Touring Berlin with Ronnie Golz

  Ha'aretz (Israel) Wednesday, March 27, 2002
From the article
"Serial Commemorators" by Esther Zandberg

  The solution to all the conscience problems of the Germans is a water pipeline from Berlin to Tel Aviv, says amateur historian and Berlin resident Ronnie Golz, half seriously. A tour guide specializing in "Jewish Berlin," he elaborates what he says is basically a simple idea: While Israel is squeezing out the last drops of water from under the Kinneret, Berlin is drowning in water - from rain and snow, and from lakes and rivers.

And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that a huge underground lake lies beneath the city, flooding low-lying areas and building sites. The water has to be flushed out through the city sewage system. This is done through pipes that, quite unusually, are not buried underground, but rather are suspended above ground and are there for all to see in shocking bright purple, wastefully flushing way millions of cubic meters of perfectly good drinking water, according to Ronnie Golz. "Transferring the water to Israel would be the best genuine memorial for Nazi crimes," he says.

Ronnie Golz's idiosyncratic and touching suggestion has not come anywhere near to realization. Germans prefer more common modes of commemoration and remorse, as is evident from the plethora of memorials and remembrance sites (Denkmal in German) to be found throughout the city. When Ronnie Golz guides tours, his Mercedes stops by a number of them; how many depends on who the tourist happens to be. Memorials, statues, plaques, memorial stones, and various kinds of artwork indicate the location of the many synagogues, cemeteries and communities that were destroyed, of the homes from which Jews were deported and murdered. There are many more sites than are included in either one of Ronnie Golz's short or long tours.

Although the number of memorials is negligible compared to the number in Israel, they are just a drop in the sea of collective memory which is Berlin. And one cannot escape the fact that the vast majority of the memorials and remembrance sites in Berlin commemorate victims and the horrendous actions undertaken during the war and only a minute minority of the memorials, if any at all, are dedicated to the heroism of the German army.

Memory in Berlin does not need special sites. It is palpable around every corner. One senses it behind the orderly houses and trains, which recall another remarkable order. Or behind the luxurious Aldon Hotel in Paris Square which is a replica of the historic Aldon Hotel which was so popular with the Nazi regime. Or behind Berlin's central park, the Tiergarten, where a north-south route was supposed to cross the capital of the Third Reich of 1,000 years according to the plans of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect. Or behind the Bundestag, symbol of new German democracy, which is none other than the Riechstag of yore with a new transparent glass dome. And behind everything that is, there is something else that once was.

Transparency, epitomized by the dome of the Riechstag, is today a mania in Germany, accompanied by abundant rhetoric. Everything is transparent, exuding bright transparency as a symbol of the new German democracy - and a sharp contrast to the darkness of the past. Perhaps too sharp a contrast. Private and government office buildings, public buildings and commercial centers and even private residences are sheeted with transparent glass walls, which invite a constant peek, or perhaps constant inspection. Employees are exposed to the view of passersby, and the chance sight of someone picking their nose is the best show in town. This transparency does not hamper the use of electronic monitoring eyes, which in the end see far better than the human eye.

To some extent, Ronnie Golz is himself a sort of memorial, a sort of remembrance to the restless figure of the cosmopolitan, enlightened Jew, exterminated in the Holocaust, who has returned to the place where it all began. Ronnie Golz was born in London in 1947 to Jewish parents who fled Germany. In 1960, his family returned to Germany and settled in Cologne. Since 1970, he has lived in Berlin, ever ready to explain why he has settled there. When he started to search for his roots, he discovered that his father's first wife, who was not Jewish, had saved the lives of Jews and was sentenced to death in Prague. He planted a tree in her name in the path of the Righteous among Nations at Yad Vashem.

Since then, he has been very active in Jewish affairs, as a guide specializing in certain topics, as a lecturer and writer. In his articles, he tends to advocate an non-nationalistic European Jewishness, as the antithesis of assimilationist Judaism in America and Zionist-nationalist Jewishness in Israel.
  Ronnie Golz is also an amateur artist. Among his other activities, he participated in the public competition for the design of the major national memorial in Berlin in 1995 - a memorial which is about to be completed after more than 10 years of bitter controversy. His design was not chosen.

A display that he initiated on Adolf Eichmann appears on the walls of a bus stop on the 100 bus line - the first line that linked the western and eastern parts of Berlin after reunification. A trip on the line, from the famous Zoological Gardens in the heart of the western part of the city to Alexanderplatz in the heart of the eastern part of the city, is also a commemoration voyage in its own right. Ronnie Golz's bus stop is an ordinary stop near No.115 Kurfuersten Street. Today there is a hotel there, but in the past it served as Eichmann's offices.
Tour guide Ronnie Ronnie Golz, in front of the Berlin bus stop carrying the Eichmann display he initiated.
  The display is financed by a bus stop operator, a private commercial company that made the advertising space available to Ronnie Golz at no cost as well as providing maintenance. The company frequently also funds the replacement of the glass window embedded in Bebel Platz over a memorial called "The Empty Library" by Israeli artist Micha Ullman on Unter den Linden Boulevard. Due to the unexpectedly high number of visitors to the site, Ullman explains, the glass wears away and needs to be changed every three or four months. In contrast to Ullman's "Empty Library" which has became well-known far and wide, Ronnie Golz's memorial is only acknowledged by passengers waiting at the bus stop. In his opinion, he considers this a success because he has managed to create a piece of memory in everyday life.

Ronnie Golz is part of a group of artists who call themselves Meshulash (the Hebrew word for triangle). Its members initiated the publication of a multilingual magazine called Golem - Euro-Jewish Magazine. The first issue, published two years ago, dealt with identity. In November, the second issue came out, dealing with family. It contains very moving and eloquent articles about the wanderings of Jewish families among different cultures, worlds, and wars. Ronnie Golz contributed an article in the second issue on his father's first wife, Marianne