The Anti-Fascist Trail (on a Brompton)

I have been focused for the last week or two on writing daily reports about the Anti-Fascist Trail – a bicycle ride for a month along the former ‘inner-German border’ between east and west Germany. Some call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ or the ‘Green Band’, but a far better name is the Anti-Fascist Trail.

If you are interested, you can find the reports at Voyages on the Left. They say that the heart of Germany lies east of the Elbe River. If this is so, then East Germany was in the heart of Germany and this history is even more important in Germany today than it was even ten years ago.

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Riding the Anti-Fascist border route

Some like to call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’, a bicycle route running from the top of the Russian-Finnish border to the Black Sea.

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However, in the German parts there is a distinct reluctance to name the route in such a fashion. Every now and then, you may come across signs like this:

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But they are quite rare. Instead, you may find the ‘Green Belt Route’.

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Why the reluctance? German unity has always been a problem, as Engels analysed carefully in the 1880s. So no need to exacerbate differences. Another reason is that citizens of the former DDR object to the demonisation of their country by such a name. I would add that the author of the phrase ‘iron curtain’ was an extreme racist.

A far better name would be the ‘Anti-Fascist Route’. The reason: the border was in parts described in the same terms, representing a visible line preventing for a time NATO forces from moving further east.

And yes, we are currently riding the German part of the route, with the aim of riding most of the DDR’s border.

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Returning to socialist realism

Socialist realism has had a bad press. Due to Cold War mindsets and the corroding effects of liberalism, many still see it as a crude ideological imposition on the freedom of artists, writers, film makers and so on. ‘Stultifying’, ‘stilted’, a sign of Stalin’s ‘dictatorship’ – these and more are some of the observations you still hear. A common narrative is that after the creativity of the late 1910s and early 1920s in the Soviet Union, Stalin stifled these developments in favour of a ‘conservative’ artistic agenda.

But I have travelled enough and seen enough art, sculpture, posters and so on to realise that socialist realism is an amazing genre, producing some fantastic art. It was the dominant genre in the Soviet Union from the mid-1902s until the 1980s. It also deeply influenced other socialist states, from Eastern Europe to Asia, and it is still manifest in the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos and China. As for literature, long ago I read Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don (1935-1940). Regarded as one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, it focuses on the lives of the Don Cossacks before and after the Russian Revolution. And it has the unique distinction of being awarded both the Stalin Prize in 1941 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. From a different part of the world, I recently completed ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’s alArd (1954), translated as Egyptian Earth. Not only is this one of the great Egyptian novels, and not only did it break dramatically from traditional Arabic literature, but it was inspired by socialist realism. In other words, this genre had a significant effects in many parts of the world, especially in the context of anti-colonial struggles.

It is high time for a complete reassessment of a major artistic genre.

The Greeke beane

Amazing things you find when researching for a book. In this case, I found an item on the Greek bean (broad bean), from Dioscorides and translated by John Goodyer in 1655:

The Greeke beane is windy, flatulent, hard of digestion, causing troublesomme dreames; yet good for the Cough, & breeding flesh being in ye midst of hott and cold. Being sod with Oxymel, and eaten with the shucks, it stayes dysenteries and the fluxes of the Coeliaci, and being eaten it is good against vomiting. But it is made lesse flatulent, if the first water in which it was sod be cast away: but the green is worse for ye stomach and more windie.