ROOM 368 OF THE HOTEL Kronprinz, on Berlin's Kronprinzendamm, is hidden from the street by a summer foliage of surrounding linden, buche, and kastanie (chestnut) trees. A shrink-wrapped doughnut on the desk, left by the staff as a hotel favor, is just another distinguishing signature of this place, part of the hotel's unique charm — in a word, Alleinstellungsmerkmal.
I've been brought here under the auspices of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a great Arts Institute (with a staff numbering in the 40s) that occupies an amazing edifice in die Tiergarten Park. Due to its spatulated form, it's known as "The Pregnant Oyster" (Schwangere Auster). Its architect, Hugh Stubbins Jr., erected it in '57. At nine tons, Henry Moore's heaviest bronze (Large Divided Oval: Butterfly) stands in the front yard, in a circular basin.
"Ich bin ein Berliner" is printed on a greeting card next to that pastry on the hotel desk.
My older brother Ben was still alive the day of that speech of Kennedy’s, almost 50 years ago. At age 23, he was the youngest member in the history of the U. S. A.'s Foreign Service and/or State Department.
A cool, swift breeze blows through my room's 19th century windows. Bold raindrops shatter a dappled glare. Lace curtains dance in a moiré array.
As Vice Consul to Frankfurt in 1963, Ben would have been at his desk this very hour, during the hottest period of the Cold War, three years after Nikita Krushchev banged his shoe on a desk at the U.N.
Diplomacy must take grit; Ben had it, in great measure. He was here, in Germany, while elementary school children all over the U.S.A. were learning to dive under their desks, in practice drills. He worked in a mare's nest of espionage and friction between the tectonic plates of Capitalism and Communism which brought the earth as close as it could come to an atomic Armageddon. That ideological dispute had come to a tipping point on October 25th, 1962, when Adlai Stevenson, at a U.N. assembly, revealed U-2 spy plane pictures of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.
Meanwhile, I was singing Mexican boleros with my oldest brother Carson at The Insomniac coffee house in Hermosa Beach, California. Couched in the waning of the Beat Era, a Son of the American Revolution, I never doubted my place on the Pacific Rim, nor our manifest destiny to question everything — while Ben was covering Uncle Sam's back abroad.
His, I figured, was a surreptitious role, in what still seems to be the most transparent form of government yet devised. Ben and I were in flight formation, both protecting the American dream by various vicarious means.
Carson and I drank 100-proof grain-neutral White Lightning with the girls from the Gospel Pearls between sets. Vapors of cannabis snaked across the strand. Silent movies with Buster Keaton or the Keystone Kops played out on an opaque screen before each set. At show time, the projector went dead, and with a yank of a chain from stage left, the screen pivoted up, flush to the ceiling. Musical hell would break loose. Andrew de la Bastide's steel band, Bessie Griffin's Gospel Pearls (accompanied by the great Eddie Kendricks), or the blues of Long Gone Miles, with Willie Chambers at his side: Carson and I followed them all on that stage in Bob Hare's coffee house. Our world-beat acoustics played under the shriek of the espresso and cappuccino heavy machinery. The clack of a Smith Corona, driven by the digital pistons of a l...