I don't remember the Berlin Wall going up - though I'm sure it distressed my parents – but it divided east and west for all my formative years and shaped my understanding of Europe.
I followed a little of what was going on seven years later in the Prague spring of 1968 and I remember the repression and resistance that followed. Today there were wilted flowers around the memorial set into the pavement where Jan Palach set fire to himself at the top end of Wenceslas Square. Astonishing (to me) that it was 50 years ago in January.
In 1985 I went through Checkpoint Charlie and was shaken by the dilapidated greyness on the other side. When, unbelievably, the wall came down only four years later, I sat in front of the TV weeping and telling my two-year-old to watch history happening. He remembers. If it hadn't been for him I would have gone to Berlin then.
Going to Prague in 1993 was the earliest my childcare responsibilities allowed me to see the tatters of the iron curtain and I know my reactions to being there were profoundly shaped by my own sense of political history. I wanted to see liberation, transformation and a rich culture reasserting itself (they had a playwright as president!). What I saw was masses of building restoration going on, readable as all those things.
Now the Czech Republic is part of the capitalist EU, the beautiful buildings from its rich past are reclaimed and tourists are here with their dollars and euros and yen and yuan and, yes, even roubles. Most seem to relish the beauty, the palaces, the market stalls, the upmarket shopping, the craft beers and tasteful restaurants. I doubt that many see this complex and fascinating place through the strange 50 years of history that I do.
Today I both walked in my own footsteps (and it was disconcerting finding where I recognised them and where I didn't) and found new places. In extras are my take on Gehry's Dancing House (it really does!), the memorial to those who died and suffered under communism (I registered that it simply said ‘communism' rather than ‘the Soviet regime’, and I registered, sadly, that the six figures portrayed were all of a man), and an irresistible sign for cordon bleu burgers with apostrophes to suit all tastes.
Now I am on an overnight train, adventuring onwards!
- Olympus E-M5MarkII