The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day;
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme–myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme:
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings–on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river;
– Walt Whitman Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
A cold fog has settled in Berlin. It seeps underneath your jacket and reaches deep down in your chest. Every morning I think it might be better to stay inside our cozy apartment writing and reading than to venture outside, but Chris has been in Belfast the last few days at a conference and deflecting all hope of contact with the outside world doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially not when the sun is going down just after 4 pm. All this could combine to make early on-set winter blues a distinct possibility.
So I wrap myself up, throw my laptop bag over my shoulder and ride the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz. This is where I’ve been carrying out most of my research. A large branch of the state library is just down the street, the art library sits behind a church around the corner, and the film archive floats above the square in a beautiful glass and steel structure at its center (the Sony Center). I board the glass elevator with artsy tourists that step out on the second floor where the film museum is located and feel very important as I stay put and watch the courtyard recede beneath me. I’m headed to the upper floors–to the archive and the library. This futuristic building is my time machine.
With newspaper clippings of film advertisements, reviews, and press releases from the 1920s spread out on the white tables of the archive’s reading room, I am transported back a past that no longer seems that distant. In Weimar Germany movie stars may have been a new thing and film premiers unprecedented, but the excitement and the mild derision accompanying them is not such a far cry from what we encounter with the movies today. Some people are willing to take film seriously, most are happy not to, but nearly everyone is eager to see what amazing spectacle its technology will offer next.
Today as I’m working, music and cheering rise up periodically from the courtyard and I notice people beginning to crowd up to the fences around a long stage constructed before the Sony Center’s theater entrance. Countless posters lining the stage inform me that the commotion is related to the premier of the last installment of the Twilight Saga and I’m guessing that the stars must be planning to make an appearance. It’s such an energetic juxtaposition: the thrumming energy from the people below me waiting to catch a glimpse of heroes they know won’t arrive for another 6-7 hours and the fresh faces of now-anonymous starlets in gracefully sloping hats looking eagerly out of the yellowed pages of an Ufa catalogue dated 1923.
When the archive closes early, as it always does on Fridays, I encounter more of this city’s brand of strangeness back down on the street. Weaving my way toward the back of the Christmas market, I run up against an old section of the Berlin wall that they’ve left standing in remembrance of its course through the once-decimated square. This one is tucked away behind a building and not flocked with tourists like most of the sections left here are. Rounding the corner, I’m startled by the contrast between its craggy surface and the modern simplicity of the train station first erected after unification.
Clearly it’s not just the festive Christmas market on the corner that lends the sense of happening to this place. I’m half-curious to stick around and take in the chaos surrounding the Twilight premier, but I have no idea what the timeline is, and I’m anticipating Chris’s arrival in Berlin tonight much more than I would a glimpse of Hollywood glamor. My fingers begin to fumble with the cold, and I find it’s not a hard decision to leave. I hurry down to the underground platform and catch the train home. Speeding off into the future.
- Henny Porten portrait obtained from http://www.oldukphotos.com