He didn’t know he was a child

“When the child was a child,
He walked with his arms dangling

He wanted the stream to become a river
and the river a river
And let that puddle be the sea.
When the child was a child
He didn’t know he was a kid
For him everything had a soul
And all souls were one (1). »

When I came out of the Berlin train station last Monday, I remembered the first few lines of this poem by Peter Handke. Ahead of me I saw the ruined tower of the Memorial Church, a surviving witness of the bombings of World War II, and behind me I heard the rumble of trains, many (one every two hours) coming from Warsaw laden with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees: women, young girls, young teenagers and lots and lots of children.

→ ANALYSIS. Ukraine: Concerns about the fate of orphans are growing

I walked through old East Berlin accompanied by a German friend who was born there 42 years ago and who said to me as he showed me the long streets with colorful buildings: “Before they were all grey. »

In the film by Wim Wenders The Wings of Desire, whose leitmotif is the Peter Handke poem quoted above, life is rendered mainly in black and white, and two angels descended to earth, Damiel and Cassiel, are visible only to children. This very long poem is inspired by Paul’s letter: “When I was a kid, I spoke like a kid, I thought like a kid, I reasoned like a kid; When I became a man, I made childish things disappear. »

“Home no longer existed”

Damiel and Cassiel wander the cursed city, that of absolute evil, with the ability to hear the residents’ thoughts, their daily lives and all those worries, those anguishes that make them look troubled, engrossed and a little distant. They are all former children, grown, fragile and tormented, but blind to the unseen. self-contained.

I wondered what the little Ukrainian refugees saw from Berlin. After leaving their fathers, brothers, uncles and all men of military age, after saying goodbye to armed and tearful adults, they took buses, trains, and for the most part they are not done yet. The language of those who welcome them, give them food and drink, a ball, a stuffed animal, this language is incomprehensible to them. Surely they sense their mother’s relief and the benevolence of their hosts. But what color does Berlin have for you?

Wim Wenders turned around The Wings of Desire in West Berlin, before the Wall came down, and stole some pictures from the East. What did this wall hide? What lives and what youth? The friend who showed me the Berlin of her childhood told me: “One morning, I was 9 years old, I woke up and my mother said to me: ‘The wall fell last night.’ I didn’t understand what that meant. Later, my parents enrolled me in a school in the West. Everyone laughed at me: my clothes, my manners, my language. I didn’t know what “cool” meant and so many other words in American culture. I spoke old German. I wanted to go home, but there was no home anymore. »

children of Ukraine

Wim Wenders’ angels have little power of action, their only power is that of compassion for humanity. Claire Denis, the director’s assistant, says: “The moral of this story is that each of us has our own angel within us. And since you only live once, every moment in life counts as if it were your last. »

→ Grandstand. Our little prey

Of all the images that reach us every day from the war in Ukraine, those of children are obviously the ones that haunt us, those that are close to us, that sadden us even when we think we’re not thinking of them. Because we witness the brutal loss of childhood. We see what is being taken away from the little ones, what is being taken away from them, and the violence, terror and death that occurs in their lives. But to give these children hope for their future, I think of the last lines of Peter Handke’s poem:

“When the child was a child, he threw a stick against a tree, like a spear,
And it still vibrates there. »

And then I say to myself that what is lost can be found again, what is broken can be repaired, what has been forgotten becomes a living memory and that, as in Wender’s film, people dancing under tents, in cellars, singing, laughing, falling in love, amazed and innocent are the most beautiful, the brightest and basically the real winners.

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