I just visited a good friend in Potsdam outside Berlin. Last time I visited it was November, bleak November. This time it was summer and his terrace was full of all sorts of citrus trees, his ambition being to have a Persian garden of his own. He ranted about city dwellers who believed they had achieved something new and innovative when doing what they call “urban gardening” – not because they aren’t doing something nice and worthwhile but because of their lack of history knowledge. How can urban gardening in any way be regarded as something new, was his question – look at the Romans for crying out loud. He saw it as a sign of the times when people try to get back to basics, to find meaning in an urban garden and yet think they have invented the wheel when truly what would make them happy and rooted would be to know their own history.
When my friend grows his own urban garden it is with an exploratory mind not just into plants and harvesting lemons but into the history of gardening itself – and he picked the traditions of the Persian garden to inspire him. I think it is a beautiful thought – that if we explore the world with our eyes open not just forwards but also backwards in time we will be enriched and rooted in a whole new (old) way.
History matters in other words.
It does so in modern politics as well as Denmark has sadly seen in the last couple of weeks with the discussions of closing the borders. The nationalistic right has been embarrassing us all with their insulting our close neighbours and allies in Germany with talk of neurotic Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Yes they talk of history, but only with a very short memory as Germany has been much more than an aggressor towards Denmark but a positive and important part of our cultural mind for centuries. Luckily my German friend and his partner had heard nothing about these petty discussions so I cross my fingers that most Germans haven’t since they are important partners in commerce among many other things.
We want history back! So that we might remember our good manners and feel more complete as human beings. More on this later!