Dispatches

Berlin Diary

Norbert Ruebsaat

Ilonka, my host in Berlin, claims not to be a “German” or a “Berliner”: if anything, she said to me at dinner in the Kastanie restaurant near her flat, she is a member of the Kiez, her neighbourhood in the Charlottenburg district. She looked around the outdoor patio where we were sitting and said, A lot of these people are regulars and there is one man, for instance, who comes here every day; he uses the Kastanie as an office with his laptop and sits here for hours. Everyone knows him.

Ilonka grew up in a West Berlin suburb in the 197s and ’8s, when the city was still divided and West Berlin was surrounded by the Wall. She travelled out of Berlin often with her family, to the North Sea, which she loved, and to the countryside, and it was no big deal crossing through East Germany except for being frisked at border crossings and forced to exchange West for East marks at par. She took Berlin to be her home, took it as factual and not tragic that Russian and American symbols were all over the city, and only lamented sometimes that she lived in a suburb—not of course in the North American sense, but in the European sense, where the dwellings are four- and five-storey row houses fronting directly on the street. Her family travelled to West Germany as well, via the railway corridor that sealed them off from the East German republic.

Earlier in the day we had walked through Treptow Park and viewed the massive Soviet monument to the defeat of Fascism and the liberation of Berlin, rendered in the monu

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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