The Year 2017
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations
Welcome to what is going to be a collective chronicle of the year 2017! This journal will follow the general change that we experience in our daily lives, in our cities, countries and beyond, in the political discourses and in our reflections on the role of artists and intellectuals. Originating from several talks and discussions with fellow artists and thinkers FFT feels the strong need to share thoughts and feelings about how we witness what is going on in the world. Week after week different writers, artists, thinkers and scientists will take the role of an observer as they contribute to this collective diary.
#21 May, 22nd - 28th
Monday, May 22nd
I urgently need money. Unexpectedly high back taxes, coupled with a fine for the late submission of documents from the past ten years, have shifted my already precarious financial equilibrium to such an extent that the ship of my life is taking on water. Now at the end of our forties, my generation and I have not managed to secure salaried positions within the cultural establishment. This is due, on the one hand, to the freelance status we pride ourselves on, and, on the other hand, to the lack of seriousness we have long worn as a trademark. As the class clowns of the cultural sector, we are always welcome guests, but we are not considered suitable class representatives. I am not sad about this, but my wallet is, which is why I have been forced to temporarily look beyond my actual career for additional sources of income. Over the past few weeks, I have been visiting job search sites, preferably focusing on such attention-getting offers as those promising that I could “Earn 6000 euros a week from home!” My online job search ended when I became hopelessly lost in a jungle of pop-up windows, until finally, at the beginning of last week, my computer was attacked by an illness which rendered it unable to perform Internet searches or virtually any other task.
This morning I found some consolation in a handwritten notice hanging at the entrance to a four-story office building in the Annenstrasse. “Work for idiots ring here,” it said, and of course I rang the bell – not because I felt this applied to me, but because I assume that the type of people who hang up such notices will, at the very least, prove to be entertaining. My index finger had barely touched the doorbell when the door buzzed open, and I entered a white tiled vestibule with an elevator. Instead of the typical up and down buttons, next to the elevator there was a keypad with numbers, letters and special characters. Adjacent to it was a sign indicating a long code that needed to be typed in order to open the elevator door. The elevator car contained no other operator controls. On the top floor, the door opened onto a large, bright, almost unfurnished room that looked more like a vacancy than a workplace. The floor was covered in brown needle felt. Cables and ventilation pipes ran between the naked support beams on the ceiling. An archway led out of the room at the far left, and on the right-hand side in the back was a kind of seating arrangement consisting of four levels made of standard European pallets. Four people who looked as if they were posing for a photograph sat there discussing something. A woman with an incredible amount of hair who was sitting on the lowest pallet, the one closest to the elevator, was the first to notice me and said “Hello” as if I were an old acquaintance stopping by. The other three looked at me then as well, and a balding man with a round head beckoned me over.
There were two other women in the group: a very young one who was the only one smiling, and one with a laptop on her knees and a look of excessively feigned astonishment. I introduced myself and said that I had read the note downstairs. I was asked to sit down. I was reluctant to enter this tableau, so instead of sitting on one of the pallet platforms, I sat down on the floor in front of them, like an audience member. The man with the round head nodded long and pensively, without speaking, as if something enormous had happened which he had to process mentally. I waited for questions about myself, but none came. Apparently, the fact that I had sat down on the floor seemed so unusual to the people present that I did not want to shock them with any further extravagances. So I waited. In retrospect, considering the subjective expansion of time induced by my embarrassment, I estimate that about six minutes of silence passed. After that I couldn’t stand it anymore. When I got up and started to leave, the woman with the laptop began to speak.
“Before you leave us – do you need money?” she asked.
“Yes. To be honest, that's why I'm here,” I answered.
Without another word, they all rummaged in their pants pockets and took out bundles of crumpled bills. They smoothed them out, studied them from all sides like never-before-seen objects, arranged them according to size, color and pattern, or according to quite different, inexplicable criteria, then took some of them and threw them into the middle of the group. A heap emerged which, due to its jumbled-up airiness, certainly looked like more money than it was. The young smiling woman grabbed the pile with both hands, scrunched it up into a ball and handed it over to me.
“Thank you for today,” she said. “If you feel like it, come back tomorrow, then there might again be some.”
“Some.” That reminded me of my friends in Dresden, Harriet and Peter, who always tell me how money was handled in East Germany during the GDR. It was just kept somewhere in the apartment, at best in the drawer of the kitchen table, but mostly in plain sight on the shelf, on the bed, on a rack in the hallway or in a shoe. Someone who wanted to buy something would ask, “Do you have any money?” And the answer would be, “I think so. Look around, maybe you’ll find some.”
