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Democracy is as Fragile Now as it was During My Father’s Time in Weimar Germany

Photograph Source: Daniel Lobo – CC BY 2.0

In Berlin in 1927, my father Claud Cockburn experienced a peculiarly depressing Christmas day when he shared his dinner with a dog. I was thinking about this last week as an antidote to gloom over the advance of the Omicron variant and the prospect of further restrictions on the way. Irritating complications hindering my family’s Christmas plans appeared trivial by comparison.

After leaving university, Claud had won a travelling fellowship from Queen’s College, Oxford, which he believed would give him just enough money, when supplemented by meagre journalistic earnings, to live in Berlin for a couple of years. But as Christmas approached at the end of the first year, he realised that he had miscalculated and, moreover, he had to feed not only himself but a dog left in his care by his girlfriend Berta who had gone to Vienna for the holiday period.

“It was a horrible Christmas for the dog,” Claud wrote later in his memoir In Time of Trouble, “because just at that time I had run entirely out of money and was living chiefly on expectations of a cheque from the United States that never came. To begin with, the dog fed fairly well because the butcher round the corner always had a pile of scraps – offal, bacon rind and the like – which he gave me free when I bought meat for myself.”

But on Christmas Eve, when everybody Claud knew had left town for the holiday, he found distressingly that he had only just enough money to buy a couple of drinks and some tobacco.