BERLIN WALL

It was the year 1972.  My wife and I drove from the border between West and East Germany on the highways built by Hitler in the 1930s.  The surface was badly pockmarked.  All around the landscape of East Germany seemed to be lying fallow to us, in contrast to West Germany where every inch was manicured.

West Berlin, an island behind the iron curtain, was a vital, progressive city with much of interest.  We’d planned to see East Berlin as well.

The Wall museum on the western side was an experience of triumph and tragedy honouring those who had tried to escape East Berlin.

Monument for those who attempted escape

Monument for those who attempted escape

At Checkpoint Charlie, the crossover point, we passed the guard in his American uniform sitting behind a comic book.  He hardly looked up.

Then, the no-mans-land … an unforgiving strip with steel x’s, thick rolls of barbed wire, and the Wall, a metre thick and, in some places, four metres high.  And this is where there had been the belle époque promenade Unten den Linden before the war.

Nomansland, Berlin Wall

                    No-mans-land, Berlin Wall

We gingerly trod the narrow path amongst the rolls of barbed wire, most aware of the machine guns trained on us from faceless watch towers.  On the east side of the crossover, a phalanx of border guards surrounded us, checking our passports with suspicious efficiency.  We too, were checked.

I remember East Berlin as broad, deserted streets with charcoaled ruins from the war, twenty-seven years before, here and there, the badly-lit museums and the slogans, not a corner without them.

Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

                   Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

I’ll admit :  when I left East Berlin it was with a grossly-simplified notion that this system was not an alternative economy;  it was a machinegun.

Seventeen years later the Wall came to a fall and soon after, the Soviet Union splintered.  In 2014 the Germans celebrated a quarter of a century without the Wall, as well as the reunion of the country.  Pieces of the Wall at the time were given to various countries, including South Africa.  It is exhibited on St George’s Mall in Cape Town.

A message to South Africa

                          A message to South Africa

The experience of the Berlin Wall shook me.  Today it disturbs me to hear of a leader somewhere who builds, or threatens to build, a wall to solve political differences.

                                        Something there is that doesn’t love a wall  ̶   Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Drawing by Walter Hanel

                       Drawing by Walter Hanel

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Images

Monument  –  urbaneukraine.wordpress.com

No-mans-land  –  gedenkstaette.de

Wall, cross and graffiti  –  dreamstime.com

Piece of Wall  –  mashable.com

Drawing  –  ros.sarosedesign.com

 

 

 

NEFERTITI – “The Beautiful One cometh”

 You can stand next to her, as I did 40 years ago in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.   It was a rare privilege for me then and I ask, Did I appreciate it?  What would such appreciation actually mean?

In the presence ...

                         In the presence …

I remember hearing that German archaeologists were no longer welcome in Egypt  ̶  they had made off with this prime patrimony, but, as with the Elgin Marbles, the Germans stood fast.

T.S. Eliot told us that art doesn’t improve.  Painters, sculptors, frieze-makers before and since the Egyptian millennia have not again achieved what the Egyptians so richly attained  ̶  the integrated balance between stylized and naturalistic expression.  Nowhere is this achievement as striking as it is in the Nefertiti bust, made around 1350 B.C.

I do remember thinking how contemporary the beauty of this figure is.  Even now, in 2016, I can easily find a comparison in someone like Angeline Jolie in Hollywood.  But Nefertiti is more elegant, stronger and yes, stylized.  There is energy in the features, a characteristic of so much Egyptian art.  What is the precedent for that energy?

nefertiti-bust

The closest for me is the art of the Khoi-San people of Africa.  The depictions of animals in their rock art are amongst the most accurate, naturalistic in art history and they are static.  The human figures, stylized, stride across Africa and beyond.  There is energy.  In Egyptian art this polarity becomes one.

Rock art, Castellon, Spain

Egyptian soldiers

                             Egyptian soldiers

To get poetic, Nefertiti is for me what a goddess could look like.  Yet that visage is sensual.  She is with us, keeping a magnetic distance.  She gazes out over the heads of people, the landscapes, the curve of the earth.  Mona Lisa looks at you and is there a smile?  A smaller world, and, as much as she intrigues me, she doesn’t turn me on.

So, do I appreciate Nefertiti?  Does anybody?  How can we appreciate someone so heavenly, so earthy?

The profile

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 Images

Bust – internaute.com

Bust  ̶  femmecelebres.com

Egyptian soldiers ̶  nilewavetravel.wordpress.com

Rock art, Castellon, Spain (source lost)

Profile – kingtutone.com

 

 

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