I’m in Berlin, just finished one mini biography and another is nearly done.
Where we live is a middle-class, leafy suburb in northern Berlin, it’s more like a village, with a square and local-ish shops, but our landlord Heinz to him there’s a very enclosed feeling, a sense that he and his house are being ‘watched’, and disapproved of. Housemate has said the same, that Heinz is seen as a ‘maverick’ in the neighbourhood. To us he’s an updstanding guy, brought up in the GDR, doesn’t really drink, doesn’t smoke, never done drugs, can remember the two times in his life he got pissed, is a middle-managering engineer at BMW, has a family in another house. Couldn’t be more normal. But he was telling me re smoking, and drinking, at school there were two halves to the class, the smokers and drinkers and the others, like him, and he was good at doing his own thing, not succumbing to peer pressure at all. On the face of it you’d think great, that’s the kind of clean-living aesthete you’d want in the GDR. But actually no. The boozers and smokers are clubbable, and that’s what power is about. Tenets like living clean and pure go so far, but the regime like any other, the ‘party’ like any other, functions not on its ability to be pure but to keep itself collectively safe and allow for its members to indulge in vice. Zealots can only get so far. Remember Fiedler in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold or Tom Courtenay’s character in Dr. Zhivago. They’re great for going and making hell for the non-believers, for whipping people into line, but you don’t want them doing the same in and among the party powerful.
When touring through Nazi Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war, picking through the rubble, through the pretty little towns of wooden cross-beam houses that the Russian soldiers coudln’t understand why the inhabitants would leave and come 1,000 miles to destroy the shacks they lived in … When the war was over and the papers were burned and the lapel pins were binned, how did one know who the petty town Nazis were? Because they were fat.
Heinz would become a marked man because he stood alone. Neither a zealot nor a ‘partying’ party hack. He could be the individual, and there’s no such thing in the GDR, no outside morals allowed. But by that he endangers himself because he is alone, and can become the target for all sorts of lies, and frustrations. And like he was from the GDR and lived in Pankow, so his neighbours are ex-GDR … maybe the worst combination of middle-class suburban conformists with the history and experience of the truly devastating power of gossip and targeting people because they dare to stand not even against, but apart …
(Funnily enough, DARPA when planning out super surveillance systems in the mid-00s, were more interested in the straight-laced side-parting white men than the drop outs, Muslims et al. The picket fencers were all the more suspicious for their apparent zealotry of their adherence. Was that just a cover for something else?’ Incredibly, then, the most slavishly, unwittingly loyal to the creed of white Christian low-tax gun-toting nuclear families were of the greatest suspicion …. )
I digress. I’ll go on a loop. I’m here in Berlin writing my novel about selling ice-cream in Chicago. There’s a scene in it where the protagonist is out and comes across a young girl who wants an ice-cream and she has a parakeet on her finger. How come the bird is so tame, asks the vendor. Because its wings have been clipped, she said. Of all the things a bird can do, must do, it must be able to fly. And someone chose to make a dollar by denying it that very thing. It wasn’t the child’s fault so much … but that poor, poor bird. Why would anyone maim a bird so?
Then I thought of To Kill A Mockingbird, and the rape in that, where Atticus in his defence of Tom Robinson, not only makes it clear that Tom couldn’t have beaten and raped Mayella, but that her father very likely did. Mayella made a pass at Tom which he rejected (interestingly do we presume this to be true because we perceive Tom as the black man to be the victim, or greater victim, and thereby telling the truth more than she as a rape victim, as a woman? But we know she was raped … By her dad – possibly out of jealousy for her feelings for Tom, the disgust of it, then Tom must be punished for that?). The point being there is a crime for which there is punishment, and Tom is the one to take the fall, because he’s black. And that’s what blacks are there for, to cop punishment for the crimes of the whites. It’s not so much a racism that says ‘he must have done it because he’s black, and we’ll believe that in the face of all incontrovertible evidence’, it’s racism that says ‘even if this guy had died 10 years ago we’re going to lynch his skeleton because we cannot contemplate a white man being punished for a white man’s crimes, not if there’s a black guy to take the fall. That’s what the blacks are for …’
So potently ‘moral’ a society, full of sinners, bound and flagellated in body and soul even for what they might think of doing … someone’s going to have to take the punishment, but not them.
Someone said as such on Twitter…
Is that the role Heinz fills for his neighbours?