Back to Index

2000. A Depressing New Year's Day. Berlin.

     What a depressing New Year's Day! It started off badly at 4 a.m., Pacific time, when Tonga was the first to greet the new millennium, doing so with the islanders' usual grace. I was in my dovecote, following the world news on TV. Did the world hail Tonga? No, it showed a firework display in New Zealand, described as the first community to hail the millennium. I have sent an e-mail to e-mail fan King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, apologizing on behalf of the world.
     Then it got worse as the millennium moved around the world. The masses were desperate to demonstrate that they were having a good time, to prove which they behaved as though they had St. Vitus' dance. In London, the Dome of the Millennium is supposed to prove that England is hip and with it. Give me a good old cathedral any day. To prove that Victoria is dead, the Queen was entertained there with a show featuring erotic dances on a trapeze.
     But the most depressing spectacle was Berlin, where the millennium has a special meaning since it marks the restoration of the city's status as capital of Germany (the word Prussia is banned, like Hitler's Mein Kampf). This is not to be the Teutonic-Greek monster envisioned by Hitler, but a vibrant, modernistic city. To demonstrate this, an industrial park featuring, like that at Stanford, leading computer corporations, has been built in the southeast of the city.
     Otherwise, it was the noise, fury, and lighting wizardry which Deutsche Welle uses to introduce its news programs and which make me grind my teeth. To hail Berlin's place in humanity, Bethoven's "Hymn to Joy" would seem to be the natural choice. No mention of it; like the great Christmas music. it has been cast into the garbage can of history. Instead, there was some kind of crazy rock music, while possessed young people jumped up and down on a stage before the Brandenburg Gate. Perhaps cognitive dissonance would be an appropriate description.
     With its splendid musical tradition, Germany should have a beautiful language. Emperor Charles V remarked that he spoke Spanish to God, French to men, Italian to women and German to his horses. The way German is spoken in Berlin today, not even the horses would understand it.
     To prove that they were having a good time, the people scoffed more of those dreadful sausages at street stalls. But Berlin is a world capital where new embassies are being built. To show that Berlin features diplomatic elegance as well as the street sausage folk, Deutsche Welle ran a section on the new embassies, in which the ambassadors said the usual platitudes. Diplomatic elegance was illustrated by a dinner at the British Embassy for the Queen, who comes for the day each year when a British leader gives an address. This year it was a member of the Labour cabinet of Tony Blair. Was he out on the street enjoying the volkssausage? No, this is the New Labour, so he was at the Queen's dinner party. The ambassador’s wife was shown performing her exacting task. checking the place cards for the dinner and sampling the sherry. It must have been a good meal, since the cooks were shown toiling in the kitchen.
     One wonders if these people know much about the real world. Normally countries which build a new capital, like Turkey, Brazil, or Nigeria, choose a site which is geographically central. Berlin is definitely not. It is just a short ride to the Polish border at Frankfurt an der Oder, where the real world begins. The real world extends a long way, and covers much of the globe. The most dismal U.S. embassy I know is that of the diplomats relegated to life in Kinshasa. They have no illusions about living in the dream world of European capitals, but, in the dull conversations there, one can hear the small inner voice of hope for such a life.
     I have turned off the TV, and will play Bach's "Brandenburg concertos," which would have been appropriate music for the Brandenburg Gate.

Ronald Hilton - 12/31/99