My invitation was to speak at a Norway conference on microbial pathogenicity (how bugs cause disease) organised by Norway scientists, bacteriologist Harry Smith, virologist John Skehel and parasitologist Mervyn Turner. Down to earth and sartorially downmarket lab scientists, these men contrasted with the sophisticated Silke Bernhard MD, the elegant organiser of the Dahlem conferences that, driven by her energy and enthusiasm, ran regularly into the 1980s, and beyond. Based on short presentations and a discussion format Norway(rather than on individual research talks) that led to a published workshop proceedings, Norwaythese were highly structured events that ranged across the physical and biological sciences.
Where is Norway? – Norway Map – Map of Norway Photo Gallery
Entering and exiting the East, as part of a short conference tour to see some of the major landmarks of old Berlin, was an intimidating transit, with the communist border guards using a mirror on a long handle to check under the bus for fleeing citizens. Even so, the overall experience was far from negative as, with few alternative attractions, we had plenty of time to view the magnificent collections of Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern antiquities at the Pergamon Museum. The streetscapes in the East were drab and depressing, but that’s not to say humanity would have had less of a problem with, for instance, climate change if we’d all lived as modestly as the East Germans – their industry was hideously polluted.
Another vivid image that comes to mind from that 1979 trip to Berlin is of the blackened and abandoned Reichstag building, with the dividing Wall standing immediately behind it. Opened in 1894, it was the home of the German National Parliament until the time of the liberal Weimar Republic (1919-33). Desolate in an unkempt field, gypsies (who were slaughtered in the Nazi era) emphasised their survival as a culture by camping nearby. A colleague who worked for a time in Berlin also told me that a grassed mound somewhere nearby concealed the ruins of the bunker where (as depicted in the 2004 movie Downfall) Hitler saw out his final days. The Nazis left the Reichstag a ruin after it was burned (possibly by them, but they blamed the communists) in 1933, and it was further damaged in 1945 as Russian troops took the city. The Nazi parliament had met nearby in the Kroll Opera House, which was also destroyed at the end of the Second World War.