[Editor's Note: The following is Part IX of an unfinished short story that the author and BlockRadius have chosen to publish in serial form, until its expected completion in Fall 2019].
PART I - Click here
PART II - Click here
PART III - Click here
PART IV - Click here
PART V - Click here
PART VI - Click here
PART VII - Click here
PART VIII - Click here
Three days later, my good friend, who I had visited in Bratislava earlier in the week, and with whom I had been roommates in both Boston and New York, came to meet me in Berlin. He was the first of my friends to have kids, and as a father of two young boys ages 4 and 1, was also the friend that I would least likely have expected to travel with at this juncture in life. Of course, this unexpectedness made it all the more surreal, and his sacrifice – his leaving his family for a few days to meet me – made me all the more grateful. And this sense of surreality and gratefulness, this sensation and feeling, combined to create an effect on me so powerful that I thought in the moment it was the pinnacle of human experience. Like a sun-hot streak at the tables; like looking up in wild fascination at a woman with whom you can’t believe you’re making love; like the view of the infinite valley from the peak at which you gazed up in wonder only yesterday… Surreality and gratitude. As we walked the city, just weeks before the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I told him what I had done the day before in Berlin, and the day before that in Dresden:
“You know that’s the main reason I wanted to come here, to Berlin,” I said. “To see how Germany is dealing with climate change. To experience a ‘sustainable’ city…”
Surreally, in Dresden, two Germans in my hostel dorm room had, after talking to me for five minutes, recommended that in Berlin, I go visit the Futurium. It was free, they had said. And all about climate change.
My friend asked if I had learned anything useful, any German secrets, or new ideas.
“Nothing really new,” I said. “Mostly it was just kids with their parents and really dark, blunt truths about how we’re all going to die and suffer immensely. Need to waste less and invent new technologies. Honestly, I really appreciated it, not sheltering these kids. And why not tell kids the truth? It’s refreshing.”
At Alexanderplatz, my friend lit a cigarette and looked on his phone for a quote from Albert Einstein that he couldn’t remember offhand.
“Dresden was incredible,” I said.“Like a mini-Istanbul, only the shape of the domes are different…”
It was taking a little longer to locate the quote than he had anticipated.
“Dresden...” I continued on in fragments, about how it was at first, so dark and cold, so German and full of ghosts, my arriving at night with only fifteen percent battery to make it to the hostel, but then saved as if by divine intervention by finding myself alive and present on this big pedestrian boulevard, lights everywhere, people, opening onto a big plaza, beautiful old buildings, or new buildings but in the old style, all lit up, a guy with a guitar singing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” two nuns singing “Hallelujah” for a crowd of tourists, as I climbed the stairs to pass over the bridge from Altstadt to Neustadt, the two main districts on either side of the river that translate so purely of heart to Old Town and New Town…
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” Einstein had said in 1946.
“So yeah, Dresden was incredible,” I said again.
Facing the Berlin Cathedral, the Fernsehturm Berlin TV Tower behind it looked like a prosthetic bell tower.
“Looking at some of the architecture, it was like, that was the Age of Man, back then, when people laid brick, stone. The Anthropocene. And now we have moved on into the Age of Machine,” I said of Dresden.
We walked around where the Wall once stood, walked where it still stands; we walked through the Holocaust memorial, down into its depths, locking and unlocking eyes with passing strangers as they weaved in and out of the labyrinth, in and out of sight.
“It kind of forces you to make eye contact with all these people,” my friend said. “Just to avoid bumping into everyone. Creates an interesting effect.”
We looked for a bar.
“The thing about Treblinka was that they didn’t even record the names of the people they killed,” I said. “Think about that shit. Even as controversial as the death penalty is today, we still go massive lengths to record every detail of the process, the appeals, the due diligence, the final meal. They say it’s even more expensive to give someone the death penalty than life in prison. But the Nazis did not even record the names…”
It got dark, as we kept looking, looking for the perfect Berlin bar.
“An hour or two from train to gas chamber to grave,” I read on my phone, as we walked.
We stopped in a cafe to warm up.
“These patterns are found everywhere,” my friend said.
“Fractals…” I agreed, noticing the frothed milk in my latte.
“Spirals…” he said, stirring.
We left the cafe and kept walking, craving beer badly. Surreally, we found a bar called Dresden. From the outside, it looked wonderful inside.
And so there we sat in a bar called Dresden, in Berlin, talking about Richard Feynman’s explanation of sight as the sensation of light waves, about Renee Descartes’ evil demon, and how the goal of both these guys, and the goal of all science and philosophy, after all, is to convince oneself beyond all reasonable doubt that one is not living in a simulation. Or that things and sensations exist, and that whatever exists constitutes reality. That particles and waves can exist in reality. That information can exist and be true or false, and knowledge acquired. That one should not commit suicide. That a distinction exists between living and dying, and that living is more useful. That our most universal intuitions are true, for everyone and everything, forever. That an Old Town and a New Town can co-exist.
“It’s like you need to have sinned so terribly, to commit an act as terrible as the Holocaust, to experience the degree of guilt that Germans must feel now on some level and that is needed to be felt to be able to commit so totally to the path of redemption, the path that the whole industrialized world needs to be following right now,” we sung together. “We have sinned, but we do not yet feel guilty, and so we do not yet act.”
Long story short, it was a grand old time, drinking Berlin beer in Dresden and defining existence with this great friend from college. So grand, it was as if nostalgia had become an afterthought, then. So grand, and yet so simple.
PART X - Click here