A Berlin Totem Pole

On the 10th August 2020, I saw the totem pole out of the corner of my eye. I was travelling on the “Road to Sacrow” in Krampnitz. Krampnitz is a district of the state capital Potsdam (Brandenburg) in Germany. I asked the driver to halt the car. I had to take a photograph of this interesting object. There wasn’t a bronze plaque nailed on the painted bark. This artwork has no recorded history.

In a picturesque location, surrounded by forest and water, you stood about nine feet up from the soil. Your age is unknown. You shield your growth rings from view. But you are not hollow of secrets, I sense this. Your kind, Norway maples, have the traits of a district tyrant and the merits of a saint. Maples are long-lived and fast-growing, reaching giddy heights of one hundred feet. With a life span of up to two-hundred years, you feel at home in European regions. For you are vigorous, adaptable and can provide a cool shade. I have titled your image A Berlin Totem Pole until another name comes to mind suitable to your prowess. My instinct tells me you are a guide of sorts, a landmark, a map, and a warning sign to would-be arsonists who crave to strike a match in your realm. Not one flame will ravage the forest’s canopies on your watch. As a divine whisper of truths, messages ring out on the wind like well-arranged songs. They brush through the King’s Forest all the way to the quaint Sacrow Palace. This was King Frederick William IV’s abode, a hidden pearl in the green.

Norway maple is the greatest ubiquitous maple in Europe. The timber is used to make furniture, flooring, and musical instruments. Some claim that Stradivarius violins are made from the Norway maples. No ear can thwart the instrument’s tenor. Everyone is enchanted by the high-quality tone; it is produced by a single mode of vibration of air inside the violin’s body. The resonance emits through the violin’s fholes.

In the fall, Norway maples are ablaze with yellow leaves. The foliage dazzles like miniature suns. It is no wonder why artists, scholars, and perhaps the King himself chose you as a guardian and protector of the King’s Forest.

Maroula Blades

What is the significance of this work to you?

Totem poles intrigue me; they read from bottom to top. The colours on a totem have profound associations. Apart from looking attractive, they are perceived in some societies as sacred beings, sacred objects, or symbols. Totems serve as a representation of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe. In the First Nation families and clans, totems depict stories and historical happenings.

I wanted to write on the origin and background of what I entitled, “Street Art - A Berlin Totem Pole”, but there were no official records to refer to.

There are mysteries all around us. We try to fathom them with our imaginations when we have no text or understanding of what is before us. Sometimes, all we can do is use our sixth sense, our intuition, and to keep an open mind. The truth is often in front of us. We have to open our eyes, use our whole beings to penetrate the depth of whatever we are seeking to grasp. This understanding has nothing to do with intellect, learning, or education. It requires a willingness to open one’s self up to the elements, to the essences of what’s around you. That’s what I felt when I saw the totem pole. Later, these thoughts and feelings were confirmed as there is no documentation on it. This totem pole, in a forest in Germany, captivated me. All I could do was imagine what its meaning was/is. From there, I tried to interpret the imagery as potential stories and chronicles of the past.

I have seen totem poles in many documentaries and in books about and from the Native peoples of North America. And also, the Tiki poles from the South Pacific. I love to hear the interpretations from cultural historians on these emblematic objects.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

My chosen form was poetic prose. This form enabled me to express my ideas and impressions in the best way imaginable for the subject. In contrast to writing a poem, I was not restricted to stanzas, meter or rhyme or other poetic devices. Because of this, I didn’t labour on the text, regarding the handling of the history of Sacrow and its location. It was fun writing about the totem pole and where it is situated. 

What was your process for creating this work?

Apart from taking a few photographs of the totem pole, I tried to research its history on Internet. As I mentioned earlier, there was no information on the object. After which, I went to Wikipedia where I discovered more about the area of Sacrow, besides the Sacrow Palace and the King’s Forest. This led me to learn about the Norwegian Maple which grows there. The tree is special. The wood is used to make instruments and luxurious furniture. Because of the Norwegian Maple’s usage, the totem pole’s life force and the implications of the artifact, I personified the object in my text.

Maroula Blades is an Afro-British multifaceted artist living in Berlin. She was the first runner-up in the 2018 Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award, and the winner of Erbacce Poetry Prize 2012. Works were published in The Caribbean Writer, Thrice Fiction, The Freshwater Review, Midnight & Indigo, Abridged, The London Reader, Newfound Journal, and by Peepal Tree Press among others. In November 2020, Chapeltown Books will release her flash fiction collection The World in An Eye.