Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Discovering BB’s mysteries

Welcome sign to Bussière-Badil
You are now entering Bussière-Badil in southwestern France.

Not everything is what it seems, or what you expect, in Bussière-Badil, well off the beaten track in France. But what can you expect from a village that has been on the maps since 768 CE?

When I open the front door, I’m a bit taken aback by whom I find there. 

I’ve got 20 minutes until my appointment with Monsieur le Maire of Bussière-Badil. The previous week I arranged to have an interview with him. I don’t know who’s at the door, but I don’t have a lot of time to chat, as I still have to get ready for my appointment. The weather has been hot, and I’m still in my old and fairly flimsy Patti Smith T-shirt and pair of cut-off denim shorts. Half of this outfit is my summer pyjamas.

It takes me a while to register who’s rung at the door as I can’t be quite sure that it is who I think it is. “Do you recognise me?” asks the man. Of course, I say, in that voice every teacher knows is a cover-up. “I’m Monsieur le Maire.” I had thought so, but I also thought, that can’t be him, I’ve got an appointment with him in 20 minutes, and I must be hallucinating him at the door.

Any worries I had about my inappropriate clothing are assuaged. M le Maire is also wearing a T-shirt, as well as a pair of jeans and a baseball cap. Last week, when I stopped by the mairie (town hall) to make the appointment, he was wearing the same configuration: T-shirt, jeans, baseball cap. It was a different T-shirt and cap, and the jeans were definitely different from today’s as they were unmistakably torn at various stress points. It is a small village, and the informality is quite endearing – or, as they say in France, sympathique.

He’s too busy to be able to speak with me today and came round to cancel. He’s just recovered from the coronavirus, he says, which is why he is standing well away from the door with his mask covering his face, although he has tested negative, in an abundance of caution. He has a lot of work to catch up on, especially before the holidays, so he hasn’t the time for the interview today. 

The ox pulling the plough fell through the ground into a secret passage

But as he does then briefly launch into what he knows about the history of Bussière-Badil, which is what I was going to see him about, he steps back further to increase the safe distance and removes his mask.

M le Maire is my first point of call in trying to research the history of this mediaeval French village. At an earlier meeting of the patrimoine (heritage) society (which I fortuitously attended after having my arm twisted), his wife began to recount extraordinary things about this once important, now dwindling village. For example, that below the existing church, which was built in the 12th century, there lie the remains of a previous church that dates back to 768 CE. That this Romanesque church was once part of a Benedictine monastery in Bussière-Badil, of which today nothing else remains. That there are subterranean passages in the village that connect this monastery with another a good few kilometres away, also no longer in existence. That someone in the village has entrances to one of these passages in their basement, which they had bricked up for security reasons.

View of 12th century church in Bussière-Badil
Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité, the 12th-century Romanesque church in Bussière-Badil

I’d heard some of these things before. I was even told that one of these tunnels runs under my garden. As he goes through the few things he says he knows, M le Maire recounts that, maybe a century ago, when farmers still tilled the soil with ploughs and beasts of burden, someone was once working his field when the ox pulling the plough fell through the ground into one of these passages. 

There’s much more to be discovered here. Before he hurries back to the mairie, M le Maire mentions the name of someone who would know more. Surprisingly, it’s my neighbour, the Portuguese pottery artist. Next call on the road to discovery.

Can we still give peace a chance?

In the face of the rapid escalation of the war in the Ukraine, tens of thousands come together in Berlin to protest for peace

People at the anti-war demonstration near Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor express their opinion of Putin’s aggression. Photograph: Christine Madden

Twenty thousand were expected. But then more than 100,000 people massed in the centre of Berlin on 27 February to show solidarity with the Ukraine. On a day when Russian president Putin issued a not so veiled nuclear threat in retaliation, he says, for NATO aggression.

Angry demonstrators chant anti-war and anti-Putin slogans in front of the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden in central Berlin. Photograph: Christine Madden

According to the Russian media, who are not allowed to use the word “war”, what is going on in the Ukraine is an “operation to secure peace”. Still, in about 50 Russian cities, people also came together to protest the “operation”. 

