Weißensee (Berlin XVI)

The Jewish cemetery at Weißensee in Berlin is a wondrous place.

It is vast in space with more than 100,000 graves, and the Jewish tradition of leaving graves undisturbed in perpetuity has created a vastness in time.

What we have here is a landscape of time.

Miraculously, the cemetery was largely unharmed by war and the Nazis, but has suffered vandalism after the second world war. We humans are strange, we can’t even leave the dead unharmed.

Traditional tombstones mingle with more contemporary designs, like the one above for the grave of Stefan Heym.

Long alleys through memory lead to the eternal question:

What will the future bring?

The Rule of Names (Berlin XV)

Off iconic Berlin Friedrichstraße is a little dark side street soon to be renamed into Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße, after the 18th century philosopher.

The name Mohrenstraße raises interesting questions: About the German word Mohr, which has been used since the 8th century, originally to designate inhabitants of Mauretania, which is derived from the Latin Maurus, which in turn might derive from the Greek μαυρός for black. But usage changes, and what once might have only designated origin, has long been a designation of a specific caste by another specific caste.

Then there are the speculations why this specific street carries that name, with even historical sources conveniently contradicting each other — was it a single black resident or a group of slaves from Africa that gave cause for this naming?

And, much more generally, it raises the question: What does give us the right to name something? I suspect that Genesis 2-23 has played a role.

It seems that philosophers, psychologists and writers agree that names are powerful. So if we inflict a name on a person, or, like here, on millions of people a once, shouldn’t we be a bit careful about how we use that name?

The imminent renaming is one step, and it’s easy to nod approval. But will we, for once, readjust our own thinking?

Stolpersteine (Berlin XIV)

I grew up learning little about the German colonialism in Africa from 1884-1920, or the Herero and Namaqua genocide between 1904 and 1908 (the first genocide of the 20th century), or the term Rhineland Bastard, used by the Nazis for Afro-Germans.

The Stolpersteine Project commemorates people prosecuted and murdered by the Nazis by placing a brass plate at their last place of residence of their own choice. There are more than 75,000 of them in Europe, in Berlin alone 8587 at the moment. Most of them commemorate Jewish victims. As far as I know, there are three such Stolpersteine for so-called Afro-Germans in Berlin, and another one in Frankfurt.

Martha Ndumbe‘s Stolperstein is in front of a day care at Max-Beer-Str. 24. She was prosecuted officially as a sex worker, which is why her mother didn’t receive any compensation after the war: She couldn’t prove her daughter was prosecuted because of her race.

Mahjub (Bayume Mohamed) bin Adam Mohamed (Brunnenstraße 193) was a soldier and actor. He was killed in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.

Ferdinand James Allen (Torstraße 174) was the son of a black musician and his German wife. He lived with epilepsy and was first sterilized than murdered by the Nazis.

All three Stolpersteine are in Berlin Mitte and can be visited during a 30 minute walk. There are several others on the way.

Doors (Berlin XIII)

During the second world war, Hohenschönhausen was a heavily bombed industrial area in the northeast of Berlin.

In 1945, one of the few still intact buildings was used by the Soviet Secret Police as Special Camp 3, a prison camp to intern Nazis and other undesired elements.

The pictures above are from the former cafeteria, converted into prison cells by forced labor.

In 1951, the East German Stasi took over and added a new building with nicer rooms.

It was used as a highly secret interrogation prison, with few people knowing about its existence. Dissidents and other people stubbornly seeking to leave the young republic were brought here into solitary confinement to solicit confessions.

At night, prisoners were checked on every few minutes and woken up if their sleeping position in bed deviated from the norm. The sound of the keyhole latches is still causing nightmares to the survivors.

The psychological torture aimed to make the prisoners feel utterly alone, disoriented, and hopeless.

An open door became even more terrifying than a closed one.

Grunewald Cemetery (Berlin XII)

Close to the Havel — a famous place to drown — secluded, away from any popular hiking trails, in the largest forest of the western part of Berlin, the Grunewald, is a little cemetery.

It is for the misfits, the nameless ones, by fate or choice.

It is a somber place, but it doesn’t depress. Instead it makes us calm and serene. I would even say this is a place I could live.

The earliest graves are from 1900, many of them overgrown.

Some of the graves are mass graves, for fallen soldiers who had no other place.

I wish we knew all their stories.

Walls (Ohio XII)

While the concept of a wall is simple, its function or pattern is complex. A wall can block the way, prevent us from getting elsewhere.

A wall can also provide protection, like the cave wall here in Hocking Hills State Park.

Sometimes a wall provides support for hidden growth.

A wall can become a space for something else to exist.

A wall can even recede and disappear.

Our inner walls are like this, too.

Aporetic Water (Ohio XI)

The second long hike this fall in Ohio took me to the waterfalls in Hocking Hills State Park.

Flowing water is infinitely attractive. It’s common to capture waterfalls through long exposures to get that seductive silkiness.

Waterfalls can be as beautiful as the human body.

One little project I have is to make a time lapse movie with long time exposures of waterfalls, ideally in Iceland, over 24 hours, taking one shot every minute, which would give a single one minute long clip.

Then one can also capture instants time with very short exposures, dissolving the flow of a water into isolated droplets.

Here the plan would be to create a slow-motion film, taking hundreds of shots a minute, and exposing each for 1/8000 of a second, so that we can follow each droplet for much longer that it takes to fall.

Scragglies (Ohio X)

When I visited state parks in Ohio at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, I didn’t expect that we would still be struggling with isolation.

One of the places I visited then was Conkles Hollow, whose rim trail offers fascinating views of scraggly trees on the steep slopes of the nature preserve.

I was curious how all this would look in the late fall, and the difference is not big.

If at all, the trees have become a bit more scraggly (and older, like myself), many individual lonelinesses in immutable clusters.

Maybe they are patiently waiting, too, for time to pass, wounds to heal, and spring to come.

Would they move elsewhere, if they could, and become tall and beautiful?

Braun (Berlin XI)

Taste changes, as do necessities.

What you see here are impressions from the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which has been controversial for two decades, mainly for financial reasons.

My own reservations are more of a more esthetic and, alas, political nature. At first, I was struck by its boredom.

We have low ceilings, steel, glass, and — brown decor.

The prevalence of the color brown (mostly in the form of dead wood and marble tiles) darkens the place, and, much worse, reminds me of an esthetic that I believed had been overcome long ago.

Curiously, the older airport Berlin-Tegel (which had replaced airport Berlin-Tempelhof, famous for the being used for the Luftbrücke during the Berlin Blockade) still feels much more modern, with its successful usage of simple geometric shapes like hexagons and triangles to create an efficient and stimulating atmosphere, was co-designed by the same architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.

Admittedly, here in Indiana I am used to the color brown, and I have always feared that it supports an unhealthy emotional state.

At least here, at BER, there is a solution built-in: Leave.

Lonesome Lake (Colorado III)

My third and last day in the Holy Cross Wilderness took me to Lonesome Lake, a suitable day hike for recovery, because it has little elevation gain and is easy on the mind.

The first part is gently uphill through old growth forests. Aging can be beautiful.

The middle section leads through lush meadows with an abundance of wildflowers. This would be a place to grow old.

Then, after a short last climb, there is the lake, lonesome alright, as is the entire valley.

Behind the lake the valley closes with mountains from the continental divide. Crossing it means going west.

Sadly not yet. Hopefully soon.