My Father and Berlin

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

The rumble of a train comes through the window. In Berlin there is always the sound of a train somewhere. I look out and see a very different reality from what my father saw in 1984 when he first came to this city. A train engineer, he had won — based on volunteer hours and a great deal of work — a trip to the future. Yes, because in that era the GDR was the horizon many Cubans aspired to visit someday. So, this man of locomotives and greasy hands was also given a bonus to buy some clothes before he left for Europe. He chose a jacket and pants combo, along with an immense suitcase in which my sister and I played at hiding ourselves. He arrived in East Germany in the middle of winter and stayed only two weeks on a guided tour, whose main purpose was to demonstrate to the lucky travelers the advantages of that model. And my father came back convinced.

At the airport on his return he arrived smiling from ear to ear and with a bag in hand. Inside was a pair of shoes for each of his daughters, which turned out to be the greatest achievement of the trip. That and the memories. For decades he has been telling us about his stay in the GDR. Adding details each time, until it has become almost a family legend that we listen to when we gather for any commemoration. In the light of today the wonder of that engineer is captured in the fact that in Berlin he was able to sit in a café and ask for something to drink without having to stand in a long line, that he had bought some small gifts for his kids without showing a ration book, and that he had taken a shower in hot water at the hotel where he stayed. I was surprised at every little thing.

Now I am the one in Berlin. Thinking that my father would not recognize this city, that he would not be able to reconcile it with that other one that he visited in a year as Orwellian as its date indicated. Of the wall that divided it in two all that is left is a museum piece painted by various artists; the hotel where he stayed was probably demolished, and the name of the woman who translated for him, and watched him — so that he wouldn’t escape to the West — is not in the phone book. The suitcase also no longer exists, the shoes lasted us just a single school year and the reddish tinted photos that he took in Alexanderplatz have been handled so much you can’t see them. However, I’m sure that when I return my father will try to explain Berlin to me, to tell me how he entered a bakery and was able to eat a turnover without presenting a ration card. I will laugh and tell him he’s right, there are dreams that after so much time are not worth ruining.

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7 thoughts on “My Father and Berlin

  1. YOANI SANCHEZ’ BLOG IS LIKE THE UNDERDOG BOXER! IT MAY BE BROUGHT DOWN FOR A BIT, BUT IT KEEPS GETTING UP AND FIGHTING! JE JE JE! SALUDOS BOYS AND GIRLS, CASTRO AGENTS/APOLOGISTS AND READERS! GOOD TO BE BACK AND SEE YOU ALL, SORT OF!! H

    VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE! BUT WHO WOULD BUY AND SELL HOMES IN CUBA TILL THE TRANSITION IS OVER?? BUT MOST IMPORTANT, TILL THE CUBANS IN THE DIASPORA ARE ALLOWED TO PURCHASE PROPERTY LEGALLY!!

    HAVANA TIMES: Cuba’s Real Estate Market: Booming Speculation – Emilio Morales* (via Café Fuerte)

    When, at the close of 2011, after more than fifty years of restrictions, the Cuban government opened the Pandora’s box of Cuba’s real estate market, many experts predicted that the country would experience a veritable boom in home sales and purchases. Rather than a mad spiral of sales, however, this incipient and atypical market has given rise to a speculative phenomenon.

    There are approximately 3.3 million homes in Cuba (houses and apartments), 57% of which are in poor condition. The country’s current household deficit exceeds that of 700 thousand homes. This rather dilapidated real estate panorama is coupled with the highly limited average purchasing power of Cubans who are dependent on their State salary, which is about 20 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) a month. (One CUC equals around 1.10 USD).

    At first glance, the development of a real estate market with so few charms strikes one as a pipe-dream as delirious as the 10-million-ton sugarcane harvest of 1970. However, for the first time in 50 years, Cubans feel that they have finally come into possession of a financial asset: their own homes.

    To begin with, the deregulation of the real estate market, which the Cuban government undertook nearly two years ago, has proven extremely conservative and limited. Cuban citizens are entitled to a single home within city limits and to an additional property in a tourist area. According to the new Housing Law, Cubans living abroad or foreigners interested in settling on the island – the group of potential buyers with the greatest purchasing power today – may not legally purchase property.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!

    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=92872

  2. Precisely, this new kind of wall raised by the Castros, lies from which our parents raise us under a ceiling, room and food over 50 years. That wall remains dangerously “attached” to the family in a double standard that only confuses our children into prostitution of any kind. Prostitution of any kind, is the only currency after all government payed for. Ho, this wall is much much larger, as well as the penalties for what it’s worth taking it down.

  3. Lieber Bernd Pickert,
    von der Veranstaltung war ich enttäuscht. Yoani Sanchez versteht es, sich um die Beantwortung ganz wichtiger Fragen (Verhältnis zur Politik der USA und zu den extremen Rechten in verschiedenen Längern, zu den Cuban five, Perspektive, aus der Kuba mit anderen Ländern zu vergleichen ist: aus von der USA beeinflussten Ländern Lateinamerikas oder z.B. Venezuela, Bolivien…. Wo siehst Du Cuba in 10 Jahren u.a.) herum zu lavieren bzw. sie gar nicht zu beantworten. Sie vermittelt nicht den Eindruck, um eine Zukunft für Ihr Land zu ringen und bisherige Leistungen anzuerkennen. Ihr einziges Thema ist die Meinungsfreiheit. Bei Nachfragen sagt sie dann, dass sie nur eine einfache Bürgerin ist und keine politischen Statements abgibt. Ist sie so naiv, ihre Außenwirkung zu verleugnen oder spielt sie damit und lässt sich sehr geschickt und unbedarft vor den Karren fremder Interessen spannen?
    Ich habe Kuba bereist und mit vielen Menschen gesprochen, aber hier keine neuen Erkenntnisse von ihr gewonnen und finde, die taz sollte ihr Verhältnis zu ihr als “freie Stimme einem geknechteten Land” überprüfen. Die kursierenden 40 Fragen sollte sie dann auch beantworten.
    Trotzdem vielen Dank für die Veranstaltung, jetzt sehe ich klarer in der Diskussion um Yoani Sanchez.

  4. Yoani Sánchez at the Federal Foreign Office
    http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Aussenpolitik/Laender/Aktuelle_Artikel/Kuba/130507-Sanchez.html?nn=479786

    Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met with Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez in Berlin on 7 May. Her blog “Generación Y” describing daily life in her home country has made Sánchez a well know figure.

    The blog is often attacked by hackers. Sánchez has repeatedly been publicly vilified and even arrested. In 2008, she received the Ortega y Gasset journalism award given by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. For years she had been prevented from traveling abroad, but a change in Cuba’s travel laws in 2013 brought relief.

    Since then she has visited eight countries. In Berlin, she is currently taking part in the re:publica conference, which deals with new trends in digital society. It is an ideal stage for Yoani Sánchez to speak openly and freely with other international internet activists and to spend time networking with them.

    She is also taking time to get to know Berlin. On her twitter account @yoanisanchez she has described her visit to the Jewish Museum and many of the city’s galleries.

  5. que lindo es platicar con los adultos mayores, y que dicha que en tiempos diferentes padre e hija puedan disfrutar de una misma ciudad .

  6. Pingback: Klaus Hart Brasilientexte » “Bloggerin Sanchez hält Kuba unter Castro für nicht reformierbar.” Die Zeit

  7. Yes, old people live on memories….fortunately…the present is so horrible…

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