Bahnhof Zoo and Muirhouse: how would you know the difference?

There is always an interest in Trainspotting, often taking the form of a look at how Leith has changed – or not changed – since the 1980s days of the heroin epidemic. Recently a French journo and his photographer were in town. See the images here. It’s good to see how an outsider sees us. I suppose I don’t see the scruffy bits after so long in the place, but I’m not going to say that these shots are unfair. You’ll recognise a few of the images, maybe quite a lot of them. We’re expecting to see the text shortly, and I’ll certainly be putting a link to it. I would like to post the best bits, but there’ll be copyright problems.

Speaking of seeing how places have changed, in Berlin recently one of us was hitting the hoch-kulture spots while the other was checking out Bahnhof Zoo – the station that was the backdrop for the Christiane F. story. I bought the book (in translation) and was struck by the similarities between this girl’s neighbourhood and our own Muirhouse (dodgy housing, dysfunctional community), and by the vivid account of the introduction to and the career in heroin. Struck but not surprised. Trainspotting contains material that is outside the heroin scene and at the end has a different trajectory, but it’s almost as though Welsh was using Christiane F.’s story as a template. Except that he had no need to, and of course he wasn’t. The conditions for and the experience of heroin are similar wherever you go.

May Day 2016: Zeit fur mehr Solidaritat*.

There was me, just 24 hours ago, walking through the Tiergarten in Berlin and coming towards the Brandenburg Gate. Cruelly, The Wall ran just to the west of the Gate, separating it from the Reichstag a few hundred yards away. Now the line of the despised Wall is marked in the roadways right round its length. During our stay in Berlin we had appreciated some of the hatefulness of that period of division. In the East a big deal was made of May Day. It was pretty well compulsory to attend your local march; failure to do so might well result in someone in the family – child at school, parent in the workplace, or grandparent at home, might be disadvantaged in some way. Increasingly, towards the end, families made their appearance pretty token and departed to do what they wanted to do as soon as they safely could. We watched a scrap of film in which a young man digging a grave told an interviewer that he had applied twice – that was twice too often – to leave the country. He said wistfully that he could only dream of being able to do what he wanted, when he wanted. He would love to walk in the forests of Canada for a couple of years. For having asked to leave twice, this was the only work he could get. He he didn’t dare to apply again, or, much less, to make a dash for it and escape; it would be his family who would suffer. Of course, some people got so desperate they made a break for freedom, knowing that they were risking their lives. Life in the East was as crude and as base as that.

Right there, yesterday, in these changed days, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, they were warming up for their May Day party. The beer stalls were first there, naturally, and already doing good business. Personally, I was disappointed to see only the main brands there, your Lowenbraus, your Bitburgers and your Erdingers. There were none of the Kloster beers to which I took such a liking in Koblenz a year ago. But here’s the bit: the stage for the music for the evening and presumably all day today, was right on the line of The Wall. At the back, for all to read, was this year’s slogan: Zeit fur mehr Solidaritat*. They mean it.

I think the Brexiteers really aren’t aware of the importance of solidarity. They don’t know or care that if we were to leave the EU in June (next month!) we are highly likely to trigger a wave of separatist, nationalist movements all over the continent. These demons are never far from us. We have responsibilities. I can enumerate problems with the EU like the best of any Brexiteer; the answer is not to depart but to join in properly.

I bet they are having a great party today in Berlin. I hope the decent beers have turned up for them. And I very sincerely hope that they can rely on Britain to support their newly won escape from the cruelty of nationalism and separation. Such things are easily transferable, they know no borders. Britain would not be immune to unrest and instability over the narrow waterway that separates us from the mainland. In addition to voting in our own narrow self-interest, we have broader responsibilities. Ultimately, they are the same.

* Time for more solidarity.