“What happens now?”
It is a question I have heard a lot in the past couple of days, ever since the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe woke to the news that the seemingly impossible had happened and the voters had – just – decided for LEAVE, for Brexit and for the end of a 43-year relationship with the rest of Europe. The question means different things, depending on who is asking it. What happens now for the UK, in England and Wales, in Scotland and Northern Ireland? What happens now in Germany, or France, or the Netherlands, where the far-right and Eurosceptic politicians spent Friday celebrating as the rest of the continent looked on in horror and disbelief. And what happens now to me, still an EU-citizen living in Berlin thanks to my British passport, and to my daughter and others of her generation for whom the world, all of a sudden, seems a little smaller?
“Are you going to get German citizenship?”
This is another question I have heard over the past couple of days, to which the only answer possible when no one seems to have any clue what is going on or what is going to happen next is: Maybe. And maybe, having lived in Germany for fifteen years, I should have got my German citizenship already. After all, having committed to living in this country, I should have made the next logical step. But until now it was not, for me at least, a logical step. I did not want to get German citizenship because I did not – I do not – feel German. My own sense of identity is as mixed up as many peoples, I imagine. Part northern English. Part British. And yes, part European. And it was always that third part, the European part, which allowed me to feel there was no contradiction in living in one part of this Union of ours while maintaining citizenship in another.
We travelled north, out from Berlin along the bumpy autobahn that exits the city via Pankow and which is presumably too important a commuter road into and out of the city for it ever to be closed to fix its legendarily uneven surface. From the Berliner Ring – the German capital’s M25 – we left the motorway and continued our journey on overland roads that made their way through forests, villages and between fields. Even outside of the large patches of forest that cover much of the state, many of the roads through farmland are lined with a single row of trees; avenue streets through the countryside. Trees, woods and forests. Add about a thousand lakes and that, to my mind at least, is Brandenburg.
Sometimes, when you drive, ride or walk through the state that completely surrounds Berlin, it feels as if there is no one there; as if there is some kind of force at the heart of the city – the TV Tower perhaps – that sucks people towards it to leave behind a depopulated, forgotten hinterland where wolves and wild boar roam the forests and black kites share the skies with white tailed eagles. There are people of course, some 2.4 million who call Brandenburg home, but that number has fallen by about 8% since 1989 and German reunification a year later and it is predicted to fall further still. And when I think about Brandenburg, this land beyond Berlin’s borders, I don’t think of Potsdam or Cottbus or the old one-industry towns lined up along the Oder and the Polish border, but empty villages, empty lakes and empty lanes. The word that first comes to mind is sleepy. Spring, summer, autumn or winter; it doesn’t matter. There will be space in the market square, on the forest trail, at the beach on the lakeshore.
When sitting in the back of the car as we crossed Anglesey as kids – slowly, because the dual carriageway hadn’t been built yet – we were always searching for the landmarks that meant we were nearly there. There was one point, the crest of a low hill, where the road cut through some rocks beneath a white cottage surrounded by gorse bushes, that we would see through the gap in the front seats and the car windscreen the vista that told us we were close. The Rhoscolyn Coastguard lookout. The reverse cigarette of the Anglesey Aluminium tower. Holyhead Mountain.
A little more than 200m high Holyhead Mountain is easily the highest point on Holy Island, higher than anything on Anglesey, and although that is not particularly tall when compared to the peaks of Snowdonia a few miles away, it is still a striking lump of rock that sits above the port town of Holyhead and falls directly into the sea on two sides. The Romans built a lookout tower there, which gives it its Welsh name of Mynydd Twr… and it appears to have been a place of settlement and human activity for thousands of years. It has had chunks taken out of it as it was quarried for stone and the cliffs below its summit are popular and populated with any number of bird species who share the slabs with rock climbers dreaming of white horses as kayakers ride the waves beneath their feet. We have been coming here for years, mainly to the South Stack Lighthouse and the Ellins Tower RSPB centre, but this time we were going to walk the mountain.
Not up it, but around. Read more…
Long time readers of Under a Grey Sky will have seen pieces about Rhoscolyn before, and here comes another one, but I make no apology. As someone who left the UK at the age of 22 and has lived in Berlin for almost 15 years, and whose parents no longer live in the town that I grew up in, the idea of “home” has always been an interesting one to me. And if there is one constant in my conscious memory, the one place that has changed through the years but – really, when it comes to my emotions about the place – always stayed the same, then that is Rhoscolyn, and specifically Outdoor Alternative, home to my Uncle and Aunty, cousins and whatever it is kids of cousins are to me or to Lotte (we have this discussion on every visit).
