Ben Cauchi, Berlin, Germany
From a European perspective, Berlin is a young city. Indeed, as a nation state, Germany itself only dates back pretty much as far as New Zealand does. In terms of history, age is of course no measure of weight or substance... no one would ever argue Berlin in any way lacks historical clout. It’s one of the things that drew me here and remains one of the aspects of the city I draw so much enrichment from. There’s a permanent awareness of the past here, living on as a daily reality in ways I’ve never encountered elsewhere; a melding of past and present which at times, and especially recently, seems particularly relevant and impacts inevitably on how you see the world around you.
I don’t really think of Berlin in terms of World War II but inevitably it’s something that cannot be overlooked. One of the most subtle forms of remembrance I’ve encountered, and all the more effective for it, are the numerous Stolpersteine – small cobblestone-sized brass plaques an artist has, over a number of years, set discreetly into pavements, which quietly record the name of a Jewish person who lived in the building the pavement passes in front of; when they were born and when and in which camp they were murdered. Over time, encountering these on the daily walk to and from the studio imparts an indescribable sense of the past being ever-present.
Before moving here in 2012 the picture I had of the city was mainly the Berlin of old, be it the 1920s and 30s or the 1970s and 80s... and of course the cliché ‘don’t mention the war’. I didn’t expect to find the war to be a simpler and more relaxed discussion than the merits of Belgian beer. But there you go, life’s funny sometimes. It has a habit of turning up unexpected things. Like watching the political goings-on and the strange but real rise of right-wing nationalism across the West from a city that has seen exactly what kind of dead-end road that cause is. Europe seems to be a strange place in a strange time at the moment. Living and working here in Berlin it feels like the city itself provides a particular lens through which to view the current state of things politically – and not so surprisingly politics is all anyone seems to be talking about recently.
It sometimes feels of late that on this side of the rock the order of things is slowly being screwed up into a ball to be cast into the dustbin of history, only to be replaced by the unfolding of another screwed-up ball unwisely excavated from that very same bin. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately... more so than what art is on show around the place or who’s doing good things. Interesting times.