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The Apothecary ...

by Keith Hansen 2015

West Berlin 1974, Friedrich Wilhelm Platz is a suburb of the grand city that lies between the
east and west of Northern Europe. A city famous for art and theatre, a rival to Paris and any
other European city for that matter. A very old suburb of five floor buildings and ragged trees
that line the boulevards, where basement cellars line the well-worn streets. Across the road
from where I lived in a ground floor apartment, down a stone staircase the Apothecarists
manned the shop as they had for many generations. Glass jars, a foot or two tall, lined the
shelves, filled with dried herbs, long stalks of farmed and collected herbs used for ancient
remedial medicines. Physicians, surgeons or in our time, pharmacists and chemists, have used
the medical formulas of antiquities, ancient Egypt, Babylon 2600bc, throughout the middle ages
to present times.
Often I visited the Apothecary to purchase herbs, where behind a thick wooden counter two
old, snowy white haired people tended the shop. Looking like the dwarfs out of snow white,
they only spoke a very broken English, so pointing became the order of the day, when selecting
the herb needed.
Heinz, the older apothethist, explained to my Berliner girlfriend Rosemary, how his family
had travelled to New Guinea when the Kaiser held the northern part of the island, in the mid
late 1800's. They ran a trading post where they exchanged German made plates and tools, for
local produce and exotic plants, which they dried and shipped to Germany. Unfortunately, this
endeavor was mistaken for witchcraft, and according to local custom they were burnt at the
stake. A venture that met a sticky end.
This happening was not so unusual, as in England in the Middle Ages, apothecary was linked
to witchcraft, and so you got the flaming stake. Whereas in the Germanic lands the practice of
developing herbs into medicine, became a factor that propelled the pharmacology trade
forward by, leaps and bounds.
As I lived across the street, and knowing Rosemary, I moved into her apartment on the third
floor, on the corner of Frederick Wilhelm Platz. This was very convenient for the students who
lived there as, me being a foreigner, it was easier for me to procure a lease on the property than
a German National. They paid the bond and other legalities, so you might say, I became installed
as the mascot kangaroo.
The Apothecary has long since vanished from Freidreich Willheim Platz, along with the
characters, musicians, artist and actors, the endless list that thronged and thrived in the artistic
creative atmosphere of post war Berlin. The French, British and American sectors bordered the
Eastern Sector, where the infamous wall stood, a sential to oppression and evil. West Berliners
waited with baited breath, the Russians were coming! Another conflict loomed on the Strassers
of old Berlin, a bastion of socialist belief in an old Germany.
Nowadays herbs are sold in packets, from a supermarket shelf. Many modern medicines are
synthesized or derived from pure botanical herbs, such as aspirin from willow bark. The past is
survived by an intrinsic logic, a world of new technologies and robots.