After returning to the ground floor I counted the money and found that I had earned three hundred and fifteen euros in small bills for a ten-minute assignment. I went shopping and shared my pleasure by giving five euros to a street musician playing the accordion. It is an unrewarding situation for an artist, I think, to be dependent on the mood of one’s fellow human beings. In any case I will go back to work tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 23rd
Lately I’ve been sleeping badly. Falling asleep is not a problem, but I usually wake with a start at around two thirty in the morning. After that, there’s no more sleep. My brain uses the time to load me up with wild thoughts like a whining baby. Time passes quickly until four o'clock, and then I torment myself with boring hours of waiting until my bakery opens at six. It was the same this morning, and because I had already shaved, showered, dressed and breakfasted when I went outside at six thirty, I walked to the Annenstrasse, albeit without expecting anyone to be there at this time of day. The notice at the entrance was gone. Either it was all just a gag being played by a bunch of bored hedonists, I thought, or the company with the unknown name had actually found the desired new employee in me.
There was no one in the needle felt room, but I heard the clattering of dishes at the back. Behind the archway I found a small corridor with an emergency exit. Through its small round window I saw a fire escape. A tiny kitchen had been squeezed into the corner between the archway and the door. The woman with the laptop was washing up. I picked up a tea towel, and she wordlessly gave me a cup.
“Division of labor,” I said. This expression is an issue in my industry. The distribution of tasks to people specializing in them is actually frowned upon in performance practice. Nevertheless, it cannot always be avoided. If we do not actively work to prevent it, it happens automatically. The law of entropy, which states that every system reaches a state of the greatest possible disorder, does not seem to apply in this case. But the woman with the laptop obviously did not associate anything with the expression, because she showed no reaction.
“What do all of you actually produce?” I asked. “I mean, what do you do?”
“What do you mean by all of you?”
“You. All of you. Your company.”
“That's a good question,” she said. “We'd prefer to do nothing at all. But we lack the strength for it. Let's say: we do not produce nothing.”
Someone in the needle felt room shouted: “Finished!” I believe it was the young smiling woman. The man with the round head looked around the corner and sang: “Hello there!” A good mood, badly staged. Nevertheless, I was relieved that I was no longer alone with the woman with the laptop. I had not heard the others come in and wondered from where they had emerged.
The man with the round head had apparently listened to our brief conversation because he said, “You don’t have to think that anything is expected of you. We don’t hire anyone. People come when they come and go when they go. We don’t fire anyone either. Some go away and don’t come back. Then that's it. But if you come, you have to apply every day anew. Not with us, but with yourself.”
I had an unpleasant reaction to the last sentence. “I don’t know if I want myself as a boss,” I said.
The man with the round head laughed. The young smiling woman was now standing in the narrow hallway and said, “We produce energy. Do you know how much energy a person at rest produces? Quite a lot. We are all power plants.”
“But that’s not the point,” said the woman with the laptop. “That is an auxiliary argument. We have certain rules, but they aren’t binding. They can be abolished, varied or reversed at any time. We develop a feeling for the needs of the day and try to meet them, together or on our own.”
“Are you prepared to show us something?” asked the man with the round head.
“You don’t have to,” said the young smiling woman. “You don’t have to at all. But we are glad you exist and we would like to celebrate your existence with you. We can do that better if you show us something about yourself.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Wrong question,” replied the woman with the laptop. On the fire escape outside the emergency exit I now saw the woman with all the hair, smoking. “You'll meet some people you don’t know yet. We won’t tell you whether they’re here for the first time, or whether they’ve been with us for a long time, whether they are popular or unpopular, or what services they provide. We want you to take a look at them and then evaluate them for us.”
The tone had changed abruptly. I was confused and found it all a bit hasty. The woman with the laptop took away my tea towel, dried her hands on it and threw it on the sink. Then she led me to a rust-colored plastic door opposite the emergency exit on which someone had written “Florian” with a felt-tip pen. She pushed open the door and stood to one side, signaling that I should go inside. The room I entered was only about half as big as the needle felt room, but still quite large. The flooring had been torn out, and you could see the bare concrete floor and some residual carpet glue. The May sun was shining through the large windows to the right of the door. One of the windows was open. A pigeon walked nervously back and forth across the room. Its feet produced delicate noises on the concrete. When birds are afraid, they make themselves as smooth as fish. The door closed behind me. In fact, other than me and the pigeon, there was only one person in the room, a tall, lanky guy in a suit, with a friendly face. I assumed that he was Florian and that the pigeon was a random acquaintance who had just flown in through the window.
