Berlin is a city like a trombone. Its fluidity, its very existence, is owed to a constant va-et-vient. The city has about 3.5 million inhabitants. Loneliness is what most people cite as the reason they feel ill at ease. It is a city caught between innovation and nostalgia for a myriad of different time periods and feelings associated therewith. It is, in short, the epitome of the human condition.
Of Berlin’s inhabitants, it has been said that they suffer from a constant fear of missing out. The sheer mass of events, locations, concerts, museums, happenings leads people to abandon their ability to choose one single thing. More often than not, this indecisiveness or wish to keep one’s options open entails the inability to take a decision at all. One dare not choose one thing over the other. One misses out on everything for fear of missing out on one thing.
Underlying this line of thought, perhaps more driven by vague emotion than clear logic, is the need both to understand others and to set oneself apart from them. If having been at a certain event, having eaten at a certain restaurant, having read a certain book brings with it the feeling of sharing common ground with other people, it also functions as a way of distancing oneself from those that do not understand.
While, in itself, this may seem rather harmless a desire, it may in fact be the root of the sense of loneliness felt by so many of this pulsating city’s inhabitants. Understanding the experience another person has, frees one of the necessity to acknowledge that the “other”, manifested most clearly in another person, exists. The desire to know everything and to have been everywhere comes with the wish that, in so doing, the world is contained within oneself. The individual thus becomes self-reliant and interaction with others is not needed.
It is not astonishing, then, that when interacting with others, what one most likely converses about is this knowledge that is common to all involved. It gives everybody the sense of belonging while freeing us of having to actually consider what one does not already contain, what one has not already understood.
Consider, if you will, contemporary art. The malaise it creates in so many people certainly stems, among other things, from the inability to understand something which cannot be understood, or, to which meaning can only be ascribed by means of over-interpretation. Understanding the contemporary work of art thus becomes not understanding the artist; creating knowledge in oneself that is different from the knowledge of the artist. As if this weren’t uncomfortable enough a tought, as if to make assurance doubly sure, the mind is denied the gratification of having a definitive answer on whether the interpretation given by it of the piece of art is shared by the artist or not. Trying to interact with the artist becomes a painful exercise in knowing the limits of knowledge and having to acknowledge the existence of something “other”.
In this sense, the end of trying to understand would be the beginning of understanding. If one does not embark on this endeavor, one runs the risk of chasing an elusive fantasy of complete dependency, where one cannot exist without the other and where abandonment becomes impossible, but where the master is also bound to the slave.
Berlin is caught in an infantile state. Growing up starts with acknowledging that one is not part of everything and that things exist independent of one’s experience of them. Understanding is a quest for freedom, not for knowledge.
Darkness has covered the skies and worlds upon worlds are showcased through TV-lit windows. In clubs there are people dancing, people are having sex, people are reading, people are eating. I am not a part of their experience.
That is, in the end, not only the condition of Berlin, but also the human condition.