10 June 2009

Streets of Berlin

Streets of Berlin

No matter how hard you scrub
Some stains cannot be removed.

The pavements are immaculately clean.
Litter is not tolerated. The parks are
Carefully manicured. The public buildings
Rebuilt, modelled in the modern style.

A memorial marks the place where books
Were burnt. The Gestapo headquarters
Are now a museum. The flags of Europe
Hang where Swastikas once flew.

Cars throng the wide open boulevards
Where endless ranks of soldiers marched
And row after row after row of
Tanks rolled past the silent and awestruck.

But the dead still twitch the curtains
At their apartment windows and peer
Nervously into the street. They wait
For the knock on the door.

They stand, unseen, in long shuffling
Lines at railway stations to board
Trains clutching their suitcases and
Their children's hands and one-way tickets.

The Wall is down and fragments sold
To eager tourists. But a scar runs across
The city's memory and white crosses
Mark where hope died in search of freedom.

Berlin. A living memorial to men's inhumanity
To Man. The cross still glistens on the radio tower.

But some stains cannot be removed
No matter how hard you scrub.


  1. Ah, now that's a moving poem, but I think perhaps you're a little unkind on Berlin. I don't think they have attempted to scrub their past out - the reverse in fact, they have acknowledged it soberly, and appropriately.

    But most of all when I went there it struck me as a city now very much representing the future of Europe, not the past.

  2. Wow! You are truly gifted! I LOVE it. It’s a brilliant powerful poem. The actual silence on highlighting that it’s NOW ‘a city of hope’ proves that it is ‘a city of hope.’ It leaves it hanging. There is nothing wrong about this. It’s a very clever way of writing! T.S. Eliot wrote about War: “War is not a life: it is a situation;
    One which may neither be ignored nor accepted, A problem to be met with ambush and stratagem, Enveloped or scattered.”
    As Eliot wrote ‘neither be ignored nor accepted’ your poem is even deeper as it successfully captures the difficulty of ‘reconciliation’ between a haunted past and promising future. Effortlessly yet with precision, you gave us the taste of war 'No matter how hard you scrub
    Some stains cannot be removed.' I loved the emphasis on this at the end, too. The poem pulled me and as I read it my memory was wide open flooded with scenes from all the war movies I’ve seen or the books I read or the visits to the holocaust museums.
    Excellent work. Keep writing! Thank you!