Reminders of wartime are everywhere in the German capital, finds Dean Parker, who takes the chance to pay tribute to our own fallen men.

The ceremony was to be at 10.30am. "None of that dawn service nonsense here," said Isabel.

Two days before we had arrived in Berlin and walked from the Brandenburg Gate past the Jewish Memorial, a concrete domain of carefully ordered and variously sized blank tombs that slopes down at its centre, taking you into shadowy Kafkaesque depths - probably best experienced in the snows of winter, as on sunny late-April days it seems to be largely used for sunbathing.

We had crossed Hannah Arendt Strasse to a cafe, ordering a coffee and a riesling. There Isabel consulted her Lonely Planet, looked up, stared over the road and said, "Hitler's Bunker seems to have been just over there." And it was.

At the end of a short street of administrative buildings was a T-junction. On the far side rose housing blocks. Between the junction and the housing was a cleared area, a bare flat gravel car park, and a tin sign: "Hitler's Bunker".


Apart from the sign, you wouldn't suspect anything untoward had occurred on the spot, certainly not three months of increasing frenzy, Benzedrine-fuelled orders to non-existent armies, screams of "Treachery!" and multiple poisonings followed by fatal gunshot wounds.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Lone and level gravel.

The Bunker had apparently lain for years desolate and undisturbed, part of the East German wastelands round the Wall, before being filled in. That night we returned to our room in the Turkish immigrant neighbourhood of Neukolln, emailed the New Zealand Embassy and got the details for Friday's Anzac Day ceremony.

The following day we had a drink with Hattie St John, the New Zealand jazz singer who had left Auckland for Berlin in the 1990s. She introduced us to her friend Burkhard. He was thinking of writing a screenplay about a relative who died in the last weeks of the war, aged just 16.

He had inherited a collection of the boy's school notebooks. In one notebook, dating from 1939 when he would have been 10, the boy had written, "Soon there will be a world war" and then added, " started by the Jews."

The boy was killed in Berlin in the last days of World War II, carrying ammo to the city's hapless anti-aircraft units.

For those of us of a certain age, our parents' children, it's impossible not to see Berlin framed by all this.

In one of Neukolln's gradually gentrifying corners we attended a party of welcoming, well-heeled, handsome young people. There was a shining piano in the main room at which the host played while a young woman sang melancholic cabaret numbers from the 30s. The women had short hair, the men were blonde. You couldn't help but see George Grosz and Otto Dix images everywhere, couldn't help but keep hearing stormtroopers marching in time to the Aryan soul sounds.

Vor der Kaserne,
Vor dem groen Tor,
Stand eine Laterne,
Und steht sie noch davor,
So woll'n wir uns da wieder seh'n,
Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh'n,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen

It all drives you into the nearest English-language bookshop to hunt out Christopher Isherwood's Cabaret stories.

Friday, April 25 was now upon us and we took the u-bahn - the underground train - and then the s-bahn - the overground - to the Commonwealth Graves section of the 1939-45 War Cemetery.

The trip took us past forest parks and scattered cottages and out past the monumental 1936 Olympics Stadium with its nearby Jesse Owens Allee, named after the black American athlete who took four gold medals and commented on the novelty of being able to sit wherever you liked on public transport.

It was a beautiful spring day, a cloudless blue sky. We walked from the station along a concrete highway and turned off into a forest of maple trees. A carpet of green leaves led up to memorial arches.

Beneath the arches an Embassy woman distributed poppies. Diplomats strode ahead of us in their suits, spry and fit, products of the gym and the pool.

There was gold braid, there were peaked caps and berets.

Auckland jazz singer Hattie St John and her German friend Burkhard. Photo / Dean Parker
Auckland jazz singer Hattie St John and her German friend Burkhard. Photo / Dean Parker

About us were graves of unidentified dead airmen and I remembered those stories from the past, of older chaps being asked if they'd been to Berlin and replying, "No . . . Flew over it a few times." Isabel's uncle had been one such, a lucky survivor - almost half of them were killed.

About a hundred people had gathered for the service. Hattie St John had told us the Embassy used to have excellent after-gig bashes but times of post-global-financial-crisis seemed to have fallen hard upon it.

Oh, for the good old Paris days of the 50s when Jean McKenzie and Paddy Costello made the words "New Zealand diplomatic service" synonymous with drunken guests comatose on the chancery floor!

We sang Abide With Me and watched the laying of the wreaths. The Turkish ambassador read out those astonishing words of Kemal Ataturk: "You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away the tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom they have become our sons as well." What Kiwi would show such sympathy to a home invader?

A couple of days later neo-Nazis tried to march through another immigrant neighbourhood close by. They got 160 metres. As I sat in my Airbnb room reading my copy of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin and tut-tut-tutting at the resistible rise of fascism, 6000 young Berliners turned up and threw them off the streets.



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