West Berlin: childhood landmarks

by Emily Dische-Becker

I grew up just a few hundred meters from the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, the most distinctive feature of West Berlin’s silhouette. The church bookends the city’s former main shopping artery, the Ku’damm. It is visible from our street corner, except in summer, when the trees obscure the view and you can only make out its serrated tip.

I used to pass the church on strolls with our babysitter. Occasionally, she would bundle my brother and I across the street to shield our ears from a woman who twice a week made the steps leading up to the church her soapbox. “Ficken! Fickt für den Frieden!” (Fuck! Fuck for freedom!), she shouted and gesticulated obscenely at the pedestrians.

Later, in my teens, I once procured hashish there at 4 o’ clock in the morning, a reckless and despairing act that only bore fruit when one of my adolescent companions dropped the name of my father (a criminal defense lawyer) to the edgy Albanian drug dealer. For years, I lived in fear of being found out, so ashamed of my petty corruption.

At some point  – I don’t recall how old I was – I visited the permanent exhibition inside the church for the first time. On display were photos of the church prior to its bombing by Allied warplanes. It had never occurred to me that its jagged, fossil-like roof was anything but organic, naturally eroded by time. The church’s previous incarnation, with its orderly surroundings, appeared austere by comparison – its narrow Gothic steeple a nagging symbol of the old Germans, who wagged their bony fingers and chastised young people for putting their feet up on the subway upholstery.

My confidence in the necessity of a war that had humbled German expansionism, while granting the city a monument of such timeless beauty, soared; an aesthetic byproduct of corrective bombing.

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