In October 2009, I entered a competition at travelintelligence.com. Actually, it wasn’t really a competition. I mean there were no questions. But I did have to give my email address. Anyway, a few weeks later, an email appeared in my inbox with the subject heading: ‘You are this month’s winner’. I opened it, expecting there to be some sort of catch, or maybe a virus. But I’d actually won two nights in Berlin.
And so couple of months later, I arrived at Schönefeld airport with my bag packed full of books: Berlin Stories, Berlin – Art and Architecture, the Time Out guide, the Rough Guide, the Wallpaper guide. And this one: A Very Short Introduction to Anti-Semitism.
Actually, I got the book a few weeks earlier in Foyles on Tottenham Court Road. They were doing a ‘3-for-2’ offer. I bought seven.
Berlin was fascinating. I went to the German Historical Museum and read about the Treaty of Versailles and all the blaming that went on over losing the First World War, followed by fighting between Communists and Nazis. It really explained to me how Germany became a totalitarian state with Hitler its dictator. I’d never really thought about totalitarianism before. As I was leaving, I popped into the museum shop to have a look round. Thought I might get myself something. They had loads of postcards. But not one of Hitler.
The next day, I went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There, I read about men and women, born around the same year as my parents, but executed in concentration camps. The whole thing felt so depressing, yet I felt hungry to connect up to these stories. Looking up from one of the photos, I noticed a girl about six years old or so, standing next to me. She looked just bored out of her mind.
The next day, whilst sitting in the beautiful hotel, I started to think about how, maybe I had been a sort of ‘Holocaust denier’ at one point. I mean for a long time, instead of trying to get my head around it all, I think I preferred to dance around my bedroom to Madonna. I guess maybe my Jewishness did feel like something handed down that I didn’t necessarily want. And so instead of saying that I was Jewish, I started saying things like I was ‘brought up Jewish’, or that ‘I came from a Jewish family’: all a way of sort of not allowing this ‘thing’ to get too close to me.
I loved Berlin. On my last day, 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 think I was scared of being left empty. Later, in the bedroom as I was packing my suitcase, I felt desperate to take the toiletries from the bathroom with me. So I put them in. 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. Then 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.