The voice of history

Erik Larson beautifully describes the Tiergarten of old Berlin, “Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park”. He writes that it was “630 acres of trees, walkways, riding paths and statuary that spread west from the Brandenburg Gate to the wealthy residential and shopping district of Charlottenburg.” He quotes a British diplomat’s description of the enchantment of the well used park in the evening: “In the Tiergarten, the little lamps flicker among the little trees, and the grass is starred with the fireflies of a thousand cigarettes.” [pages 49 – 50]

This is, of course, before WWII; before the German blitzkrieg decimated cities and before the bombing and destruction came ultimately back to Berlin itself.

At the very end of the book, after the index, is a single quote from Christopher Isherwood, describing the state of the Tiergarten at the close of the war:

“I walked across the snowy plain of the Tiergarten – a smashed statue here, a newly planted sapling there; the Brandenburger Tor, with its red flag flapping against the blue winter sky; and on the horizon, the great ribs of a gutted railway station, like the skeleton of a whale. In the morning light it was all as raw and frank as the voice of history which tells you not to fool yourself; this can happen to any city, to anyone, to you.”

One might think they believed

In 1933, the US Ambassador to Germany was William Dodd. Adolf Hitler was the newly appointed chancellor and the Nazi party was ascendant.

In Erik Larson’s book “In the Garden of Beasts“, he describes the growing climate of violence, fear and oppression in Germany at this time, even as life continued in many ways unchanged. One of the things that continued unchanged was the celebration of Christmas in Berlin – a lavish celebration that stood out to the Dodd family, a family that was not religious.

“In traveling about the city that day, Dodd was struck anew by the ‘extraordinary’ German penchant for Christmas display. He saw Christmas trees everywhere, in every public square and every window.
 
‘One might think,’ he wrote, ‘the Germans believed in Jesus or practiced his teachings!'”