Don's Diary

May 12, 1995


Breakfast at Hotel Villa Kastania (Horsechestnut Hotel). Most of the streets in Charlottenburg (part of the British quarter of Berlin) are named after the trees which line them. We do not refer to it as the ex-British quarter since our German colleagues still think of the city in its relatively recent and almost 50-year-old division.

On our way here our host Stefan, head of social psychiatry at the Freie University and our conference convener, points out the NAAFI HQ building and we ponder how long Berliners will continue to refer to it in this way. Speaking of which, there are no eggs for breakfast. We study our briefing for the first social psychiatry conference at the Freie University, where Huxley will be a keynote speaker, together with Leona Bachrach, a professor of sociology, closely involved in de-institutionalisation of the mentally ill in the United States. We spend today touring the university department which is notable because the building retains much of its mixed art-deco and Bedermaier stylishness, and was once home of Leni Reifenstahl. At lunch the eggs fail to arrive and we make do with 35 kinds of spam.


The conference is over-subscribed and the audience at Spandau Hospital has expanded from 100 to 300 mental health professionals. The high number of hospitalised patients in Berlin means that a conference on de-institutionalisation is topical, with participants hoping to learn from UK and US experiences (learning not to make the same mistakes).

Huxley is speaking about the use of a quality of life measure, which assesses people once they are living in the community. The measure is being used in 17 countries but Berlin is one of the main partner centres using it. The German version is ten minutes shorter to complete than the British one, and Huxley tells the audience this is due to German efficiency, not that the British version has a tea-break. Embarrassed silence while waiting to see if the joke is conveyed via simultaneous translation. Thankfully, it is. Stefan confesses to admiring the British quality of being able to pause a serious discussion to introduce the odd quip or bit of repartee, and then to resume straight-faced discussion as though nothing had happened. Huxley finishes by apologising in German for not speaking German.


Still no eggs. We go on a conference tour. While touring Sanssouci Palace we hear the unmistakable drone of an old aircraft which turns out to be, according to guide Wolfgang, a fluent English-speaking psychiatrist, a restored Dornier making tourist flights over the City. It has three engines, one in the nose, and goes so slowly that we expect it to drop from the sky. Wolfgang flies a single-engined light aircraft and once offered us a ride from Hamburg to Amsterdam. We declined because of having Lufthansa bookings, but later made the worrying discovery that he belongs to the strangely called Experimental Association of American Flyers. Lunch stop at lakeside cafe in Kaputh, near Einstein's house. Our innocently ordered "light" lunch produces unexpected and heaped platters of blackened pigs' trotters, boiled potatoes, scrambled eggs, and salad, causing Wolfgang to observe darkly that " . . . nothing good ever came out of East Germany on a plate". Touring the Berlin art galleries, Kerfoot successfully recruits Huxley as a disciple of Symbolism, in particular the Munich Secessionists such as von Stuck, and his teacher Bocklin. We visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, primarily to visit the Gents, where the urinals flush in B flat (really), and finish with a visit to the Museum of Modern Art and its "Triumphal Arch", constructed entirely from working television sets.


A working breakfast at the Cafe Einstein, lasting three hours (with eggs), enables us to draft a paper for joint authorship on the failure of mental health services to embrace evaluation. A combination of US, UK and German experience produces a stimulating debate and eventually, we hope, a useful paper. The evening finds us wolfing down superb Mexican food in the Kreuzber district, and hearing the home-spun philosophy of our US waiter/barman, Michael. From him we learn indispensable German phrases such as "noch eine runde bitte", and helpful demographic data such as (on American women) "the bigger the hair-do, the smaller the town".


Kerfoot's turn to perform, with a lecture to psychiatrists and psychologists (at the Freie University), and an early wake-up call (lecture timed for 8.15 am). The lecture, which is on suicidal behaviour in adolescents is topical because in Berlin, like many urban centres, this is a growing problem. Final afternoon of sight-seeing.

We take in the Wall. The contrast between East and West is becoming less marked. Demolition sites and vacant lots along Unter den Linden and Fredrichstrasse sprout armies of cranes which, announce the arrival of various multinational investment corporations, and dominate the skyline.

PETER HUXLEY and Michael Kerfoot Peter Huxley is professor of psychiatric social work and Michael Kerfoot is senior lecturer in psychiatric social work at University of Manchester.

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