“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977 before anybody thought of the film.
The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back from Australia to West-Berlin.
Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.
I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still the only written evidence of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.
Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.
Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.
In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are moving in great numbers to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale to it. It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.
For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.
Last time, four years ago, were there, we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.
Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?
Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me. What I know now made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear one, I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.
When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia seems to be a memory only. This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago. There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.
Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs, could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the far-off future, yet I’m living in that future now.
People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears were not even dreamt of then.
Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.
What would the people, living then, have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century? Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.
What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin. The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.