Over Easter we returned again, to that field with the views across from Holy Island to Anglesey and beyond, to Snowdonia. When the weather is good it feels as if you can make out the climbers reaching the top of those peaks. When the weather closes in you can feel as if this collection of buildings along a dusty track is the very end of the world. This time, on arrival, we did as we always do and walked the headland around to the beach, following at the same time the waymarked trail of the Anglesey Coastal Path but also the personal topography of memory and my fellow members of the Red Devils, who explored every patch of heather and gorse, sandy cove and rocky inlet, and gave them names and stories and drew maps that made the place truly ours… and now, as we walked that headland again, I could still picture those maps in my head as I told some of those stories to Lotte.
On the 15th April 1989 I was nine, and I can remember playing a game with my younger brother Sean. We were in the bedroom of our house in Burscough, messing around on the bunk beds. At some point we wandered downstairs, to get a drink or a ‘Toronto Snack’ – a fruit salad like the ones I used to get at nursery in Canada when Dad was teaching there for a year and Sean was just a baby. In my memory we came into the living room to find him watching the television.
“Something’s happened at the match,” is what I remember him saying. I remember the green of the pitch and the blue of the sky and the people milling around on the grass. People running as they carried others on makeshift stretchers. A line of police. As the afternoon progressed we learned of the deaths. 10, 20, 30… until it got to 95. Mum and Dad never hid the truth of the world from us, and so we knew what had happened but of course, at nine years old, I don’t know if I could really comprehend it. That night and over the next days Dad met many of the survivors as they returned from Sheffield. He knew, we knew, the truth from the beginning, whatever that newspaper wrote. A week after the disaster we went with Mum and Dad to Anfield, to pay our respects and to leave scarves on the pitch in front of the Kop. At 3.06pm we were in Stanley Park and held the line of scarves that linked Liverpool and Everton. It was the start of a bond between the two clubs, between the two sets of fans – between the people of Liverpool – that remains to this day.
96 people went to a football match and never came home. We have long known, but now we have it decided by a jury, that they were unlawfully killed. This was the first injustice of Hillsborough. The shameful cover-up by the police and the other authorities, enabled by the establishment including elements of the press, was the second injustice. That it took 27 years to get to where we are today, in which time many family members died and survivors lived with a guilt they should never have had to take upon themselves, that was the third injustice.
From those first days after the disaster Hillsborough became a part of our lives. Not, of course, in the way that it has been for the families and the survivors of the disaster, but through Dad’s work it has shaped us as a family for the past 27 years. When I think of Dad back in the 1990s, as Sean and I grew up from the children we had been at the time of Hillsborough to the young adults who reflected on the tenth anniversary of the disaster, I see him with a pad of papers on his lap and a pen in his hand. In Burscough on the couch as we waited for Match of the Day. On Anglesey, outside our tents. In the car park of Formby Hockey Club on a Sunday morning, as Sean and I trained and he wrote, and marked and read. I can remember going in to Edge Hill during half term, to help sift through the Stuart Smith Scrutiny. I remember the proofs of Hillsborough: The Truth on our kitchen table.
He needed to do it like this because Hillsborough, and the many other campaigns and injustices he worked on, came on top of his job at Edge Hill. But he was always there for us. When we came home from school. Friday night guitar lessons. Hockey matches across the North West and beyond. Concerts in Liverpool and Manchester. And all the while, in the background, was Hillsborough.
In his work with the families, from the Hillsborough Project via No Last Rights, Hillsborough: The Truth, and later the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and now the inquests, they became our family friends. We didn’t think of them as “the families”, but as people who celebrated birthdays with us, helped me move out of university, and came to visit us in Berlin after both Sean and I made our homes in the German capital. So I think I can speak for Sean when I say that we never questioned Dad’s commitment to the families and to the pursuit of justice for the 96 who died that day. It was what he could do, what he was excellent at doing, and what he had to do…. He shouldn’t have had to, but in all his work Dad has been driven by a desire to challenge authority, fight injustice and speak truth to power.
Sometimes I know that it felt hopeless, especially in the long, fallow years leading up to the 20th anniversary of the disaster in 2009. But if Hillsborough teaches us anything it is that you can fight for a cause that is right and just, fight with dignity and without resorting to the tactics that so often are used against you, and you can win. What the families, the survivors and their supporters have done is remarkable, and I am immensely proud of my Dad’s role in it and the love and support his partner Deena has given to both him and the families during that long journey.
