9th June 2007
George Clare was born in Vienna in 1920 as Georg Klaar, of Austrian Jewish parents.
He escaped to London shortly before the war started, in November 1938. His father went to Paris, as he had been offered a job working for a French bank, but both his father and mother were later killed, trying to escape from France under Nazi occupation.
Berlin Days, published in 1989, describes his time working for British Military Government and the Control Commission in Berlin in 1946-7, firstly as an interpreter, and later, after being naturalised as a British citizen, as an officer, for a group responsible for de-nazification in culture and the media.
After the war he worked for Axel Springer, the German publisher, and became Chief Representative of the organisation in the UK.
The book is not as vivid as some other accounts of Berlin written soon after the events described, such as Berlin Twilight, (see earlier postings), but is still interesting as another personal memoir from a contemporary witness. Here are a few extracts:
Speaking at the start of the book about his parents' Austrian bourgeois background:
"My parents and their circle's spiritual and intellectual home was not Judaism but the world of the great thinkers and writers of the German tongue. Indeed, Jews of our kind were not merely passive devotees but active protagonists of Austro-German culture. My father worshipped, never at a synagogue, but almost daily at the altar of German literature. By profession and with his brain he was a banker, but his heart belonged to the German classics, most of all their poetry. His daytime reading was the balance sheet, but in the evening he refreshed himself with Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Eichendorff, Rilke. He knew many of their poems by heart and, when reciting, occasionally slipped in one of his own, some genuinely moving, particularly those he wrote as a young Austrian Army officer during the Great War. This live for German culture was paired with respect, not much short of admiration, for Germany and her achievements. In those days many Austrians, including Jewish ones, did not see in the Germany of the liberal Weimar Republic our country's 'big' but its 'great' brother."
On his own first impressions of Berlin in January 1946:
"My most striking first impression was not visual but aural: the muted echoes of a battered city. The 1938 Berlin had assaulted one's ears with lively and strident crescendos, harsh atonal, high-decibel; a medley of blaring car horns, squeaking brakes, snorting buses, clanging trams, shouting newspaper sellers. But now - like slow eerie drum beats of a danse macabre - each sound rose and remained alone, the clip-clop of often wooden-soled footsteps, the rattle of a handcart or an occasional tram, the chugging of a wood-fuelled bus, the gear-clash of an allied army lorry. This absence of the constant roar of city life was more unsettling than the sight of bombed and shelled buildings, of jagged outlines of broken masonry framing bits of blue sky. I had been prepared for that, but not for a city hushed to a whisper. Yet Berlin was not a lifeless moon-scape. It lived - albeit in something of a zombied trance - mirrored in the dazed looks of many of the people I passed, more often noticeable in men than women. But then the men were mostly old or elderly, bowed and bitter-faced; the few youngish ones who were about - emaciated shadows of the soldiers who had almost conquered an entire continent - looked pathetic and downtrodden in the tattered remnants of their Wehrmacht uniforms. The women were of all ages and, with so many men killed and hundreds of thousands in prisoner-of-war camps, they, not as formerly the Prussian male, dominated the scene."
On the cultural revival of Germany after the war, and his perception of Berlin as a 'cultural bridge' between Germany and the western allies:
"One might have expected a spiritual vacuum to follow the collapse of the Third Reich and of the ideologies which had spawned it, but this did not happen. The other Germany, though buried under the pressures of the totalitarian regime, had not fossilised. Freed from the dead-weight of the past, it surfaced again in 1945, slowly at first, but then, with the support of the western allies, at ever-increasing pace. That was the true post-was 'German miracle' and it first came to pass in the Berlin of the Golden Hunger Years. In Berlin, still Germany's capital, still its intellectual and artistic centre the links between the German and the western mind were reforged. Berlin was not only the city of the Luftbrücke, the airlift, but also the Kulturbrücke, the 'cultural bridge' between German and the west, the crucial place at a crucial time."