Florian held his index finger to his lips. Perhaps he did not want to intensify the animal’s fright by subjecting it to human conversation. I looked around briefly. The room was empty except for a chair, five flowerpots filled with herbs, and a stainless-steel serving cart. On the serving cart stood a cylindrical steam warmer filled with hot dogs, a tray of buns, and two bowls of sliced pickles and fried onions, as well as an open mustard jar with a spoon in it and two large squeeze bottles, one each of ketchup and mayonnaise. The pigeon was interested in the food, but was still hesitant about whether to cease its show of anxiety in favor of food intake. Doing both simultaneously probably wouldn’t be possible. Florian crept around the pigeon in large circles; it was unclear whether he intended to hunt it or rescue it. The pigeon always remained equidistant from him, choosing the point in the room which was closest to the food and farthest from Florian. A robot programmed specifically for this purpose would not have been able to engineer the paths more precisely than that pigeon. Florian stopped. So did the pigeon. Florian walked. So did the pigeon. I kept still because I did not want to unnecessarily complicate the system by adding another variable. Instead, I imagined the patterns that the two of them would leave on the floor if their paths were traced. The picture, however, dissolved into chaos when Florian unexpectedly rushed through the room diagonally and ran into the serving cart, which fell with a clatter, sending hot dogs and buns rolling through the room in a wide radius. In spite of the freely accessible food rolling towards it, the pigeon flew out through the open window, fluttering in a panic. Once outside, her flight became calmer and more natural, as if she had already forgotten the event.
Florian and I were now on our own. I wondered if we had been observed in any way. At any rate there were no cameras or similar equipment in the room. I started picking up the stuff that was lying around. Florian helped me. We collected pickles, onions and hot dogs and put them back into their containers. Everything was filthy and covered with pigeon fluff. It was disgusting. But a state of superficial order was restored within ten minutes. Our hands were sticky, and we looked around in vain for a place to wash them. Then Florian came close to me and, in a generous gesture, wiped the fronts and backs of his hands first downwards, then upwards on my shirt. I took the jar of mustard and gave him a medal for his deed in the form of a thumbnail-sized blob of mustard on the lapel of his suit jacket. He let me do it, then took the jar out of my hand and decorated me in the same way, circling the spoon slightly in order to spread my mustard medal into a perfect circle. Thus we continued for a while, taking turns, until our upper bodies were dripping with medals. We proceeded to decorate our uniforms. With the help of ketchup and mayonnaise squeezed directly from the bottles, I painted Florian a three-colored cockade, and he decorated my array of medals with marksmanship lanyards and sword knots. The inner logic of the process was irresistible. If an outsider had joined in, we would presumably have thrown him out of the window, outraged at his insolence. That’s how it is with law and order.
For the time being, we saw our task as completed. Although it was only quarter past nine, we were already quite exhausted. As a result, we left the room and searched the entire floor for our colleagues. No one was there but us. At the narrow end of the small hallway, however, we discovered another room, a sort of storage area barely twenty square meters in size, in which shoes, fabrics, and clothing items were stored in large carry bags and piled up to the ceiling. On a wardrobe table lay an envelope containing one thousand euros in fifties along with a note:
“For cleaning, fees and expenses. Please save some of it – you will need it tomorrow.”
We split the money and left our workplace. The encounter with the woman with the laptop and the others had been strange. But I liked Florian even though we had hardly spoken a word with each other. I went home to take a shower. I live fairly close. Unfortunately, the day before yesterday, after eighteen years of service my washing machine took its leave with a loud bang during the spin cycle. So I carried my laundry to the “Waschsalon 115” at Rosenthaler Platz. It is attached to a café where they are happy to make change, even for large bills.
Wednesday, May 24th
Today I didn’t go to work until half past ten. There was nobody in the needle felt room. To be on the safe side I looked behind the pallet platform, where I found nothing but a ballpoint pen and a hand-rolled, unsmoked cigarette. Beyond the archway someone was whistling “Waterloo”. I followed the melody. In the pigeon room I found Florian, who was busy with the potted plants and chewing gum.
“Come in,” he said.
“It was fun yesterday,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Did you do laundry?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Florian took his chewing gum out of his mouth, rolled it into a cylinder, plunged his index finger into the moist peat soil of one of the plants, and inserted the chewing gum into the hole he had made. Then he closed the hole with his thumb and index finger, patted the soil firmly and watered it with some mineral water from a bottle. The carbonation foamed on the peat. He snapped off a leaf and gave it to me. It was sage that tasted a bit like multivitamin juice.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“It’s my invention,” he said. “Consumed flavor carriers are recycled and returned to the natural cycle of life.”
