Berlin Can Take It… by Steve Safran

This week in horrible news has Stevie remembering Berlin. His thoughts remind me of how all of us are Boston Strong. Hate never wins. Our hearts are in Berlin (and so many places where horror happens), but Berlin can take it.

It was in Berlin where I apparently ordered a “Coffee with ice from the road, please.”

It was in Berlin where I smoked my first and last e-cigarette. The nicotine still hasn’t come off my face.

It was in Berlin that I leaned casually against a wall where, just a few decades earlier, I would have been shot.

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It was in May 2012, that I visited a friend who was working in Berlin. I’d always wanted to see this legendary city so I finally had an excuse. Newly separated, I traveled alone. It was my first real trip as a single guy. It felt… odd. Berlin. Legendary. Land of spies. Ground Zero of the Cold War. Home base for the Holocaust.

And so, so many places to get beer.

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Berlin is not generally a beautiful city. It can be as ugly as it is fascinating. Certainly, the part that was West Berlin is better looking than the former East Berlin. It’s sort of the difference between Brooklyn and Queens, if Queens had been flattened and been rebuilt out of bad concrete.

There are parts that are beautiful. The Grunewald is Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park, but ten times larger– plus a lake. Wannsee sits on the water here, a beautiful beach and home to the eponymous 1942 conference where the Nazis decided on “The Final Solution to The Jewish Question.” There are contradictions and cognitive dissonances everywhere.

At the Brandenberg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” tourists mingled with street performers dressed, tastelessly, as American and East German soldiers, Darth Vader, Yoda and Mickey Mouse Gone Bad. This is now banned. However, you can still find costumed Fake Soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.

I danced on Hitler’s grave in Berlin. Really. It’s not marked, but where Hitler was burned on a pyre outside his bunker in April 1945, now sits a small parking lot capable of holding, maybe, 10 cars. Germany didn’t want lots of Neo-Nazis hanging about the place, so they literally paved over history. (OK, almost literally.) My friend and I pulled in. I got out of the car, danced a small jig, and got back in. Good enough.

Berlin is no stranger to horrors, and this week’s is a mere scratch compared to what it’s been through. Still, how awful. How unfair. How absurd and shameful. An attack on Christmas shoppers. It’s beyond the pale. We all agree on that. And we stand, of course, with Berlin. Ich Bin Ein and all that.

But those who are claiming responsibility have nothing to claim. They haven’t accomplished a thing. They murdered people, yes. But they are a mere footnote to a great city’s long and complicated history. They stand for nothing. They may cost Angela Merkel her job, but another chancellor will come along. Berlin and Germany will go on, being a complex, industrious powerhouse.

You want to hurt Berlin?

Try harder. You’ve got nothing on history.

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Committees

Sitting at a cute café in Brookline this morning, sipping my chai latte and waiting for the rest of the committee to arrive, I thought, “In the New Year, I resolve to be on fewer committees.” A minute later my phone reminded me that today is the 19th, and our committee meeting is on the 20th. So although I have an extra shopping day (yay!), I still have another committee meeting tomorrow morning (boo).

For someone who doesn’t “work,” I have seven different committee meetings on the calendar just in December. If I count all of the Boards and focus groups and nominating and discerning and development committees, there are 11 different tables I’m scheduled to appear, drink the coffee, offer my input, take the minutes, and probably plan something. And I’m definitely forgetting a few. Why am I on umpteen committees? I’m going to figure it out in the New Year.

There are upsides to being a Committee Girl, and the first is that most of these groups include people I adore, lots of giggling happens, often there are baked goods, and Important Things are accomplished. If you know me even the teeniest bit, you know I’m a cheerleader for Steps to Success which supports and champions kids who live in public housing in Brookline. Most people think Brookline is flush with millionaires, and they’re not wrong. Tom and Gisele live here. But 13% of our neighbors are living in poverty, and until that number is zero, I’m going to keep talking about Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Steps to Success. Get your checks in the mail.

I’ve also urged the local lot of you to Shop for Jesus, also known as the Christmas Market at the Church of the Redeemer. Since 2008, we’ve raised and given away a half million dollars to Boston’s “unhoused,” food pantries, St. Stephens Church, and oodles of other worthy organizations. So if you came and bought a sweater or some chocolates or commissioned Pete to draw your house or dog, you “gave,” too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Though the work is rewarding and the people are wonderful, when staring at a calendar riddled with meetings, even the most chipper committee girl begins to wonder if someone else could take her place at some of these tables. Recently, I met one. Though we’d been friends-of-friends on Facebook, in person this was a seriously gorgeous gal. I mean, she is totally television pretty having been, you know, on television. She was all cute and tiny after giving birth, like, a minute ago. And with her handsome doctor doting husband sitting by her side, she admitted she wasn’t returning to work in the media, but was looking for a meaningful volunteer job once the kid got a little bigger.

This girl is low hanging fruit, thought Chipper Committee Girl. I braced myself to assail this unsuspecting beauty with poverty factoids and inspire her to devote her time and checkbook to my causes. Already I fantasized tapping into her media savvy and got excited about the possibility of having someone without an AARP card on my development committee.

I want to do something with animals. Pretty soon we’re getting a pig.

A snort might have actually been expected from me, because I am a terrible person. But after watching her delight talking about animals and her husband’s bemused acquiescence to the certainty of imminent pig ownership, Chipper Committee Girl crumpled up her pitch and vowed to stop trying to recruit everyone. Certainly the animals need their champions, too. And although cats make me sneezy, doggie poop bags make me dry heave, and anything in a tank doesn’t belong indoors, even I have to admit those teacup pigs are irresistible. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing them on Facebook already.

The second upside to being Crazy Committee Girl is, occasionally, a welcome distraction. A creepy and actually not so very nice elementary school teacher often said, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Ten year old me would picture a tiny horned dude in a red suit engaged in odd carpentry inside my lazy, lazy head. And if I go back to posts from five years ago, I can read the dark thoughts of an idle mind trapped indoors and awash with cancer fighting poisons. This year, I was too busy with meetings to wallow in Cancer-versary memories. But it’s been five years, y’all. I should probably plan a party. Who wants to be on Britt’s Party Planning Committee? We’ll only meet once. And there will be cocktails.

Merry Christmas, friends! And may the New Year find you only on committees whose work blows your hair back… or makes you more excited than a kid on Christmas morning (who just got a teacup pig). Snort snort.

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What is cuter than a teacup pig? TWO TEACUP PIGS.