Over the last few days I have been in Berlin and a little place called Prenzlau to see my brother getting married. I took a long time trying to decide which books to bring and eventually decided on ‘City of God’ by E.L. Doctorow and ‘The origin of hate and love’ by Ian D. Suttie.
City of God is a New York mystery and I thought it would be fairly trivial. I had an amazing read. City of God is based in New York but rather unusually also features the story of the holocaust. There I was in Berlin under the Brandenburg Gate reading and thinking about the story of a young Jew in a ghetto trying to survive. It was quite moving, we also went to the Berlin Wall exhibition- the so-called topography of terror. The story is about the father of one of the main characters, he was an orphan and forced to be a ‘runner’ in the ghetto. He had to send messages when the SS were coming and send information between leaders of the ghetto.
It may not be considered sensitive to be reading about the holocaust in Berlin. I hadn’t intended it! The Brandenburg gate and the gardens around ‘the angel of victory’ in Berlin are quite impressive. I found myself alone, walking slowly around Berlin, a city I didn’t know trying to think seriously about history and all the events that could have happened where I was standing. I was reading about the cruelty of the Germans towards the Jews, something that is frankly discussed in the Jewish museum and other places and for me it wasn’t offensive or insulting, I just started asking myself why, and how. When you stand under the Brandenburg Gate thinking these things it is quite powerful, one of the most interesting afternoon walks I have had in a long time.
‘The origin of hate and love’ by Ian D. Suttie was another inspired choice of reading material. Described as a critique of Freud - Suttie is trying to argue that instead of sex, it is really companionship, (not being lonely), that is the major driving force in human relations. He describes how if you think about nature, the mother is essential because without her you wouldn’t survive. It is this relationship rather than the ‘desire’ for sex that creates the desire to love or the desire to hate. In other words we will do anything to avoid being lonely. The instinct for companionship is inbuilt since the times when a cub would face certain death without the protection of the mother.