On the 26th April 2016 I was thirty six. Three quarters of my life has passed since that day Sean and I were playing in our room in Burscough. As I tried to follow the inquest verdicts in Berlin Sean called me from London.
“Are you watching?” he asked, but I couldn’t get the stream to work. “Unlawfully killed,” he continued. “It’s what we wanted…”
“What about the fans?” I asked. I got the BBC News stream up and running just as the question flashed up on screen.
“I think its No,” he replied and then the journalist confirmed it.
Unlawfully killed. Fans exonerated. Justice after 27 years.
I put the phone down and sat at my desk. My partner Katrin was at work, my daughter Lotte – who is exactly the same age now as I was in 1989 – was at school. As the reality of the verdicts hit home, as the families emerged into the sunlight to hold hands and sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ I began to cry. I have done that a lot over the years. Watching the Memorial from Anfield each year, feeling very far away. Watching Dad and the rest of the Panel deliver their findings in the Cathedral. But this felt different. Yes, the journey is not over. Yes, there must be accountability. But this, in the words of Margaret Aspinall, felt like the peak. That we had reached the summit.
I have only ever once written about Hillsborough before, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and I described it as a “shadow lifted.” But the biggest shame – and yet another injustice of Hillsborough – was how, during the inquests, the authorities attempted to cast those shadows, of lies and smears, once again.
No chance. The truth is out and justice is coming.
The day after the verdicts I was reading the Liverpool fans website Red and White Kop, where I read a comment about Dad, Hillsborough and the impact it must have had on his life and that of his family. My only response is this: 27 years is too long and the sacrifices for everyone – for the families, the survivors, and for my Dad and Deena – were too large, but what choice was there? You have to keep going. You have to.
I couldn’t be more proud.
Justice for the 96. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
As always I started the year resolving to write a little more here on Under a Grey Sky, and for the first couple of months of the year it seemed to work out okay. And then came March. We began the month with a journey south as part of what has become an annual tradition around Katrin’s birthday to find a place to explore somewhere between Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden in order to bring her together with her closest friends and their families. This year we ended up in sleepy Torgau… the picture above is the main market square on a Saturday afternoon. Torgau is famous as being the place where the American and Soviet troops first met at the end of the Second World War, and infamous for its history as a place of detention both before the war, during the Soviet occupation, and throughout the history of the GDR. So part of Katrin’s lighthearted birthday stroll was spent exploring an exhibition entitled Traces of Injustice… this also appears to be part of a tradition as two years ago we were wandering around Colditz castle.
But a day trip to the banks of the Elbe river was not the main reason for Under a Grey Sky radio silence. In fact there were two. Firstly, this happened:
That is us launching the third edition of our magazine Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. We had chats on stage with contributors, drank some beer and gave some readings and the whole evening was a lovely celebration of another six months of hard work and (we think) great writing and illustration about places around the world. If you haven’t yet had the chance to get your hands on a copy, all three editions are available – take a look at our online shop if you are interested.
The second main reason for a lack of posts in this neck of the woods was that we spent the second half of the month away in Rhoscolyn, perhaps my favourite place in the world and that I will finally be writing about in the next issue of Elsewhere, published in September. We did some walking along the coast and in the mountains in glorious weather, some catching up with family, and some sitting in a caravan in the rain (all part of the experience). We collected plenty of inspiration for these pages and beyond, which I hope to get online soon. We returned not only with those stories but Katrin took hundreds of photographs and we brought home a new mug for our collection. So as I sit in Berlin and eat my breakfast, I can imagine I am in that bustling cafe in Llanberis, just down from the hills…
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig and Paul Scraton
The sounds of the city began to fade as we climbed the steep slope up from the river embankment; the squeal of the trams as they turned the corner to cross the bridge; the siren of a police car racing past the Rudolfinum on the opposite bank; the bells from any number of churches, whose spires rise up above the Old Town and, as we climbed higher, came more and more into view.
At the top we reached Letná Park we could see beyond the narrow streets of the Josefov and around Old Town Square, out to the TV Tower with David Černý’s babies ever crawling up the sides. After a few days of staring up at the castle we now looked across the ridge to it, to Petrin Hill and down the river towards the National Theatre, the New Town, and some modern tower blocks beyond. Read more…