Walk February 13, 2008Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
IsarSteve’s post about, and photos of, Stolpersteine – ‘stumbling blocks’ built into the pavement outside the last dwelling-place of victims of the Nazi era, aiming, in this way, to keep their memory alive – made me want to get out of the house and go and scour the pavements of Pankow to see if commemoration had made it this far. There was a specific building I was aiming for, one that used to be a Jewish orphanage. I remembered a plaque on its façade with some details of what fate had befallen its residents – the deportation of ‘many of the school-children, apprentices and teachers resident here’ to extermination camps in 1942 – and, upon slightly more insistent inspection yesterday, discovered that that’s all there appears to be. The prayer room of the synagogue that used to be there survives, in some form or other, but twice I have tried to find it and twice I have failed and I worry about snooping around civic buildings too much to wander up every staircase and down every corridor. It’s hard to apply a hierarchy to those who deserve to be commemorated – I’m sure the project’s organisers would happily commemorate everyone they possibly could, and will happily lay a Stolperstein to any victim whose details can be corroborated and whose stone someone is willing to finance – but I thought it would be extra fitting to individualise the orphans of Orphanage no. 2 of the Jewish Community in Berlin, robbed as they already had been of their pasts, of a normal present, and then of any future.
After a mammoth session of being cooped up at the computer and only leaving the house to make a beeline, looking neither left, nor right, for addresses promising alcohol for the last god knows how long, it was overwhelmingly invigorating to go and get some daytime air into my lungs and stretch my legs as all about me regular Berliners, and not just those in search of alcohol, were stretching theirs. Sitting at home and working away, the only movement is from one room to another. Visual stimuli consist chiefly of the flickering of the computer screen and the flicking of dictionary pages. Society consists of the Russian as he does his best at being a one-man show.
So, as I wandered into the outside world, in the daylight, without having to concentrate on preparing to imbibe, there were so many stimuli I thought I might have a seizure. Even in Pankow, the Ruislip of Mitteleuropa! As I hadn’t attained any speed higher than 1kph since before the flood, the pace society was setting on our well-trodden streets seemed lightningly quick. Indeed, the hustle and bustle of cars, bikes, trams and youngsters running around all took place at such a different tempo to my working motor-slumber that it felt a bit like the depiction of the future in some future-depicting film. With traffic like in The Fifth Element.
I soon acclimatised, of course, and saved up culture shock for when I get to go somewhere deserving of the dissonance, rather than simply coming back to the present. I did worry, though, what would happen to poor Shakespeare if some clever type decided to bring him back to life – as the wonderfully bonkers Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov said we should. Not Shakespeare. Everyone. We owed it to our ancestors to bring everyone back to life and then make everyone live for ever – and he was plonked in the middle of London. Not that it need be Shakespeare, of course. Any old person would do, though at least Shakespeare might be able to get a play out of his experience before, presumably, going mad.
To avoid my Shakespeare scenario, I thought I’d better extend the walk, and make it into a proper walk, and commune with and observe my fellow citizens a bit longer before heading back for another session of conjugal bliss with my computer. A man pushed a hot-dog into his face with urgency, as if he was shredding a very compromising document, all the while managing to speak on his mobile phone. I altered my step so I could eavesdrop on a young German-Irish couple whom it was hard to place on the relationship continuum. They looked physically as if they’d got to the very-bored-of-each-other stage but their conversation was at the only-just-met stage and had the fatal intercultural twist so they had to feign interest in fantastically mundane aspects of each other’s worlds. “And what beers do you have?” asked the German, wishing he was somewhere else. “Guinness!” answered the Irish lady predictably and not without umbrage. “It’s an acquired taste. Very heavy.”
I sped on in my attempt at halting the further atrophy of my wizened musculature. Took myself through the Mauerpark. Was instantly gripped by fear at the sight of dogs and people playing football. “What if a dog comes towards me? What if a football comes towards me?”
A dog came bounding towards me, wagging its tail in a way that meant, “I’m going to enjoy biting you,” rather than, “I’m going to enjoy being stroked by you.” Before he took the lethal leap, he turned round, in that dim way that dogs do, to see if he had permission from his owner to maim. Such bad logic. His owner prevented him from maiming. I took the dog aside. “Why would it be OK to maim me while slavishly doing what your owner said? If he said, ‘maim,’ and you maimed, wouldn’t there be a contradiction in you being nice to him but horrid to me?” It cocked its head and issued a whiney pre-bark. I was getting nowhere. “Wie sagt man ‘contradictory’ auf Deutsch?” I shouted after his owner but they’d already wandered off to play god elsewhere.
Bounce, bounce, bounce, went the full-sized, proper, leather football being played with by four teenagers before trickling to a stop at my feet. One of them was walking towards me. I could have walked on. I could have left it. Let the teenager come and get it. But I’d already made my decision. The teenager and I had exchanged body language clearer than an SMS on a high-res mobile-phone display. I was going to kick the ball to him. I adjusted my stance. Remembered BaH’s advice not to toe-punt it, not to be a ‘spitzer’. “Get this right, BiB,” I muttered to myself. “You’re doing this for England. You’re doing this for gaydom. Goddammit, you’re doing this for Obama.” A collective ssshhh rang out, sprayed everyone in spittle and brought silence. In far-off windows I could see people jostling to get a better view. I looked up to a cloud over my right shoulder in which the Russian’s face appeared. “Davai, davai,” he mouthed. I stepped up to the ball. Turned my right foot to the side. Quickly made sure my hair was OK. And kicked… A perfect delivery. It landed with just the right force at his feet. “Vielen Dank,” he shouted, his back already turned, not even realising he’d had truck with a homosexual.
I grabbed my crotch and walked home, counting the day’s stimuli.