Berlin, beyond the wall. 1989-2019. Round trip 30 years later


The years leave us, but 1989 is still with me. Or perhaps, more simply, I keep going around it because the fall of the Berlin Wall gave me the long and splendid illusion that the night of November 9th and the dawn of a new world would be irreversible achievements.

Ten years spent living and working for Il Sole 24 Ore between post-communist Poland, the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and a Germany in economic crisis and in trouble from reunification, were an unforgettable human and professional experience.

And they have strengthened – with the enthusiasm of debuts, a young age and the inexperience that keeps cynicism at a distance – that great illusion.
Poland, the vanguard of the revolution
We had to talk about the birth of democracy and the market economy in countries that a short time before were ruled by dull dictators or satraps clinging to power until the last moment, rather than an ideology now worn and distorted, and therefore incapable of to perceive the imminence of their end.

Warsaw and Berlin are the cities I love most in Europe. The first is not beautiful, but it envelops you; the second one you must like and if you like it you fall in love with it. Both have exercised and exercised a unique fascination, which I discovered to be, over the years, the fascination of suffering, of the destruction suffered (Poland) and of that received after having inflicted it (Germany) and finally of the common ability to rise again.

It is an intense emotion, but difficult to describe because it is a story of pain and redemption that tells, without modesty and complexes, the streets and buildings of these cities.
My house in Warsaw, for example, in the neighborhood of Saska Kepa, beyond the Vistula where the Red Army was waiting for the Germans to destroy the capital and destroy the country's ruling class, had survived the war. One of the few.

Part of the historical district of Prague, Saska Kepa was spared from the bombing preserving many villas of modernist architecture and English-style houses with small gardens, like the one where I went to live with my family.

The Warsaw house, Saska Kepa district (photo by Attilio Geroni)

The white house and the bullet holes
Plastered in white lime, it was built in 1928 with a strange neoclassical facade. The real estate agent, a nice little man with an unstoppable talkative and an unpronounceable surname composed only of consonants – Trzpyl, Janusz Trzpyl – didn't even want to show it to me.

He was "weird," he said, and kept apologizing for an inspection that he thought would be a waste of time. Instead it was love at first sight with the white house with high windows like those of a loft and the large tiled stove that separated the dining area from the living room.

The owner, an architect who lived and worked in Stockholm, used French, although he spoke excellent English, to describe the true quality of the house: "Elle a l'ame", he has a soul, he said, and he was right.

The house in Warsaw seen from the inside (photo by Attilio Geroni)

It was a semi-independent house, free on one side and set against a group of low, anonymous buildings on the other. The one on the side was still marked, in the upper part of the facade, by bullet holes, traces of some rare artillery exchange between Russians and Germans across the river.

I found the same holes as war embroideries in Berlin, on the walls of the Guglielm buildings undergoing restoration in the Prenzlauer Berg district.
I returned to that house with my family, 25 years after leaving it. A surprise trip from Berlin, by train, because my daughters were too small to remember Warsaw apart from Giulia, the oldest, who at the age of three had impressed herself in the memory with the imposing silhouette of the Palace of Culture and a river called Bistola which was then the Vistula.

The intention was that of a banal selfie of the series "True Ostalgie" in front of the white house on Via Kryniczna that had hosted us for four years, sheltering us, among thousands of drafts due to the large windows, from temperatures that sometimes fell to 15-20 degrees below zero.

Luck, or perhaps the soul of the house that wanted to reopen its door, brought us together with the owner, who was returning exactly at that moment. He recognized me and invited us to come in for a drink.

We spent a couple of hours discussing what was happening in Poland after Jaroslaw Kaczynski's party, Law & Justice (PiS) came to power: "This house hosted the Polish president, but not the current one", he He was obliged to point out that he was distancing himself from Andrzej Duda, of Kaczynski's own party: "Here he sat and dined at Bronislaw Komorowski," he added, referring to the liberal politician of the Civic Platform who was Poland's head of state from 2010 to 2015 .

"Another caliber, another thought, another world, another Poland, a country I hardly recognize today and in which I struggle to recognize myself," he concluded with a bitter smile.

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