Tree House at the Berlin Wall

Today commemorates the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  You’ll find plenty of posts celebrating this in different ways:  here’s one.

I thought instead I would share a tale I heard when we were in Berlin two years ago.  It’s an optimistic, positive story for unoptimistic times.

September 17th, 2017

The tale of a tree house

I love this story.  I hope you do too.

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, one night in 1961, Berlin became a divided city. At first there was merely barbed wire fencing, then a wall. It was all done in such a hurry that mistakes were made. One tiny part of Kreuzberg that belonged to the Eastern sector got isolated in the West. The Americans – for it was in their zone – could do nothing about this unremarkable patch. It became an unloved and unlovely rubbish dump.

Then along came Osman Kalin, an immigrant Turk. He wanted a vegetable patch. He cleared the land and started to plant seeds.  As his patch became productive, he gave vegetables to schools, to the local church, to anyone in need. He cobbled together a rather ramshackle tree house.  He became something of a local hero.

Initially, the East didn’t mind. But when East Berliners successfully started to tunnel under his patch and escape he came under suspicion. The authorities came to interrogate him, and he welcomed them in his usual hospitable way. They gave up and left him alone.

In 1989, the Wall fell. A newly united Berlin City Council began to see Osman’s ramshackle domain as an embarrassment. They gave him notice to quit. The local and wider community was horrified. 25,000 people signed a petition demanding he be allowed to go on growing his vegetables.

He stayed. He’s 95 now, and doesn’t work so much on his vegetable patch, though his son does. He lives in a flat nearby rather than in the tree house. He’s still a much-loved local hero.

I heard this story on a walking tour offered by Alternative Berlin Tours, led by the remarkable and endlessly interesting Dave. Very highly recommended.

 An entry for Six Word Saturday. In her post, Debbie too has chosen to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall

‘Let us Sing in Celebration of a Union Proud and Free’

On Saturday, about a million of us descended on London, all committed Remainers, demanding a Final Say on the Brexit Deal, which even as we marched was being debated in Parliament with as much dissent as usual.

Our own little patch of Yorkshire sent three coaches.  Nineteen coaches from Yorkshire altogether. Everyone had their own important reasons for being there.

But the Yorkshire Remain Voice Choir had come to sing. We had permission to commandeer Wellington Place, right next to Trafalgar Square, and sing below the Duke of York Monument. And that’s what we did. 

We’d come into being about two years ago in two ways. Over in York for Europe, Martin and Gill were crafting clever lyrics with a view to starting a Remainers’ choir.  And in North Yorkshire we began to sing at our street stalls.  Arnold conducted a few singers, a tuba, and a guitar. Small beginnings …. but now it’s county-wide, with members from Settle to Sheffield – almost 80 miles apart. Dozens play their parts.  Composing lyrics; practising; arranging; securing singing spots; keeping song books up to date; booking coaches. 

We have SODEM’s support in London, and an official photographer in Bedford-based Chiara Mc Call. We’ve sung all over Yorkshire, in London, even (thanks to Louise in South Yorkshire) in Brussels. Whenever the going’s got tough, we’ve had North Yorkshire’s Richard S’s boundless enthusiasm and hard work to keep us going.  These days, apart from the original small team, we have a Yorkshire band’s worth of brass, and drums and various stringed instruments.

In London on Saturday, we had a large and pretty much captive audience.  Slow-motion marchers inevitably listened – enthusiastically – as they passed. Many stopped off specially to listen, applaud and join in too. Demonic Cummings and Boris Johnson, those two splendid images fresh over from Germany, unsurprisingly pushed off towards Trafalgar Square as we began.

 

Our audience, viewed from the choir (CM)

There are thirty eight songs in our repertoire – all, with one exception, pastiches of well-known numbers.  Our signature number is of course:

‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)

Your Brexit deal is naff…‘(to the tune of ‘On Ilkley Moor’, naturally).

But we can do other folk songs:

‘What shall we do with….‘, not a ‘Drunken Sailor’, but ‘this Rotten Brexit?’

…..drinking songs: ‘I’ve been a Remainer for many’s the year’ rather than the more traditional ‘Wild Rover’.

We can do Old Time Musical: ‘I’m forever European’ (‘I’m forever Blowing Bubbles’).

Radio Two standards such as ‘Delilah’ ask:

‘Why why why deceive us?

More lies won’t appease us’.

We can reference American traditions:

‘We’ve had quite enough of Brexit it’s a con’.  (‘She’ll be coming round the Mountain’)

While ‘The Battle Hymn to the Republic’ becomes ‘Our eyes have seen the threat to all the freedoms we hold dear’.

Hymns too …. ‘Bread of Heaven’, and the Last Night of the Proms (‘Land of Hopeless Tories  ‘).

