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Project Stalker: Travelling Reader (Part 3)

According to sociologist George Simmel, modern men develop in themselves a blasé attitude in reaction to the alienating condition of the city. Its pace, its space, and its relation to people. Many things passed by without us taking notice – or a mobile phone camera.

Far too often we forget our double roles in the city – an observer and a participant. We lack a tool: to talk, and indeed listen, to connect to the city. Now we don’t see a “dandy” walking his turtle on the main street as a protest to the uniformity of mass culture, instead people humbly hide their ears behind the headphone, probably listening to alternative music, which they only share with their friends and themselves.

But a flaneur can work against it by participating. We can stop by and see which pages they are turning, where they are heading to, and how they share another form of life in reality and in fictions. This will pierce through the city to its other dimensions.

Landwehrkanal, designed by city planner and garden architect Peter Joseph Lenné, was once a busy transportation channel serving as a parallel relief for Spree River. Back in 1850, it served mainly to transport material between the construction sites but it didn’t attract too much attention, probably because it was too far away from the city wall at that time. After World War II, ironically, it regained its importance by transporting rubbles made by the war. Of course, one of the most famous incidences to have happened in this canal is the assassination of two socialist revolutionaries Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht.

Now Landwehrkanal lies calm, parallel to U1. In Möckernbrücke across the canal, I met Giacomo, a student of architecture for the first year, who came from Italy. He was on his way to Hauptbahnhof for an exhibition with Joe Sacco’s comic novel "Palestine". Joe Sacco is an American journalist who has published several alternative comics. In "Palestine", he depicted his own journey to Gaza, to witness lives led in face of conflicts happening in a daily basis.

Giacomo was reading p.62 when I met him. The book is drawn in a style that exaggerated human faces a little bit, such that expression with mouth and wrinkles can be clearly felt but without being overtly noticed. After some thoughtful struggle, he gave me this quote from the book:

“Die Israelis wissen, dass ein Olivenbaum für uns wie ein Sohn ist. Es dauert Sechs bis Sieben Jahre, bis ein Baum gross und stark ist. Vor zwei Jahren fällten die Israelis 17 Bäume, die mein Vater noch gepflanzt hatte. Einige waren 100 Jahre alt.“

Adenauerplatz is named after the first post-war chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer. During the cold war period, Adenauer, who has been adopting conservative policy, centered his re-election campaign around the slogan “No Experiment” – this surely has to do with the tension between eastern and western Germany.

In Adenauerplatz, I met a man who seemed to be unsettled either by what is waiting for him in his destination, or by the story in his hand. A colleague recommended this book to him. It was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The story is about a boy with IQ 68 undergoing an experimental surgery that raises his intelligence tremendously. After that, the relationship between the boy, his family and colleagues instantly deteriorates - for instance, he retrospectively understands the jokes against him. It also alters his understanding of the world and his memories before and after the surgery. He falls in love with his former teacher, but owing to his peculiar situation he can only plunge into a sexual relationship with an artist.

It is a story inspired by Keyes’s own experience; particularly with a student from special education classes who asked whether they could change to regular class if they worked hard enough and became "smart".

It was p.96 that he was reading when I met him, where a doctor says:

Okay, kid. On the table.

Hirzel, a violinist, was on her way to perform for an orchestra in St. Nikolai Church in Spandau. She had just finished an apple and was reading Hermann Hesse’s Narziß und Goldmund.

The story staged in Medieval Germany is about a young man, Goldmund, who escapes the church school (Klosterschule) and tries to find meaning in his life. It turns out to be an adventure, with Goldmund finding in himself an awakening artistic talent and charm to women. He then goes on to pursue this artistic development and freedom, which is contrasted in his relationship with his friend Narziß throughout the whole story.

When I met Hirzel, she was reading p.250, where Goldmund is trapped in a tragic relationship with a mistress and involved in a situation where he is expecting to be killed. Hirzel doesn’t believe this will happen, of course, given the fact that there are still many pages left in the book. Time flies, very soon she must get off the train for her performance in the church. She has 16 years of experience of playing violin, so I am not that worried about her technique. Will she find her freedom and meanings in the church? I will never know. What I did know is that the Christmas Market besides the church is filled with a medieval vibe…

Her quote:
Jedes Leben wird ja erst durch Spaltung und Widerspruch reich und blühend.

In the second part of the U-Bahn reader series, we have met a reader of Adler Olsen’s Erbarmen. This time I meet another one, who nonetheless has almost finished the book. To p.390. The police had found the woman. 10 pages left. What will happen to the girl secretly imprisoned? And what will Carl Mørck find to be the cause of the kidnapping?

The lady whom I met is a big fan of crime fiction, particularly of scandinavian writers like Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø. She quoted:
Merete Lynggagard war dort drin.

p.s. When I asked where she was going by this train, the lady told me normally she goes home by S-Bahn, but today a suicide attempt had interrupted the line. We didn’t know what happened to the person, and she commented: Christmas is a high time for this. Perhaps it’s loneliness?

By Joao Li
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