I handled that badly. I know I did. But even now, years later, I do not know how I should have responded.
When was it? Maybe six or eight years after the collapse. East European regimes had gone down, one after the other, like ninepins. Their statues had come down. Budapest, I thought, handled that well. They moved their adulatory sculptures to a theme park a few miles outside the city. You didn’t have to see them, nor worship them, unless you were willing to go out of your way. Two or even three times life size they had the imperious look of gods. Graven images!
“Though shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not bow down thyself…”
Seeing those well-over-life size statues of Marx and Engels I saw, or started to see: these did or had demanded worship. That had been in Budapest.
Strolling around East Berlin, some years later, I was surprised to find, in the garden at the centre of a small square, two statues – life size, no bigger. Marx and Engels…. They had not been removed? I took out my camera.
A young woman of perhaps early twenties, turned to me: ”Pardon my asking: Who are they?”
“Marx and Engels,” I replied.
She repeated the names, sounding puzzled. “Those names should mean something to me, but what?”
“Where were you brought up?” I snapped.
“Here,” she replied. “I’m a Berliner, Berliner Lerche, typical. Went to school just a few blocks from here.”
“Here…? In what used to be the German Democratic Republic?”
“Yes,” she sounded puzzled. “Why?”
She didn’t seem subnormal… just a typical Berlin girl. I lost my temper. I know I should not have:
“You must be the most ignorant Berliner ever. Ever. Or the most stupid.” and I walked away.
But what ought I have said?