30 years after the opening of the Berlin Wall, it’s time to tell the tale of how a young man managed to escape Germany in 1945, while his grandson made the other way round in 1991, looking for answers that he could only find in 2017.
Summer, mid-eighties. During a family dinner, after a glass too many, my grandfather let a story slip from his past. He told us how fascists captured and sent him to Germany, where he spent four years in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, on the outskirts of Berlin.
The Nazis spared his life because of his craftsmanship as a shoemaker. In April 1945, a few days before the Allies stormed into the city, he managed to escape with a fellow Russian inmate. They crossed Europe and came back home.
I grew up during the Cold War, obsessed by a shared feeling of impending doom. My very first trip was to Prague and Berlin, a few months after the collapse of the Wall. I watched a divided city as it still was, but didn’t dare to visit the camp. Many years later, I was able to put my resolve to the test.
Present day. Once again, I’m back in Berlin, this time to finally see the Konzentrationslager. I’m on the S-Bahn train to Oranienburg. At each station, my mind goes back in time, to the tumultuous decades that preceded the 9th of November 1989, when people were able to cross the Wall. I’m thinking about the connection between my grandfather’s story and the convoluted menacing world order that came out of it.
When I finally cross the steel gate of Sachsenhausen, I realise how this whole story is about being a prisoner. Whether in a concentration camp, behind a wall, caught within propaganda or fearing a nuclear holocaust.
Christopher Carvalho runs Unlock Your Sound helping up-and-coming indie artists create and strategically release their music.