“You can’t return chewing gum back into the natural cycle of life,” I said. “It's made of petroleum.”
“Petroleum is also natural,” he said.
“Why don’t you just combine sage with mint?” I asked. “Or with real fruit instead of aromas?”
“That wouldn’t be recycling,” he said.
I wanted to change the subject, so I asked him how he had gotten here. He said the company belonged to his father and he was supposed take it over someday. That was why he was working here, doing a three-month internship before commencing his studies of business administration at the Technical University. Shortly thereafter he refuted his claim. Apparently he didn’t want to tell me anything else, and I did not insist. The room was getting warmer and warmer in the blaze of the midday sun.
“Where are the others?” I asked.
“Who?” he countered.
“The woman with the laptop, the man with the round head, and so on?”
“I can see that.”
“It’s my third day here without eating or drinking anything,” he said.
“Wait a moment, I thought you had done laundry,” I said. “Is there a washing machine here?”
“No,” he said.
I pointed to the bottle. “And here is some mineral water.”
“Right,” he said, draining the entire bottle. Yesterday he had seemed so nice, but today I found him boring and crude. “Let’s go look for money,” he said.
It seemed presumptuous to me to expect money again so soon after my arrival, but I followed him because I was no longer comfortable having a stupid conversation in the overheated room. We found the woman with the laptop, the man with the round head, the young smiling woman and the woman with all the hair in the storage room. Some of the carry bags had been emptied. The clothes had been pushed together into five nests, each nest about one and a half meters in diameter. On the outside, trousers, shirts, and T-shirts formed doughnut-shaped rings. Inside, the nests were mostly padded with sweaters made of wool and cashmere. Here and there a sleeve or a pant leg protruded into the room, but all in all, the nests were very neat. In fact, they were as meticulously constructed as typically only animals can build them, by plucking at their handiwork for days in seemingly haphazard fashion until there is nothing left to pluck. Our four employers were sitting or lying in the nests, mostly naked, without moving. The woman with all the hair asked us to close the door, as it was getting cold. When Florian asked her what was going on, she said,
“We are breeding.”
“What are you breeding?” Florian asked.
The woman with all the hair pointed to the nest close to the door at the front of the room, the only one that was not occupied. In it were five white chicken eggs clustered together. On two of the eggs, the red best-before date stamp was visible.
“Can I hatch, too?” Florian asked.
“It’s not that simple,” said the woman with the laptop. “You have to lie here for twenty-one days and emit body heat. I recommend that you look for a position in which you can endure it from the outset. You can’t move much, or you’ll break the eggs. It’s best to try it first without eggs. Practice for twenty-one days in one position and then twenty-one days in another. Once you find the ideal position, you can start.”
“I don’t think you’ll succeed with these eggs,” I said. “These are eggs from the supermarket, they aren’t even fertilized.”
“Do you think we're stupid?” asked the woman with all the hair. She is tattooed all over her body, not with an elaborate large motif as is becoming more and more common nowadays, but with a patchwork of widely varied motifs and styles that combine to create a wild puzzle.
“This is just practice before we try it with fertilized eggs,” said the young smiling woman in a more friendly way. “But maybe you’d like to get us some. We can’t leave.”
Florian and I left the office and checked my smartphone to see where fertilized chicken eggs could be purchased in Berlin. By coincidence, we landed on the website of a pet shop in Zehlendorf that specializes in reptiles and advertises incubators. We still had enough money. So we took a taxi and bought one clutch each of turtle, corn snake, Madagascar day gecko, and caiman eggs in the Terrarium Center Oliver Paap. The purchase ate up more than three hundred euros of our budget. We had a curry sausage at a stand on Walther-Schreiber-Platz and then drove back to Berlin Mitte. The driver was a speed demon. When a traffic light turned green, he accelerated so fast that we were pressed into our seats, only to brake so sharply for the next red light one hundred meters down the street that our seat belts snapped into action. Concerned about the eggs, we requested a smoother driving style.
The whole procedure took over three hours. Florian is a slowpoke. He needs twice as long as other people for everything. Just paying the taxi driver took almost as long as the journey itself since we had to do so with coins that had been dropped and then had to be laboriously retrieved from the floor of the taxi. After that, Florian argued with me about where to go even though the shop on the other side of the street had long since been in sight. A three-year-old child could have ordered, paid for and eaten a curry sausage faster than him. But at least his mood had improved. Since we had left the offices, he moved more freely, almost elegantly. Indoors he always seemed to duck his head so as not to hit the ceiling. On our trips he was talkative. He knows a lot about beekeeping. He told me that bees have a sort of odometer with which they can measure the distance to a feeding ground. They then relay this distance to their sisters in the hive by making dancing movements. However, if the feeding ground is located beyond a larger body of water, such as a wide river, the bees misjudge the distance because their odometers don’t work over water. They need to pass by objects such as grass, hills and trees in order to determine their speed and thus the distance. When they fly over water, it feels to them as if they are not moving. For this reason, the sister bees, who should have been informed about a feeding ground on the other side of the river, search the river bank closest to their hive for food in vain.
