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Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Which war is it today, Sir?"

Visited Berlin for the first time this week. When I was growing up I never had to learn the recent history of the place. It was just one of those things you absorbed. You only realise how strange it is when you try to explain it to a teenager of today. Sitting outside Starbucks on Unter Den Linden looking at school parties having their pictures taken with people dressed up as Russian soldiers and reflecting on the fact that only the other week Barack Obama (born in the year the Wall went up) appeared in front of 200,000 people by the Victory Column, you wonder at how tourism seems to take over when actual memory fades.

In the early 80s I worked in an office on Carnaby Street. I remember being amazed at how Scandinavian teenagers, who were not born at the time that the street enjoyed its six months of fame, would nontheless find their way there to buy rubber policeman's helmets and tartan bum-flaps. Reluctant crocodiles of teenagers are a common site in the centre of every major city in the world as the educational trip industry conquers the world. I did it myself in the days when it was a bit rarer. I don't remember learning anything at all.