In 2009, I entered a draw at travelintelligence.com to win two nights at the Brandenburger Hof hotel in Berlin. A few weeks later, an email appeared in my inbox from them with the subject heading: ‘You are this month’s winner’. I opened it, expecting there to be some sort of catch or virus. But there wasn’t. And so couple of months later, I arrived at Schoenfeld with my bag packed full of books: Berlin Stories, Berlin Art and Architecture, the Time Out guide, the Rough Guide, the Wallpaper guide and A Very Short Introduction to Anti-Semitism.
Berlin was fascinating. I went to the German Historical Museum and read about the Treaty of Versailles and the blaming that went on for losing the First World War and the fighting between the Communists and the Nazis. It explained how Germany became a totalitarian state. I’d never thought about totalitarianism before. As I was leaving, I went into the museum shop and noticed that they had loads of postcards. But not one of Hitler.
The next day, I went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, read about men and women, born around the same year as my parents, but executed in concentration camps. I felt incredibly hungry to connect up to these stories but I remember looking up from one of the photos and noticing a young girl about six years old or so, standing next to me who looked bored out of her mind. Over the next few days, I started to think about how maybe I’d been a sort of ‘Holocaust denier’. That, for a long time, instead of trying to understand these massive historical events that my parents would talk about, I’d preferred to dance around my bedroom to Madonna. I think maybe my Jewishness felt like something handed down that I didn’t necessarily want.
On my last day in Berlin, I could really feel myself not wanting to leave. At breakfast I felt a sort of panic kicking in and I stuffed myself full, like I was scared of being left empty. And then later, in the bedroom as I was packing, I felt desperate to take the toiletries from the bathroom with me. So I put them in my case. But then I started to feel like I was stealing something. So I took them out again and put them back. But this feeling of wanting to take something, of staying connected to the place, just continued. I tried to ignore it, but as I was leaving the room and saying goodbye to it, I grabbed these slippers. They’re disposable. So they probably would have chucked them out anyway.