Ho’oponopono in Berlin
Photograph by Marcelo Del Pozo, Story by Kate Vick
Klaus was not a superstitious man, but something about the story stuck with him. He had been at a dinner party at which there were more men than women. Consequently he had been placed next to a silver haired gentleman, an academic, whose interest, it transpired, was in criminal offenders and recidivism. It was not an area that Klaus, as a commodities trader, knew much about. But he didn’t want to talk about the markets, or the EU, or Merkel, so he asked the academic what the most extraordinary event or crime was that he had ever encountered in his field.
There was a moment’s silence while the academic cut through the tail of the roll mop on his plate. Then he spoke.
‘There was a doctor in Hawaii, who was asked to work in a terrible jail, a place where the worst of the worst were imprisoned. They couldn’t keep their staff, the inmates were unruly and sadistic. It was hell on earth. The doctor accepted the job on one condition. That he did his job as he wished, with no interference from the authorities.’
‘Of course the authorities leapt at his offer. The doctor’s first request was that all the folders from all the inmates were sent to his office. When the files arrived, he took them, read them one by one, and when he had finished reading them he would say: “I am sorry. I forgive you. I love you. Thank you.” The Hawaiian doctor used this mediation, called the Ho’oponopono, over each file, until he was satisfied. Then he told the authorities they would no longer need him. The authorities asked if he would go in to see the inmates and speak to the staff, but the doctor said no, that would not be necessary. He had solved the problem.’
‘Had he?’ asked Klaus.
‘Well yes, it appeared he had. Over the next months the inmates calmed down, the staff stayed longer and, in the end, the prison was closed as it was no longer needed.'
Klaus laughed. ‘Ach, that sounds ridiculous.’
The academic shrugged. ‘Yes. But you asked to hear about the most extraordinary thing I have heard of in my field. If you want tales of rape or murder, I can tell you those too. But not over supper, eh?’
Thanks for putting me in my place, Klaus thought, and turned to speak to the woman on his left. They had a pleasant chat about a concert they both had attended at the Berliner Philharmoniker.
After the dinner party Klaus decided to walk home. His host lived in fashionable East Berlin, and he lived in the West. It was a long walk, and his path took him past the old Stasi offices. A little drunk, and remembering the story he had heard earlier, Klaus stood in front of the entrance and said; ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.’ As he spoke the words he could feel his throat constrict. When he got to the I love you and thank you section, the revulsion that came over him made him break sweat. He tried again. No. It was just too difficult. Why?
Over the next few weeks, Klaus tried other places. He stopped outside holocaust memorials and the few crumbling remains of der Mauer – the wall. He would pause outside Checkpoint Charlie, now a tourist attraction, and try the mantra. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
He even took a special detour to Hitler’s bunker, now a carpark, to stand over it, intoning to himself. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. Nothing. He felt less ill than the first time when he stood outside the Stasi but each time he said the mantra he felt a mix of rage, revulsion, fear and shame. Shame that his country had been so assertive on the world stage. War Guilt. East German guilt. Guilt about the Greek economy. Guilt about the migrant crisis. Klaus felt that instead of healing, he was apologising for all the aggression that lurked in the German psyche. But it wasn’t his fault! And what of other countries? They have done terrible things, too, after all. Why did he have to apologise?
The mantra wouldn’t go away. It ran through his head before he went to sleep, it was there when he woke up. He found himself sitting in front of the computer looking at deals on the Africa desk saying I’m sorry, please forgive me, I love you, thank you in syncopation with his buying or selling commands. He would stop at a Stube for dinner and a drink and still hear the words. He apologized to the pork in his Wiener Schnitzel, while thanking God it hadn’t been made out of veal – which would have required even more apologies. He wondered if he should go vegetarian.
Frankly, the mantra was driving him crazy. He needed a break. That Friday he phoned the office, packed a suitcase and went to the Hauptbahnhof to get a train to the airport.
The sign indicated the next train was about to leave. Eyes fixed on the indicator, Klaus shouldered his bag and started to run. Just then a young woman, looking at a train on a different platform, crossed his path and they collided.
‘I’m sorry!’ she said
‘Please forgive me,’ he answered and to his horror, he found the next part of the mantra tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop himself, ‘I love you’.
The young woman stopped and turned to him. He felt hot and awkward.
‘Thank you,’ she said. She laughed. ‘You’ve made me feel better.’ She looked at the bag on his shoulder. ‘I hope you have a good trip!’ She turned and hurried for her train.
Klaus watched her go. He also felt better. Whistling, he checked the information sign for the next train. He’d make his plane to Hawaii.
Kate Vick lives in West London where she has two jobs, two children and and one completed manuscript and another on the way. She grew up in Germany, Japan, Canada and the US, before coming back to read English at UCL, and has worked as a communications advisor to the Home Office, a government advisory group on sexual health and a member of the House of Lords. She has backpacked the Karakoram Highway, and has done lots and lots of writing (but usually for other people). She can be reached at
Marcelo Del Pozo has covered a multitude of national and international events for Reuters. In the field of sports, he has covered four Olympic Games (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016), in addition to the soccer world cups of South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. In Spain he has provided extensive coverage of the economic crisis with both financial and human reportage, as well as scores of coverage and exhibitions on culture, social issues and festivals in Andalusia. See more of his work and follow him here @marcelo.del.pozo