At the office, we found the others drinking coffee in the hallway. They had left their nests, and the man with the round head was starting to fry an omelet made of the unfertilized chicken eggs and the fertilized reptile eggs in a Teflon-coated wok. I was offended that our expensive purchases were being handled so carelessly, but the man with the round head did not seem to contemplate having scruples. He speared a piece of the egg mixture with a fork, blew on it briefly, and then gave it to me to try. Salt and spices were missing. Florian harvested a handful of aroma-sage, tore it into bits, and threw it into the wok. I wanted to add salt, but as I tipped the salt cellar, the lid fell off, and all the salt spilled onto the coagulating egg. Together we tried to spoon out the excess salt, but the omelet was spoiled. The woman with all the hair cursed, left the hallway through the emergency exit and lit a cigarette on the top step of the fire escape. My heart turned cold with grief and horror. I imagined that I had spoiled not just an omelet, but the entire communal work of twenty-one days, and I struggled to hold back my tears.
Thursday, May 25th
Yesterday, of all days, my work day lasted longer. In the evening I had to take the train to Wiesbaden. I was going to meet my mother there and accompany her to Eberbach-Seltz near Strasbourg for my nephew’s first communion, which was scheduled for Ascension Day, today. My mother wanted to drive from Wiesbaden to Eberbach herself. My father died in February, and since she is no longer tied down, she wants to gradually get used to taking longer drives. My sister had given her a navigation device which she wanted to test. The autobahn was free of traffic and the navigation system worked well. Without being asked, it regularly recalculated the remaining drive time in order to announce the “traffic-adjusted arrival time”, not realizing that my mother was driving forty of her own volition. We arrived at my sister's house at one thirty in the morning and went straight to bed.
This morning, in the local church, the children celebrating their first communion dutifully said their prayers into a cordless microphone which was passed around the chancel. It was as if the stale metaphors about “light in the darkness”, “living water in the desert” and so on were being sent out into the congregation by a series of rail shots in a game of billiards. This gave the members of the congregation pause to remember, some with more, some with less emotion, how they had been tormented with those very same hollow word constructions in their own childhoods. It is hard to believe that these stylistic blunders have been handed down for thousands of years. They were invented by King David, the hysterical harpist, who was no longer satisfied with Moses’s statement that “three men came to Abraham's hut.” It was not only his wish, but also his command that from then on the discourse should revolve around God and angels, gardens and palaces, green pastures and good shepherds. Bursting with vain overconfidence, he designed a new topography of faith in which he assumed the central role as poet and interpreter. The foundations for the parable and its interpretations had been laid, and the language of worship thus spoiled forever. The bizarre religious imagery was carried to its logical extreme by the inauthenticity of Protestantism, which completely deprived the word of its violent magic. Today it is being denounced by none other than the market-based faith healers, who have not understood that their ideology of unfulfilled promises is based on this legacy.
The status symbols that carry weight are different at family celebrations than in my usual environment – not the distance travelled for a guest performance, the modernity of an opinion, or the particularity of a diet, but the beauty of the house, the size of the garden and the number of children. Granted, none of those things are stupid, and since I can hardly compete in these disciplines anyway, I am trustingly received as someone who does not need to be feared and can thus be liked. What unites us, of course, is the fear of death. People die and people are born every day. Usually they are one and the same. Some of them die several times a day, others only die once a week or even just once every few years. This varies widely and is therefore confusing. But it is not unusual. Nevertheless, we all have an urgent need to assure each other that nothing has changed or will ever change.
Friday 26 May
I’ve been back in Berlin since this afternoon. In my mailbox I found an envelope with no return address labeled “Veit”. It contained two fifties, four twenties and two tens, all of which were completely crumpled. If the money came from my colleagues, as I assumed, it had certainly been collected according to the pants-pocket method. I am surprised that they know my address. So far I have only introduced myself with my first name. There is no employment contract or anything like that. I have also never contacted the company in writing or by telephone. I find this piece of mail disagreeable. It seems to be telling me two things: first, “We know where you live,” and second, “You owe us something.” My departure on Wednesday had dampened my mood, and during my short trip I had been thinking about whether I should return to the company at all. The lack of clearly stated obligations in an employer-employee relationship always creates an imbalance that puts someone at a disadvantage. “Pay what you want”, “Work when you can” – such arrangements obscure the actual relationship and ultimately result in coercion, in this case even metaphysical control by a silent, invisible, and thus God-like entity.
