Living in the Future

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When I was a teenager or even younger, I thought the year 1960 was the future. “1984” was the distant future and the year 2000 was the unimaginable, far away, further away future. All those dates are gone now and are part of the history of mankind.

Now, we have the year 2017! I live in a present which was once a future, I was not able to contemplate at all. The last two numbers of years remind us of what happens one hundred years ago. That was a time just before I was born. When I grew up the First World War was still talked about without a quantifying number. It was the World War! That war and its aftermath were so bad that people did not want a repeat nor did they want any world war that had a number attached higher than one. They got one anyway.

My parents were both born in the year 1900 and were true citizens of the 20th century.  While they were growing up new inventions changed their lives. The telephone, movie films, electric trains, aeroplanes and automobiles, the wireless radio,  all those inventions changed the lives of millions. They lived in the most modern city in the world: Berlin.

When I was born, in an almost new hospital, I could not yet know that a madman was already in the process to destroy this modern civilisation. Only smart people could foresee what was coming and if they were able to, they left the country. So much of modernity was transferred to the USA.

All this is, of course, nothing new. There are constant changes and people who bring those changes about have themselves no idea what consequences their ideas ultimately will have. When Gottlieb Daimler fitted an internal combustion engine to a coach he could not imagine that one day it would lead to an environmental disaster.

In 1941 to 1943,  I walked past a tenant building on my way to school in which a young man, Konrad Zuse was inventing the machine that was to became the dominating appliance of human existence in the 21st century, the computer.

The present is always the precursor of the future. We always live in the present but in comparison to what went on before we would have called today’s present the future at any other time.

In today’s world, there are different struggles going on at the same time. There seems to be a religious struggle going on.  I say, “seems to be”, because actually it is not.  It is a rebellion by people who have enough after beeing controlled and exploited by others for centuries, if not millenniums.  Of course. they are guided by their culture, which includes their religion and tribal traditions.

In our European-centric or Western world, we find four main cultural ingredients combined: Roman, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic. All this with a mighty proportion of Jewish tradition to spice things up. Overlaying all this mixture is the Judaic-Christian religion. This is our framework for our  thoughts and actions.

Even if we are not religious we believe in the enlightenment and a basic morality. Apparently, the majority of our politicians don’t believe in any morality. They have been democratically elected to work for the benefit of the population as a whole. But once elected and when they know the ins and outs of the expense entitlement system they go for it like a pack of hungry wolves. They have no shame at all.

The question arises how good is Democracy if it throws up such a mob of parasites? Last century, especially after WW2, Democracy seemed to be spreading. The two shining examples are Germany and Japan. After they lost the war they took to Democracy like ducks to water.

After 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union true Democracy seems to be on the retreat. New governments are still being elected but after the votes have been counted some of the new governments think they have a licence to curtail the rules of Democracy.

On top of all this, globalisation has led to an increase in the influence of big business over the governments. The voters are reacting now by throwing out the governments that appear corrupt and they elect populist new governments which further erode the democratic way of life. That doesn’t mean the new governments are less corrupt.

The USA have voted themselves an unpredictable president who will probably govern by Twitter. Well, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the other day, the future will begin in a few days. We will see what is new about it.

I say, we have arrived already. We live in a future we did not imagine when we were younger. The climate is changing our planet Earth into an uninhabitable rock. What have we done to our children and all the generation who will follow us?

People all over the world don’t want things to continue as they did up to now and they say so in a recent poll.

They want a strong leader who takes the power back from the big companies and their greedy CEOs.

We are living in a present in which the dark clouds of the future don’t show any silver lining at all.

17-06-2009-52520-pm

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Back to the Future

“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.