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Friday, 16 October 2015

Psychotic dementia (Ψυχωτική άνοια)

While walking around in Berlin three years ago with my family, we came across what looked like an open-air art exhibition containing many grey concrete slabs of various heights.



What do you do when you don't understand something? You look for a logical explanation, which in this case, I thought could be provided by a sign. There was nothing - yes, really, nothing! - around like a sign that could explain it. The slabs - known in the art world as 'stele', from the Greek word 'στύλος' meaning column - stretched for quite a distance across the road.There has to be a sign, we assured ourselves. Where could we find the sign, we wondered? We noticed some people in uniform that seemed to be guarding the area, so we tried to ask them to explain it to us.


We approached one woman who simply pointed to the other side of the block where the slabs ended. I heard her say something like 'information centre'. The walk to the other side of the block did not seem so far away, but something stopped us from entering the area containing the slabs. There were so many of them, they were not all the same height, the ground below them seemed to undulate as did the slabs, and they were not numbered or labelled. It just seemed so easy to get lost in their midst, despite the fact that I could discern the end of the path running through the slabs. After trying to keep up with my two young children who were running riot through them, I decided it was time to call it quits, and we came out of the block of slabs and back onto the pavement, which immediately comforted me from the feelings of confusion that I sensed while I was inside the block. At this point, we still had no idea what this block of slabs was all about.


We eventually learnt from another more polite guard that this was a memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, and if we walked to the other side of the memorial (the one we'd walked away from due to the less informative guard's disinterest), we would find an underground information centre and find out more about the sculpture. I preferred to wait till I got back to an internet connection to read up about it, as we had already come across other sites in Berlin describing German atrocities, and we had felt rather overwhelmed by the sheer amount of surviving records contained in these places about this act of horror in global history. (Not to mention the fact that we have a number of similar memorial sites in Crete and have passed by many others as we travel around the country.) So we thanked the guard for the information and left the site at that point.


At the time, we couldn't really understand how this memorial could signify anything about the murdered Jews of Europe. When I came home, I looked it up:
"... the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason" (Wikipedia),
Yes, I did find it rather too confusing for my liking. This is what hindered us from understanding the memorial. We don;t live in a state of confusion, and when we feel confused, we always look for a solution that will put an end to the confusion. Even during the Greek crises that have presented themselves over the last six years, we have actually been living in a confused state of order, not an orderly state of confusion. Perhaps there was that one moment of true confusion, during the referendum, when we really did not kow what we would wake up to. But that was short-lived, and in the end, it all came out in the wash. Hence, Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was out of my depth. I couldn't really understand the architect's intentions. It remained a mystery to me for a long time, until only very recently.

For the last two months, I've been watching my 91-year-old mother-in-law's slide into the state of senile dementia (it's definitely not Alzheimer's), and it feels pretty much like living in 'an uneasy, confusing atmosphere', amidst 'a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason'. What she once ate she now labels as poison. What she once regarded as her possessions are now seen as useless items that need throwing away. People she once knew and loved are now whores and bastards.

It's not always like this. Some moments are better than others. But other moments are more terrifying. Our view of normality has been crushed. We don't know what to expect from one moment to the other. All we are left with is to hope that we will live more better moments than terrifying ones. Wishing for a better day is like wishing for a miracle. It's never a full day, just a few moments. We are living in a state of uneasy confusion. That memorial in Berlin describes exactly what we feel like. I now live with the contented feeling that finally, I understand the  confusing memorial I visited three years ago with my family.

(All photos taken at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (German: Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), also known as the Holocaust Memorial (German: Holocaust-Mahnmal), April 2012.)

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