blackbirdonline journalSpring 2012  Vol. 11  No. 1
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translation by Brian Henry


In the sentences of my Portuguese acquaintance, Berlin has turned into a suburb of Tokyo. Like the Japanese, Berliners also live in a continuous future. Arrangements for meetings, even with a good Berlin friend, must happen at least a week in advance, private feelings on a certain day are set by the calendar and not—as with me—by daily capriciousness. A Berliner usually knows three weeks in advance when he will be in a good mood and when not. The greatest expression of affection that can happen to a newcomer is if someone changes his plans on short notice, say seventy-two hours before the appointment, because of him. The expression of deepest respect and friendship is if a Berliner budges himself from a planned and predictable future to the uncertainty of  improvisation in the present moment. Cell phones are not a Berlin invention, but they were doubtlessly invented with Berliners in mind. To inform someone where he is, how many minutes he is late and why, to amend precisely devised schedules is the central task of this—so they say—most leisurely of all German cities. But Berliners are also connected to the Japanese by the Zen-like aesthetics of their apartments. For a 1.8-meter-tall Slovenian accustomed to living in box-like apartment units in which there is only a thin space between the ceiling and his bald spot because of the strength of parsimony and small-mindedness, spacious Berlin apartments are a real relief. But the relief does not last long, a feeling of restriction produced by emptiness soon follows. Too much, unbearably too much emptiness. Berliners are the masters of living in emptiness. If they could, they would imprison the desert, the gray desert steppe or the horizon in the morning haze on the open sea in their apartments in the middle of the night. Of course, that’s not because they do not have a sense of interior decoration, but the opposite. The emptiness of the immense walls of Berlin apartments fills the newcomer, accustomed to Alpine baubles which enjoy a craving for Istanbul, at first with a feeling of iciness and impersonality. But after a longer stay in such a place, he finds that emptiness is not the oppressor of imagination, but sets it free. The brown stain on the ceiling suddenly starts to work like an oracle of changing faces, today it has the face of wind, tomorrow the face of a jellyfish, the day after tomorrow a blue angel smiles from the ceiling, the pouring of light over the creaky oak floor becomes more beautiful than the most beautiful Persian rug, cracks in the wall are signals from the invisible German deities straight out of Valhalla or the pulsing of Franz Beckenbauer’s jugular before a penalty kick. Every room has a different emptiness and every one teaches its inhabitant to notice other kinds of details, existences and interpretations. If traditional Japanese apartments, with the arrangement of all the details, abet the idea of transience, the apparently tedious, melancholy and oblivion, in almost every Berlin apartment I have been in there is at least one pile beside the bed, on the washing machine, on the floor next to the toilet, on the kitchen counter or beneath the shoes in the hall. This pile resists my comparison with Japan, turns it into a lie. The books. Wherever you go in Berlin, there are signs everywhere that white beer sausages will never be sushi and rye beer will never be the green tea sencha. The books warn that a Berliner, like a Tokyoan, lives in a continuous future not so that he is annihilated there, but so that he would inscribe in it the future, a thin, extremely elegant trace of memory in one of the Berlin apartments. The mother of this nearly imperceptible trace is the wish to be dust that collects on its edges, an imprint of the edges of a detached picture on the wall turned gray, a bit of adhesive tape, glued onto bathroom tiles. Tiny signs that demand a certain reduction of speed and an eye for the discreet. The speed with which one strides through thick walls, travels on the shadow side of the wind, runs like water among stones and pipes. At breakfasts a shadowy quadrilateral above the shelf with glasses often caught my gaze. What kind of a picture, photo, newspaper clipping did he who had breakfast before me at the same table have hanging there? When the telephone rang again and an unknown voice asked for Herr Shimabuku, Shibayu or Mister Shimabiukiyu or So So, on autumn evenings the silhouettes of sumo wrestlers and heroes of Japanese manga started to rise from the gray replica of Malevič in my kitchen. As if his name would be a metaphor for the link between Japan and Berlin, Mister Shimabuku paid me an unexpected visit months later, shortly before my departure from the city. In the basement of Neue Nationalgalerie, I saw a video with a person who probably recognized other images in the yellow stain above the bed of my Berlin apartment. Shimabuku left the coastal city of Akashi for Tokyo, more than a hundred kilometers by train, to take the octopus a local fisherman had caught that morning for a walk. During the ride Shiba and the octopus saw the outline of holy MountFuji in the distance. When they arrived in Tokyo, Shimabuku pulled a handcart with a cooler, in which he carried tangled live legs stored safely in a bag of water. Every now and then he took the octopus out of the box and showed her parts of Tokyo, city nightlife, introduced her to passersby, a taxi driver and a fish seller at the Tokyo market, then he went with the trunk with the octopus all the way back to the coast, where she had spilled onto land, and gave her back her freedom. The most beautiful scene of the film was the moment when Shimabuku acquainted his octopus with an octopus from the Tokyo market, the first was there just on a trip, the second one’s hours were numbered and would end up later that day on one of the plates of Tokyo. I immediately knew the picture of whose limbs, which were stuck for some time to the hands of the saviour as he released them into the sea, had to be hanging in the quadrilateral emptiness above the shelf for glasses in the kitchen. I was daydreaming about them both, as now, months after my departure from Berlin, someone entirely unknown might be daydreaming entirely the same thoughts while a telephone is ringing and unknown voices are asking him about Herr Šteger, Mister Stigel, Stayger or the like. Who knows where Shimabuku’s octopus has swum to. If I lie in an entirely empty place long enough, maybe she will swim through the wall to me. Together with Shimabuku we would make a pact of daydreamers on the Berlin-Ljubljana-Tokyo axis, intertwined lovers of empty walls and enormous possibilities for discreet, almost invisible connections.  end

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