But perhaps I’m exaggerating. Perhaps my colleagues have a guilty conscience because we didn’t part company on good terms the day before yesterday. Perhaps they are interpreting my unannounced absence yesterday as a sign that they are being put on the spot. That might even be an accurate conclusion: Although I could refer to the option of coming and going as I pleased, it would have been good manners to mention my plans and thus prevent misunderstandings about my absence. As a result, shortly before six o’clock I decided to go to the office, if not to work, then to assess my first few days on the job and, if need be, to discuss my assignments for the coming week.
From my house, it’s just two hundred meters down Heinrich-Heine-Strasse to the intersection with Annenstrasse. On the way I recalled my eager anticipation earlier this week when I walked the same way to go to work. Now that I am no longer an unknown quantity, and initial connections, memories, and expectations have set in, joy has given way to worry. Under these circumstances, it is not likely that a routine will develop. Yet that is precisely what would be desirable for a money-making job. Instead, I have been given complete responsibility after just a few days without knowing what this responsibility actually entails.
On the ground floor in front of the elevator, a man was camping out on a greasy blue sleeping bag. Everything was so rumpled that it was impossible to see where the sleeping bag ended and his clothes began. It looked as if he had coalesced with the fabrics and had to drag them along with him as painful protuberances of his skin. It smelled of urine. In front of him stood an empty coffee mug containing a few coins. Beggars work around the clock. For them there is no such thing as work-life balance. As the elevator door opened, the bright artificial light from the elevator car shone onto the man's face, and he held his forearm to his eyes indignantly.
The needle felt room was empty, but someone had obviously been working during my absence. The pallet platforms in the back corner had been dismantled, collapsed and leaned against the back wall to save space. Individual flooring tiles had been removed so that the light concrete floor was visible as it was in the pigeon room, leaving square gaps here and there in the otherwise uniformly brown surface. Black tape had been applied to some of the squares in a crisscross pattern so they looked like marked boxes on a form; others were bare. The roll of tape was still there. Secretly I hoped that I wouldn’t meet anybody. I picked up the roll of tape and placed it on a radiator so that I had at least gone through the motions of doing something before leaving for the weekend. I listened but heard nothing except the soft noise of traffic from outside. I crossed the room to make sure the office was really deserted. I moved quietly so that I could escape unseen if someone happened to be there. In the hallway I saw that the light was on in the pigeon room because a narrow strip of light was visible at the bottom of the door. I opened the door and peered into the room. On the right-hand side of the room, starting at the large windows, they were all lined up from front to back and standing two meters apart: Florian, the man with the round head, the woman with the laptop, and the woman with all the hair. The woman with all the hair was reading loudly from a piece of paper. I was startled when the young smiling woman spoke to me at unexpectedly close range. I hadn’t seen her. She was standing right beside the door, as if she were keeping watch, and said softly,
“Not now, please.”
I apologized in a whisper and closed the door from the outside. I remained standing in the semidarkness of the hallway and listened. I was amazed that I once again heard only the traffic noise from outside. Not the slightest sound was audible from the room. I knew that the cheap plastic door was not soundproof because on Wednesday, standing at the entrance to the office, I had heard Florian whistling inside the room, and his whistle was certainly no louder than the voice of the woman with all the hair. Since I was annoyed about my hasty retreat and since I felt excluded – although shortly beforehand I would have preferred nothing more than to go home unnoticed – I remained where I was. I admit that I even put my ear to the door, a behavior I would not have expected of myself. No sound came through the door. I pressed the door handle down, held it down for about a minute, then cracked the door open a few centimeters. The movement of the door could hardly have been seen unless someone had consciously been paying attention to it. Once again I heard the voice of the woman with all the hair. The door was yanked open from the inside so violently that I was pulled into the room. The young smiling woman looked at me angrily. The woman with all the hair interrupted her reading, turned around, saw me and shouted,
The young smiling woman pushed me out and slammed the door in my face. It was dark again. So I went home. Fine, then, I won’t go back. At least now I know where I stand.
In front of the entrance to my house, there are some waist-high decorative bushes which the building management company hopes will increase the residential value of the complex. Between the bushes runs a network of narrow paths, on which party tourists work their way into the vegetation on the weekends to find a semi-protected place to pee. When I pulled my house key out of my pocket, I saw the back of a man who had not even bothered to go into the bushes, but instead was relieving himself right on the sidewalk. The timing was perfect.
