Berlin Love Tour, review by Andy Field
When I was 15 years old a teacher took us on a trip to Berlin. We saw the Brandenburg Gate and Unter Den Linden. We wandered through the Holocaust memorial and stared down at the empty library shelves that mark the site of the Hitler’s notorious book burning. By the time we were at the Checkpoint Charlie museum I was dizzy from refusing to eat the food at our prison-like Youth Hostel. I remember our teacher telling us that history hangs in the air in Berlin like nowhere else in Europe and I remember agreeing. It surrounded you like a thick fog, overwhelming and ungraspable. Now here I was in Birmingham on the same tour, past the Reichstag and the last bits of The Wall, following the ghost of my teenage self with a guide called Hilary who seemed similarly preoccupied by the past.
‘Berlin Love Tour’ is a show of fractures and displacements. It reminded me of James Joyce, exiled in the old cities of Europe writing his great novel about the streets of Dublin, his past locked up in the fading memory of a city that he would never return to. Here we have another Irish guide leading us through the streets of a foreign city, scuffing up the past as she remembers once-familiar streets and buildings. She slips easily between her own past and that of the city itself. We hear of world wars and motorway fights. As we follow both her story and her path across Birmingham, we become lost in two cities. Displaced, both from the place she describes and the one we began in. We walk somewhere between them, like ghosts, or maybe liked angels.
Hilary is consumed by remembering. By what we remember and how we choose to remember it. Her tour is a finger running gently along a scar. Everything is tender. The past seems to exist, like Berlin itself, as another country from which we are now exiled. It’s a country whose language we won’t ever speak and as Hilary herself says, you can’t be yourself in another language. There is no way to adequately describe the past and yet there is no way to adequately forget it. We are caught, like Benjamin’s Angel of History, propelled against our will into the future gazing back on everything that has unfolded behind us.
Benjamin hovers over the show almost as self-consciously as the trenchcoated busker who follows our tour, and like his Thesis on the Philosophy of History this is a show made up of fragments, or perhaps ruins. Like a ruin it tells us less about the past than it does about ourselves and our relationship to that past. History, in the end, is all about the telling. How do we put the brittle fragments of this story together’ How do we read in them the ruins of a relationship or the ruins of a fading century’ There are no definite answers to these questions. Instead we end quietly on a rooftop at sunset. Cities and histories move around us, and here we are in the middle, standing in the cold, spinning gently out of time.