The German railway system is resting on a reputation which was tarnished long ago. It is a terrible service. Long delays, cancellations, unexplained stops in the middle of nowhere. It has been like this for years. One never looks forward to travelling by train in this country. There is always a sense of gloom and trepidation. You just know it’s going to go wrong. And the longer the train stays motionless in Dresden station, the more I learn from my mistake of thinking that a train back to Berlin would have been a good idea.
The brochures show trains full of smiling people looking out of the windows and lovely scenery. The reality is carriages full of people all squashed up, the view blocked by a grumpy looking man with a large stomach hanging over his belt who is filling up quite a lot of space. There are bits of windows that can be seen through and one glimpses green fields and wind turbines and baroque church towers far off in the distance. It’s always those places that you want to go to; the places on the horizon. They look better. And there are factory chimneys on the horizon too, but they look empty, as if no factory production takes place there anymore. I’m sure there are glossy brochures of how it is all going to change. We live in the era of war and glossy brochures.
It’s Monday the 9th May, the anniversary (according to the Kremlin) of the formal end of the Second World War. What day of the week was this? I check a calendar for May 1945. It was a Wednesday. It seems impossible that such a year had a calendar at all. I check the calender for the 13th and 14th of February. A Tuesday and Wednesday. The days in which Dresden was destroyed in a fire storm.
Today the weather is sunny and the fields of rape-seed glow yellow in the light. Green fields and forests of silver birches. We constantly step through time in our imagination. And now that time of 1945 is under a new spotlight and it reveals different shapes and colours. Corpses have come to life again and point crumbling fingers covered in bloody skin to towards those who cause this endless death and chaos. The Second World War in Europe was only formally ended in May 1945. For so many, that war played out in their lives for long afterwards. There are many loose ends, many threads covered in blood. They have never been properly washed through with some new spirit which might have helped remove the stains. Instead the old foul smells remained in too many corners and dark places. And now once again that miasma returns. Immense pressure is put upon people, fear, death, loss. The sort of people who create this are agents of capital. Therefore we must conclude that the agents of capital are psychopaths. Capital creates psychosis. The people who represent capitalists interests are psychotic blunt instruments. Trump and Putin are good examples but there are many more.
The train is now packed with people but it rolls through the countryside as if it has all day to take us the 100 miles or so from Dresden to Berlin. There is no sense of urgency. It’s going on a Sunday stroll but all the passengers are in a rush. It sets up a strange tension. The man in the corner by the window doesn’t speak German or English (I asked him earlier) I assume he started the journey with the train in Prague. He has a gaunt figure and eastern European denim jeans. There is a different quality to the clothes that people in the West wear. A train pulling containers is on a track which peels off into a forest of birch trees. The circulation of commodities, even here, in the countryside of Saxony. The food and drink trolley is pushed through the corridor. An advertisement for Pepsi in Czech; the expansion of an international, universal capital into central and eastern Europe. The ghosts of former armies. Imagined tanks and Russian soldiers sitting in the sun. The war is formally over, but will it ever end?
I’ve taken this train before. Once from Berlin to Prague in February 1990, a few weeks after the Berlin wall had been knocked down by huge protests from below. At Dresden an American couple got on the train. The man explained that he had been a pilot on those terrible February days when the city was turned into a firestorm.
‘This has stayed with me all my life’ he said. He went on to explain that the previous evening he and his wife had attended a performance of Verdi’s requiem in the city to mark the 45th anniversary of the bombing.
‘At the end’, he said, ‘everyone just stood up in silence’, he continued, ‘it stayed like that for a long time’.
And so back to Berlin. The train is quickening in its pace as if it’s realised it has a destination after all. The stroll in the countryside is over, the big city holds out a stretched arm and a hand is gesturing to hurry.
At Berlin Hauptbanhof a hand reaches up from the platform and offers to take my luggage. ‘It’s ok’, I say. The two men who stand there explain that they are support workers for refugees arriving from Ukraine.
‘There have been about 3,000 a day coming through here. Some stay in Berlin but some want to go to Switzerland or places where they have families and friends’. Now I notice the yellow and blue posters in Ukrainian, notices about where to go, where to queue. There are people in a line. All over the station, small groups of people. Two elderly women are eating bread and cheese. Everything they now possess in a mixture of pink children’s rucksacks, a couple of old suitcases, bulging carrier bags. Their faces carry the faces of all wars, all refugees, all of the disposed.
We can stop this. We must stop this. But it will need bold revolutionary ideas and deeds.