to be said here?

… it’s complicated. And the simple messages of hate and blame being circulated today are easier to feel, to compose, to communicate.

… in societies where young people are not brutalized or damaged, they may be feel safe enough to imagine democracy and peace. They may be taught and inspired to do the work of empathy towards other people and care about others. To live a life without a need for violence.

… I don’t see that experience being offered in many places just now. In societies where basic needs are met and there is energy remaining for building something good, I see an absence of inspiring political leadership towards the ethical, or worse.

… our post-war version of democracy and nationhood, which once seemed so straightforward, relied on a continuing expansion of market capitalism. At one time, the market economy seemed to offer opportunities for self- and social development. Then it started to show its limits, its threadbare morality. Now, sinking in front of us, we face urgent issues. This morning, these were my questions:

  • Does a return to autocracy and authoritarianism become inevitable when crises hit?
  • How do we construct the basics of a society around fairness and goodness (and I use that unpopular word deliberately) from which a peaceful democracy can be nourished?
  • How do we find and support leaders who can be trusted with such a task?

I take some hope from the considered tone of Angela Merkel this morning:

“But given the current information we have, we have to assume we are dealing with a terrorist attack. I know that it would be particularly hard to bear for all of us if it was confirmed that a person committed this crime who asked for protection and asylum in Germany. This would be particularly repugnant in the face of the many many Germans who have dedicated themselves day after day to helping refugees, and in the face of the many people who actually need our protection and try to integrate into our country.”

One Response to “Berlin, 20 December 2016”
  1. Frank Monaghan says:

    Not for the first time this year, I’ve reached for Auden’s September 1, 1939, which seems to express the mix of thoughts and feelings I have when events like these occur:

    I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.

    Accurate scholarship can
    Unearth the whole offence
    From Luther until now
    That has driven a culture mad,
    Find what occurred at Linz,
    What huge imago made
    A psychopathic god:
    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return.

    Exiled Thucydides knew
    All that a speech can say
    About Democracy,
    And what dictators do,
    The elderly rubbish they talk
    To an apathetic grave;
    Analysed all in his book,
    The enlightenment driven away,
    The habit-forming pain,
    Mismanagement and grief:
    We must suffer them all again.

    Into this neutral air
    Where blind skyscrapers use
    Their full height to proclaim
    The strength of Collective Man,
    Each language pours its vain
    Competitive excuse:
    But who can live for long
    In an euphoric dream;
    Out of the mirror they stare,
    Imperialism’s face
    And the international wrong.

    Faces along the bar
    Cling to their average day:
    The lights must never go out,
    The music must always play,
    All the conventions conspire
    To make this fort assume
    The furniture of home;
    Lest we should see where we are,
    Lost in a haunted wood,
    Children afraid of the night
    Who have never been happy or good.

    The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish:
    What mad Nijinsky wrote
    About Diaghilev
    Is true of the normal heart;
    For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow;
    “I will be true to the wife,
    I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the deaf,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

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