There’s one song in our repertoire that’s not original: ‘Ode to Joy’. It moves many of us to tears every time we sing it. 

 

Brexit or no Brexit (no Brexit please!) we’d like to continue.  A pro-Europe Choir and Band for Europe?

 

Photos and videos labelled ‘CM’ are by our wonderful friend and supporter Chiara McCall. Follow her on Instagram @chichi76.myreflection

 

Flash Demo, Leeds: ‘Stop the Coup’

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that we’ve been on another demo: a Flash Demo – one of the many that sprung up around the country as a direct and horrified response to Boris Johnson’s decision to ask the Queen to Prorogue Parliament: here’s an explanation.

If you’re reading this on Saturday, we’ll be in York, demonstrating again, alongside thousands of other in Leeds, and cities all over the country.

On Thursday, we heard from politicians from different parties, cooperating to fight together.  We heard from campaigners.  We heard from those from mainland Europe who’d chosen Britain as their home.  We heard from individuals terrified of the effect of No Deal on their own health or that of a loved one, dependent on prescription drugs.  And best of all we heard from children, some still in primary school: informed, passionate, articulate speeches.  Those children, still a long way from voting age, are our future.

This time, these rallies aren’t about Brexit.  Not really.  They’re about our Democracy.

Here are photos.

But I’ll leave you with this one, snapped through the window of a barbers’ shop in Leeds.  You might not like the language.  Gotta approve the sentiments.

My post for this weeks’s Six Word Saturday.

Yorkshire for Europe – part 2

We’re back from Brussels.  ‘We’ were a 60 strong group whose members, between us, had birthdates representing every single decade from the 1930s to the 2000s. And we had indeed come from Yorkshire just to say- ‘We’re for ever European’…

…. to ask ‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?’….

.. and to assert…..

We were cheered and moved to be tooted supportively by passing cars,  told by streetcleaners, policemen, ice-cream stallholders, bar staff, passport control staff, passers-by that people in mainland Europe want us to stay, welcomed our efforts.

Wednesday was the day when we marched round the European Parliament campus singing and waving our European, Yorkshire and Union flags.  It was the day when we toured the parliament building, having a question and answer session with Henry Wasung,  British multi-lingual member of staff, and in the absence of our own MEP Richard Corbett, who was in London, with Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London.  All of which assured us in our knowledge that only staying in Europe makes sense.

Singing on campus (ChiaraMacCall)

In the afternoon we were centre stage.  We were at the Schuman Roundabout, focal point of the buildings of many of the EU institutions.  So were members of Brussels Light Opera, Women for Europe, EU super girl and Young European of the Year 2018 Madeleina Kay.  And we sang (see above!).  Madeleina sang.  Various British MEPs came to support us and to speak.  Our own Shaffaq Mohammed and Magid Magid made speeches too.

Madeleina Kay with Magid Magid (Chiara MacCall)

Then it was four o’clock and time to go.  Time to load the flags, the posters, the banners into the coach and make our way back to the ship, and to England.

Packing up at the end (Chiara MacCall)

We feel energised, optimistic, ready to plan the next stage of our campaign.  Whatever we do, we’ll continue to make it fun and uplifting.  No sour faces here.

‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say, just to say…….

…… all kinds of things about our love of Europe and our wish to remain in the EU. There are a dozen songs in the Yorkshire Remain Voice Song Book, pastiches of traditional songs, popular music staples, sea shanties and even hymns.

Sixty Yorkshire folk, all committed Remainer campaigners have arrived in Brussels to sing every one of them.

We’ve sung our way across on the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

We’ve had an entertaining and informative afternoon at the Comité Européen des Régions, and held an impromptu flash mob there.

Flash mob alert

We’ve practised in the park, and brought gratitude and tears to an elderly Belgian, remembering his youth, with its fascism, division and war.

And this evening, we went to Place Jo Cox, laid a wreath of knitted white roses, and sang in memory of the murdered Yorkshire MP. One of our own newly elected MEPs, Magid Magid (Green), who joined us, reminded us of Jo’s hallmark: her compassion.

Magid Magid lays our wreath

Tomorrow though, is our big day…..

The Great Yorkshire/Cornwall sing-off

For a while now, Yorkshire for Europe groups have been getting down to London once a week to support Steve Bray of SODEM, and demonstrate peacefully outside Parliament. Week by week, the Great Yorkshire Songbook has evolved, featuring such memorable numbers as ‘We’re down from Yorkshire just to say…’ to the tune of -what else? ‘On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at’, and ‘Why, why why Theresa?’ to the tune of ‘Delilah’. Cornwall for Europe does much the same, but they have a great tradition of sea shanties to draw on for their songbook (‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?‘).

Adrian from North Yorkshire for Europe threw down the gauntlet to Cornwall. The Great Yorkshire/Cornwall sing-off. Challenge accepted.