“You fucking idiot,” I yelled. “Do that at home! I never want to see you here again!” I went inside, but before the entrance door had completely closed behind me, I heard him say:
“This is my home. I live on the street. I never want to see you here again, either.”
It's better not to yell at anyone. You always end up yelling at the wrong person.
Saturday, May 27th
When I woke up, the man with the round head said, “When you sleep, you sometimes stop breathing. I wanted to wake you up a few times. He has to breathe, I thought. But then you sighed deeply and continued breathing.”
He was sitting on the rickety chair next to my bed, a badly designed piece of Ikea furniture made of aluminum bars and soft black plastic which is not at all suitable for sitting on and which I only use as a place to put my clothes. The man with the round head didn’t seem to mind. He sat there, legs crossed, without having even gone to the trouble of clearing away my clothes. I wanted to say something nice, because after all, it was considerate of him to pay attention to my breathing and worry about me, but I urgently needed the toilet. On my way there, I saw that the woman with all the hair had settled into my armchair in the living room. She was reading “Violence and the Sacred” by René Girard. She had not lost herself in her reading, but was leafing through the book like someone killing time with a magazine. In the kitchen, the young smiling woman was sitting on the windowsill and looking out. The woman with the laptop was tinkering cautiously with my espresso machine as if it were a loaded weapon. Florian was sitting on the edge of the kitchen chair, fidgeting with his knees. When I came out of the bathroom, I wondered briefly whether I should at least put on my jeans, but the man with the round head was most likely still sitting on them. I sleep in a t-shirt and boxer shorts. It seemed like a reasonable option to go out into the fine weather dressed like this. So I quietly left the apartment and pulled the door shut behind me. It was pleasantly cool in the hallway. I didn’t run into anyone there or on the elevator. When I went to check my mailbox, as usual, it occurred to me that my key ring was hanging on a nail in the apartment.
I would like to have had breakfast or at least a coffee. But my wallet was in the pocket of the jeans the man with the round head was sitting on. It probably felt like an elastic bulge under his butt. I strolled through the uncultivated area between Neue Jakobstrasse and Sebastianstrasse to Luisenstaedter Park. I sat down on a bench, rested my arm on the backrest and tried to relax. It had gotten quite warm. The weather forecast had mentioned a forest fire alert. Now I was annoyed that I had not taken anything with me from the apartment. I wondered how much money was left in my wallet. I had earned over 300 euros on Monday, and another 500 on Tuesday, of which I had spent more than half on shopping, the taxi and food on Wednesday. I had then received another 200 euros in the envelope yesterday. I had paid for the train tickets to and from Wiesbaden, doing laundry once, and one tank of gas. I should still have about 360 euros. That is rather underwhelming for a whole week of work. But I really could have used the money now, especially since there was no income in sight for the foreseeable future. There was also still some money in my bank account. I thought about whether I should return to my apartment again. I had no key, but I could ring the doorbell. Surely they would let me in and probably even be happy to do so. What is the most important thing? My smartphone and my debit card. I don’t really need more than that. If I don’t return, I will have to block the card as a precaution. But I have neither the required emergency number, nor a telephone from which to dial it. And what will happen once the card is blocked? How can I get money? Which address should my replacement card be sent to? And so on.
I walked down to Prinzenstrasse, from there to Johanniterstrasse, and rang the bell at Karl and Marjorie’s place. They weren’t home. I walked towards Hallesches Tor and sat in front of the Amerikahaus on the wall near the bicycle stands. I like the atmosphere there. I lay down on the warm wall and dozed for a while. When I got up again about an hour later, I had a headache and was thirsty. I walked into the library, but because of the air conditioning it was so cold that I soon started freezing. I rang the doorbell at my friends’ place a second time. This time they were home. The children received me with funny faces and shouts. Normally I provoke them during my visits in one way or another, so they were expecting me to make a jovial ruckus this time again. But I felt uncomfortable and had pain in my limbs, so I greeted them soberly. Soon they got bored and retreated into the living room to argue among themselves. Karl had baked a loaf of olive bread and offered me some. I took a glass from the dishrack and filled it with tap water twice. Karl, Marjorie and the three children live in a flat of just under fifty square meters. This is already somewhat cramped. When guests come, tables have to be extended and sleeping accommodations have to be folded out, brute maneuvers that put the entire small household in disarray as if a bear had come in through the door. It was only five o'clock in the afternoon, but spending a whole day outside wears you out. That is why, at the invitation of my friends, I was happy to go into the study and lie down on the squeaky folding bed that was prepared there. From time to time I got up and wrote on Karl’s computer. After that I felt better. I went back to the others in the kitchen and helped prepare dinner. We drank tea and ate the rest of the olive bread with butter and smoked cheese, as well as cocktail tomatoes. Hendrik, the middle child, played with a zombie finger puppet and pointed out the blood spurting from its mouth and eyes. He forgot his dinner and had to be reminded to eat at regular intervals.
