The German word for ‘clearing’ – ‘Lichtung’ – incorporates the word ‘light’: a ‘light-ing’, an opening, an illumination. A luminosity, perhaps? An area cleared, lit up, suffused with or emanating clarity.
One moves through the thicket of the undergrowth, shaded by the trees towering tall above one, obscured. A leave rustles. A branch snaps. Somewhere an animal may be making an utterance. Sight, usually one’s primary means of orientation, is highly restricted – one moves slowly, attentively.
It is possible to see just a little ahead of one: a few steps, a little further perhaps, but without a horizon in sight. The scenery changes, yes, it varies. But it does so incrementally, with an odd sense of underlying permanence. Variation and repetition. The same tree differently, the elementary structure the same. How long has one been wandering for? Days? Weeks? It may be a case of months now – soon one may lose all sense of perspective.
Suddenly, the trees fall away, and light starts streaming through. It startles one a little. In passing from the sombre half-light into the bright glare of sunshine, things take on a new appearance: they stand in sharp relief, outlines clearly drawn. One may blink. One may stumble, even: it takes a while for the eyes to adjust. Then, as they do, space opens up. It is an event. How does one relate this? How does one frame it? Trees all around. No horizon to be seen even now. A gentle bluster amongst the leaves. Speckles of light on the ground. Shifting the balance, one moves one’s weight from one foot to the other. A repositioning takes place. The eye takes in the scenery, moves around, traverses the open vista before it, hits the trees, then travels up – perpendicular, tracing a landscape in the vertical.
The sun rises behind the Café Moskau. We have been out. We have seen streets, cars, parks, buildings emerge out of the blue of the night, together. We watched the Spree’s waters in the Kupfergraben gush past the Staatsgebäude. The very building sporting the façade from which Karl Liebknecht once proclaimed a ‘Free Socialist Republic of Germany’ now houses Berlin’s top business school. The derelict Palace of the Republic, which would have been on the other side of the street, is long gone, replaced by a construction site. A concrete mixing plant rattling away as we walked past, its noise cutting through the stillness of the morning. One portion of the site’s hoarding stood askew in an unexpectedly pleasing way, the marking of the slanted section misaligned with the rest. We assembled before it, as a wide, open terrain covered with gravel opened up before us. At one end of the site, an assortment of bricks made a partition to separate a small space from the main site. A Hi-Vis jacket hung up on a nail, two bricks jammed into a gap to make a ledge. A bright orange safety helmet on top of it: an oddly anthropomorphic presence within an arid expanse, investing the bare space with an air of domesticity. As we moved further along, we heard a car honk at another. Graffiti on Karl-Marx-Allee. Soon the bakeries will be opening their doors.
Thomas Stephanblome, 2021