Excerpt from the fifth chapter, The Birth of a Century

It was my first time in Wrocław. I had already heard a short history of the city as told by our friend Marcin. After the war all the Germans had to leave. New inhabitants moved in. They came mainly from the East, from the former Ukrainian part of Poland. Many years after the war the city still had not been rebuilt. It was a city of potholes and empty lots, of gaps and abandonments, with planning on paper, but not on the ground. I thought that I could see this, when I looked at the inner courtyard from the kitchen window. It was a massive courtyard, bigger than a football pitch, no trees, hardly some grass. Storage places stood in long lines, all of them with a different coloured door, that would open by lifting the handle and sliding it back under the ceiling. Cars could park on the grid; children played football on an artificial court. Gypsies sat in the shade of their little garage, had a drink or a talk. The men would occasionally walk a couple of meters away and piss against a wall. It was relatively silent, no shouting, no arguing, no fights. I was looking at life in a central European town. The town itself felt very open, as if the sea was near. Time seemed to pass in slow motion, yes, sometimes I thought that it came to a halt. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anything at all. It was the year 2016, but it easily could have been 1972 as well. And yet, to Ania it seemed all very natural. She was happy that she had found her blender, put the lid on it and filled the kitchen with the grinding noise of the machine. She prepared almond milk.

 

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Excerpt from the fifth chapter, The Birth of a Century

Hermann Dernburg lived most of his life in Berlin and that’s where you can find a great deal of the buildings, houses and factories he designed. He never found out how his Sportpalast would earn its reputation. Built at Potsdamer Straße 172, principally as an indoor ice rink for ice hockey and skating events, the Sportpalast was a sensation at the time of its opening in November 1910, and was at the time the largest such enclosed skating facility in the world. In later years, the Sportpalast also hosted non-winter sporting events such as six-day bicycle races and professional boxing matches in which well-known German boxer Max Schmeling fought. Depending on the type of event and seating configuration, the Sportpalast could hold up to 14,000 people. In 1943 Joseph Goebbels delivered his total war speech in the Sportpalast. It is also true that The Mothers of Invention performed there in 1968. Prior to the show, Zappa was approached by students who, presumably still fired up by events the previous summer in Paris where a revolution had almost taken place, asked him to declare his opposition to capitalism from the stage and, by extension, to further the cause of the armed and violent revolution that they believed was necessary to transform society. Zappa refused. The student leaders suggested that, in that case, Frank could lend support for their cause by encouraging them to set fire to public buildings.

 

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Excerpt from the fourth chapter, ‘Deep Poland’

 

“I had memories of other pictures. They showed roads in winter, in an empty white landscape. There were hundreds of people on those roads. They had left their houses and most of their possessions. They were walking or seated on a cart that was pulled by a horse or a dog. Women walked behind a push cart. The suitcases, then for real, are now relics that you can find in a thrift store, maybe on someone’s attic, until the someone dies. The people arrived in the west with those suitcases. Maybe they carried important documents, or pictures, or the very private things from a woman’s wardrobe, family jewels, a crucifix. There were hundreds of smaller and bigger places in the eastern part of the German Reich. Masses, dark masses left their homes because the Red Army was advancing. We know the stories, but not all the stories. The Soviet Army didn’t come to liberate, it came to conquer. They destroyed for a big part the world that the Germans had left. When it was time for history to pick up the pieces, Polish people moved into the empty cities. Probably they were not given a handful of money, that would help them to restore their lives. Probably the new inhabitants were left to fate and imagination. Probably they couldn’t care too much for the things they found in the houses. Probably they didn’t see the value of an old desk, a roof or a wooden statue. You needed to heat the stove to get hot water. Winters were cold.”

 

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Excerpt from the fourth chapter, ‘Deep Poland’

“The departure point in Wroclaw for the mini-busses to Klein-Peterwitz was at a short walk from the main bus station. The bus station was a relic of old times. The new one was under construction at the other side of the road, next to the train station. It already looked like a giant silver-metal Samsonite suitcase laying on its side. It would become more of a shopping mall than a station. As for now the busses waited at a parking space with a number of kiosks grouped around it. They sold pastry and bad coffee to the travellers. There was also a big old German building that looked like an ex-school or an ex-hospital. From here you had to walk over a mud path with on the left-hand side a little garden that lacked tombstones and on the right-hand side a fence. It closed off an area where constructions were going on. The walk lead from poverty to more poverty. A long time ago I might have marvelled at the patina of the socialist era. The mini-busses standing in line, and the people waiting with their luggage made it a depressing site. Boarding the small bus felt like an obligation, or a part of a routine. Travelling was reduced to movement, mostly done after sunset. We couldn’t see where we were, let alone where we went. You could feel from the bumpy road and the turns it made, that we entered Deep Poland.”
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Excerpt from the fourth chapter, ‘Deep Poland’

“I was very excited, when I first arrived and walked out of Wschodnia many years ago. I liked the little stores in the hall and the transparent architecture of the station. The light inside and the look reminded of a kodachrome postcard from the 1950s. I even liked the empty road in front of the station, that seemed to follow a straight line that would lead directly to Moscow. It gave the impression that the future was on its way, and that it would arrive from the East. We know it didn’t. It came from the West. And this process went very fast. The station got refurnished, lost its character and got filled with bars and shops that belonged to a brand. With every new visit I saw how the Berlinisation seeped into the streets in the immediate surroundings of the new metro station near your flat in Praga. This change only affected the interior of some places. The facades still showed a history in motion. What once was solid and a sign of wealth changed character thanks to long years of neglect. The result was a different kind of beauty: the beauty of decay. If you walked down to the river, to the wastelands, you saw a new skyline behind the old town. A new Jerusalem had appeared on the same place where once the ghetto stood. The colourful signs of Samsung and T-Mobile replaced the starry nights.”
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Excerpt from the fourth chapter, ‘Deep Poland’

 
“I visited Poland for the first time in 1991. My girlfriend and I bought a car from a friendly Nigerian guy in Amsterdam. She wanted to see the East. The wall had gone, now we could explore. She had just finished her philosophy studies and my first novel was out since a couple of days. I don’t know if we had the naïve idea to drive to Königsberg. But we did drive a long way, via Wismar and Stralsund where we saw the nearby East German past in a shop that had nothing else than a broom in the window and we saw the nearby future around the corner of that shop, a loud Coca-Cola stand, guy with microphone included. In Kolobrzeg I got depressed in a nightclub full of drunk Scandinavians, who came for cheap beer and cheap sex. I thought to encounter traces of Günter Grass’s books in Gdańsk, but didn’t. I saw Solidarność flags, but somehow they reminded me of the Coca-Cola stand in Stralsund. On we went, Elblag, to the border. It was a simple provincial road with a road block. Soldiers doing their duty sent us back. Was that the former Soviet Union we were looking at? Also at this point we saw the future: a man in a luxury car who wanted to do business at the other side.”
 
 
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Excerpt from the third chapter ‘Talking about Possibilities’

 
“Trump, his army of trolls, European populist leaders and their parrots speak of ‘the élite.’ It is their aim to destroy the élite. Does this mean that, belonging to a noise scene, or to a DIY community that shows itself critical of the establishment, and thus of the élite, that all of a sudden you are part of the alt-right mob?
 
You know what. I’d rather not. Moreover, I’d rather like to think a little bit. Considering that I can move freely, speak freely and express my art freely, sometimes even with money from institutions, I think this élite of ours is not doing so bad at all. You may or may not like the EU, but one of the most important messages it has brought across, is the message of constant dialogue and thus of peace. The leaders don’t use outrage and anger as a unifying and catalysing tool.”
 
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