Yorkshire comes to London.

On Monday, two coaches arrived in London. One from the north, stuffed not only with Remainers in good voice, but Yorkshire flags by the dozen, European flags, Union flags, placards, and Mark’s tuba. Oh, and seven students from Sheffield University, hitch-hiking to Transylvania for charity, via our demo. And a coach from the south-west, idem, except that they had black-and white Cornwall flags and placards, and a Cornish bagpipe instead of a tuba. And no students.

Cornwall and Yorkshire together.

And outside Parliament, we sang. We soon learnt each other’s songs, and we sang, sang, sang. Alistair Campbell came for a while with his bagpipes. Our MEP Richard Corbett came and joined in, so did Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, and Lib Dem Tom Brake, who brought chocolates too.

Richard Corbett joins the two choirs.

Steve Bray, that stalwart who protests all day and every day, whatever the weather joined in the fun, and was invited to judge the two choirs. ‘52% for one, and 48% for the other!’, suggested some wit in the crowd. Steve was far too polite, and suggested a draw. Team Yorkshire thought that Cornwall had the best tunes, and were more tuneful, but we were LOUDER.

Steve Bray. And his megaphone.
We were even joined by a suffragette….

And at 6 o’clock, we followed Steve’s daily tradition. We trooped after him and his mega-megaphone and bellowed People’s Vote slogans as loudly as possible across to the House where members were about their daily business. If you’d been watching the BBC 6 o’clock news at 6.11, you’d have seen us. And again at 10.00. A friend in Cardiff spotted us on the Welsh news.

Cornwall and Yorkshire united in protest.

During the day there were interviews with Norwegian radio and French TV (Arte is doing a full length documentary on Britain and Brexit, and have been filming in the area for 10 days).

Just one more job to do before the long journey home. Get along to the press hub, and be there while Channel Four does its daily interviews on its 7 o’clock news. More flag waving, shouting and singing, and a bit of trespass onto the lawns with a placard by Steve Bray.

The press zone. Can you spot Steve Bray trespassing? Look for the placard.

We met Londoners, tourists, people from around Europe who’d made England their home and no longer feel as welcomed as they used to. We’ve had our photos taken, had discussions with dozens and dozens of passers-by. Does it make a difference? We don’t know. But we know we brought cheer to so many people who like us, hope that Brexit is not a Done Deal.

Shuffling for Europe

Last week, the one at the end of which the long-planned Put it to the People March was due to take place, the Brexit Drama went from bad to worse to excruciating.  It seemed a perfect time to go to London and make our views known.

We’d been before of course.  Twice.  We’d been last June, we members of North Yorkshire for Europe,  sharing a coach with protestors from York.  We went in October, with a coach of our own.  We went again on Saturday, with three coaches, part of a flotilla of 19 from Yorkshire and 200 from the country as a whole.

Here we are arriving, marshalling ourselves.

And here we are singing one of the nineteen songs from the Yorkshire Remoaners’ Songbook.  Our signature number is this….

We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)

All Brexit deals are cra-ap………  

and so on, plus two other verses, obviously sung to the tune of On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at.’

Richard Sadler, Chair of North Yorkshire for Europe, and apparently Director of Music for the day.

It would be untrue to say we started marching.  The crowds were such that we often didn’t move at all, and when we did, we shuffled.  We soon got split up, but it was always cheering to see that wherever we looked, there was a Yorkshire flag – the white rose on a blue ground – somewhere in sight.

Yorkshire for Europe!

There were fellow marchers to talk to – the young girl who’d chosen to spend her 13th birthday marching, the elderly Irish woman who’d come over to vent her anger at how Ireland’s particular issues were being sidelined.  There were witty posters to admire: there are a few at the end of this post.  And more here. 

A newly teenage girl protests.

On we went, making the roads on our route totally impassable for passers-by.  One hour – two hours – three hours of shuffling – we were still only in Pall Mall.  By now the speeches were beginning in Parliament Square on  the other side of Trafalgar Square, and we were still nearly a mile away.  Never mind.

Drummers struck up, and entirely unbidden, our voices, hundreds strong, spontaneously  divided as cantor and antiphon, though the words were the same: ‘Stop Brexit now!’ This little interlude seems to me to be a metaphor for how most Remainers that I know treat one another: cooperatively, in  harmony, and with mutual respect.

And then … then we had to go.  We had to find our coach, due to depart on the long road back to Yorkshire.

Although we were marching to be given a Final Vote on the Brexit Deal, there’s now equally loud pressure that Parliament should Revoke Article 50. Now.

If you’re a British Citizen, and haven’t done so already, please sign here.

And if you’d like an aeriel view of the whole thing, here you are, thanks to The Guardian.  We’re off camera.  We didn’t get to the centre of the action.