Protestors at the anti-war demonstration at Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor. Photograph: Christine Madden

Shortly before the demonstration started, the German government, in a special convocation of the Bundestag (parliament), announced a number of measures to isolate Russia and block its aggression, many of them complete turnarounds from policies they had held even days before. 

More than 100,000 protestors gathered on the Straße des 17. Juni to show solidarity with the Ukraine. Photograph: Christine Madden

Not far away, more than a hundred thousand people streamed from the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, cycled or walked into city centre with their signs and flags. Infants, children, young adults, the elderly, they came pushing bikes and prams, some accompanied by their dogs, to show solidarity with the Ukrainians, anger at Putin, and hope and desire for peace. In this anxious, fraught moment, where we all hope politicians will hold their nerve, make wise decisions and avert catastrophe, the ability to come together (especially after years of covid-enforced isolation) felt like a hymn to humanity.

Wings of peace: demonstrator at the Brandenburger Tor. Photograph: Christine Madden

No future for Zukunft am Ostkreuz?

Zukunft am Ostkreuz, a much loved arthouse cinema and cultural venue, has not been able to renew its lease. Its demise would represent a huge loss to the local community as well as the city of Berlin

Entrance (before opening hours) to Zukunft am Ostkreuz, mid-January, mid-Covid-19 pandemic

Another casualty of gentrification – Berlin’s most viral pandemic, if not for the current exploding numbers of corona cases. Zukunft am Ostkreuz – the name now conveys a certain irony, as it means “future at Ostkreuz” – is soon to be no more, unless its landlord can be convinced to spare it.

Once a film warehouse during the DDR era, Zukunft is one of the cultural hubs of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. The building in the east of Berlin, near the city’s Ostkreuz train station, houses an arthouse cinema, theatre stage, exhibition area and music club. Its premises also includes an open-air cinema and stage as well as a beer garden. Zukunft even brews its own beer in an eponymous microbrewery.

Yet, on top of the many hardships of covid and its restrictions, the landlord of Zukunft has not renewed its lease, which was “terminated in an already difficult time, in the middle of the pandemic”, manager Manuel Godehardt told Berlin news agency rbb.

No reason was given for not renewing the lease. But looking around, it’s not hard to draw conclusions. The venue is surrounded by construction sites for high-end office buildings. Luxury apartments are being built nearby, as well as a new tourist attraction: an aquarium for exotic fish and coral, with an accompanying hotel. Property in this rapidly changing part of the city is likely too mouth-watering to be left untouched by developers.

‘We will not and cannot accept this’

Daniel Bartsch, spokesperson for culture administration, Berlin Senate

Many residents, however, feel the pain and deplore the soulless expansion of their neighbourhood. Several demonstrations have taken place in the area to protest building projects. And there is fear for the existence not only of the treasured Zukunft, but also for the clubs About Blank and Wilde Renate. 

If Zukunft goes, it’s likely to take its local affiliated small cinemas – Tilsiter Lichtspiele and Kino Intimes – with it, as much of their income derives from the selling of Zukunft’s craft beers: Goldene Zukunft (golden future) and the sadly prophetically named Dunkle Zukunft (dark future).

Poster near the venue Zukunft am Ostkreuz calling for its preservation: “No future without Future!!!”

A local organisation concerned about the explosion in development, Baustelle Gemeinwohl (“public welfare construction site”) has formed a workshop to create a cooperative vision for a possible new building on the site. Together with its partners, it has entered negotiations with the owners of the site, Groß-Berliner-Damm GmbH & Co. KG and Grundwert AG (represented by Orion Hausverwaltung GmbH) to come up with solutions for a building compromise that serves all sides. Results of the negotiation are expected at the end of January, with possible next steps to be discussed.

Let’s hope, for the sake of the future of the neighbourhood, that discussions are fruitful. As Daniel Bartsch, speaking for Berlin’s Senate culture administration, told rbb, every cultural institution that disappears in the city is a loss for Berlin’s cultural landscape, and “We will not and cannot accept this”.

The lease is up on 31 March 2022. People who wish to preserve Berlin’s unique cultural landscape and make their voices heard for the future of Zukunft can sign a petition.

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