I am writing this in Chicago on a mid-February Sunday morning, just hours after returning from Berlin, where I’ve spent most of the first half of this month for the world premiere of our film “Knives and Skin,” where we enjoyed a fantastic run of sold-out screenings and press raves.
Even in the digital age where the Chicago newspapers are a click away, it’s fascinating to see how your perspective shifts when you view your country, and your city, from a distance. The hurricane of news at home reaches you more like the light rains of a receding storm 4,399 miles away.
Still, you are constantly reminded of home by things like Chicagoan Helmut Jahn’s magnificent Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz, with its echoes of our own Thompson Center, which made the news again while I was in Berlin, another iconic Chicago creation that our political leaders would so easily leave to the potentially destructive forces of unbridled development. Perhaps the Sony Center, with its vibrant mix of entertainment venues, restaurants, public spaces and corporate offices, might instead serve as a model for a revitalized and restored Thompson Center, one that celebrates the building’s distinguished grandeur rather than destroying it.
You are reminded of home by visiting the heart-rending Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on the same day that President Trump decrees a national emergency so that he can build his American Wall of Racial Hatred. The sadness, guilt and unforgivable aura of the Nazi atrocities forever haunt Berlin; Germans are quick to point out that Trump’s offenses are not comparable. But then they also point out the similarities to the onset of Hitler’s barbarism, at a time when it might have been stopped. I bookended my trip by reading a New Yorker article on the plane about Hitler, one that pointed out how, in his early years in power, he used America’s racist past and then-present to help justify his actions on the world stage. And on the return flight, watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” the footage of 2017’s Charlottesville white supremacist rally and its tragic events moved me to tears.
You are reminded of home by visiting a German relative, Hartmut, who says that four years ago, a German poll found America to be its people’s most trusted foreign nation, and the same poll now, put America at the very bottom of the list, perceived as a greater threat to peace than Russia, than North Korea.
You are reminded of home by climbing to the top of the Berlin Victory Column, a stunning monument in the heart of the Tiergarten park, where angels gathered in “Wings of Desire” and which was the site of then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 speech that drew hundreds of thousands to see and hear him, when his ascent in a nation that once would have enslaved him perhaps also gave a measure of hope to a Germany forever grappling with its own demons.
You are reminded of home when you discover that Chicago no longer evokes Capone to foreigners but rather Obama—in the best possible way.
Look for Newcity’s March 2019 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at newcity.com/subscribe.