I went to bed at eight o'clock sharp, at the same time as the children. I missed my smartphone, where my e-books are stored. Faulkner had recently told the story of an old convict on a work assignment who had been swept away in his rowboat by the strong current during the great flood of 1927 and was trying in vain to find his prison again. I would have liked to read more. Karl’s bookshelf is overflowing. Additional books have been shoved in above the books standing on the shelves. On the top shelf, the books are stacked so high that they look like masonry. The bookshelf leans into the room precariously since the floor is worn and slopes toward the wall. Karl has a whole collection of books by and about clowns. I reached for a volume called “On Clowning” that included lots of illustrated examples. The clowns depicted in it were all wearing horizontally striped tops and suspenders. My favorite part was the plates showing two variations on a comedy act. Underneath one was labeled “right” and one was labeled “wrong”.
Sunday, May 28th
Last entry before I leave Karl's flat. I slept well and feel rested for the day. Today it’s supposed to be hot and dry, so there’s no problem. I won’t have breakfast here. I won’t come back here tonight, either. Above all, I will avoid the southern part of the Mitte district around the Annenstrasse. There are a few people who will take me in at any time. The role of the guest is thankless. But if need be, I can curl up like a dog. Then the little circle that is bounded by my nose on one side and my hind legs on the other will be the only piece of the world that still concerns me. For the time being, I'm not worried.
Translation: Paula Maier
Veit Sprenger (* 1967), director, author and producer, studied music in Hannover, medicine in Frankfurt a.M. and applied theatre science in Gießen. He is co-founder of the theatre company Showcase Beat Le Mot. With this company he produces theatre pieces, performances, art festivals and music videos on an international scale. He co-curated the festival "artgenda" for young baltic art and was a jury-member in numerous contexts such as theatre festivals "unart", "Impulse" and "Westwind". He has been teaching in art academies in Berlin, Hamburg, Lübeck, Gießen, Zürich, Köln, Oslo, Stuttgart and Bern and directing among others at Residenztheater Munich, National Theatre of Macedonia and Von Krahl Theater Tallinn. In 2005 he published his book "Despoten auf der Bühne – Die Inszenierung von Macht und ihre Abstürze". Lately he has also worked in the domain of children's theatre, among others with the price winning pieces "Ragga Hotzenplotz" (Impulse-Preis des Goethe-Instituts) and "Animal Farm" (JugendStückePreis 2014). In 2016 he staged his piece "Enter the Hydra" in the frame of the Berlin Heiner Müller Festival in Hebbel Theatre (HAU1).
#1 January 1st - 8th Jacob Wren
#4 January 20th - 30th Alexander Karschnia & Noah Fischer
#5 January 30th - February 6th Ariel Efraim Ashbel
#6 February 6th - 12th Laila Soliman
#9 February 26th - March 5th Gina Moxley
#11 March 13th - 19th Agnieszka Jakimiak
#12 March 20th - 26th Yana Thönnes
#13 March 30th - April 2nd Geert Lovink
#15 April 10th - 16th Iggy Lond Malmborg
#17 April 24th - 30th Jeton Neziraj
#20 May 15th - 21st Bojan Jablanovec
#22 May 29th - June 4th Segun Adefila
#23 June 5th - 11th Agata Siniarska
We are deeply saddened by the devastating news that Mark Fisher died on January 13th. He first visited the FFT in 2014 with his lecture „The Privatisation of Stress“ about how neoliberalism deliberately cultivated collective depression. Later in the year he returned with a video-lecture about „Reoccupying the Mainstream" in the frame of the symposium „Sichtungen III“ in which he talks about how to overcome the ideology of capitalist realism and start thinking about a new positive political project: „If we want to combat capitalist realism then we need to be able to articulate, to project an alternative realism.“ We were talking about further collaboration with him last year but it did not work out because Mark wasn’t well. His books „Capitalist Realism“ and „The Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Future“ will continue to be a very important inspiration for our work.
Podiumsgespräch im Rahmen der Veranstaltung "Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - Zum 100. Geburtstag von Peter Weiss"
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations ist ein Projekt im Rahmen des Bündnisses internationaler Produktionshäuser, gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.