I don't know about you, but I feel quite nostalgic for the Cold War, at least you knew where you were ... and if you weren't quite sure there was usually a big sign to tell you. So it was with considerable gratification that, on a recent visit to Berlin, I came across a notice that you can view on Finch's Quarterly Review.
I was on the way to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, absolutely rammed with people, inspecting the various vehicles, suitcases and tunnels into which East Germans had crammed themselves in order to come to the West. Twenty years after the Berlin wall came down I am clearly not the only person who remains interested in the schism between two value systems that defined European life for a generation or two. The museum, by the way, was a dreary affair, but then maybe it was meant to be depressing in that it echoed the grim monotony of life behind the wall and beyond the Iron Curtain. Still if you are after a bit of boost to the mood I can think of better places to go than the Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie on a damp, grey and cold Berlin afternoon.
I almost wish that I had taken myself to one of the bright new contemporary art museums that have sprung up in Berlin like mould on an old bit of Stilton, it seems that if you are an architect with any pretensions to worldwide fame then you will have built a museum in Berlin - I am getting rather sick of being told how wonderful they all are.
Instead I did rather better than that; I found a museum that counted among its exhibits some of my favourite names from the pantheon of European high culture, namely Charvet and Hermes.
No, I had not stumbled into a shop, but rather the Kennedys Museum that has now become my number one recommendation to anyone visiting the former Reichskapital (or whatever the German is for capital of empire). The Kennedys Museum is a perfectly delightful space in which I could have happily spent an entire day. It depicts JFK as he was seen by the public during his life and not the libidinous sleazebag that revisionist historians have tried to make him.
Kennedy was an idea: and it is this one man embodiment of all that was wonderful about the West during the Cold War that the Kennedys Museum celebrates. My favourite image is of him Willy Brandt and Conrad Andenauer cruising through the Kaiserstadt (or whatever it is the Germans call the capital of empire) in the back of a big open-topped car - the last time superpower politics had been this stylish had been in the days of the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
This Museum reminded me just how cool Jack looked; he had the lot, youth, money, power, girls, movie star looks and suits so sharp and accurate that you could set your watch by them. Hatless and wholesome with his Colgate-bright smile Jack Kennedy and his beautiful wife (one of whose hats and some of whose Tiffany invoices wind up in the Kennedys Museum), showed that life in the West was good. By contrast the Russians had Mr. and Mrs. Krushchev, he looked like a shorter, stouter Rabelaisian version of Yul Brynner, while Mrs K had the sort of homely looks best suited to the collective farm.
Kennedy showed that you could be a man who shopped; viz JFK's Charvet shirt (incorrectly attributed to Charvel [sic] in the museum), Bergdorf tie, and crocodile Hermes briefcase; and still face down the Soviet Union when the need arose, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Indeed the best JFK story centres on his love of H. Upmann cigars: before he announced the embargo on Cuban imports he sent a member of his staff out to lay in stocks of his favourite Havanas - pity that he did not live long enough to enjoy them.
Inevitably there is a section of the museum devoted to Barack Obama, doubtless intended to draw parallels between the two men. All I can say is that I have yet to spot Mr Obama in Charvet...
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