A Personal Metro Map

By Christiane Lindner 

 

 

This is a metro map of West Berlin. You can easily tell, because it shows both the western and the eastern part of the city. The map for East Berlin only shows eastern services. It is funny how, just through looking at the maps, you can tell how different peoples’ rights to move around have  been curtailed. The map is proof and reminder of a divided city. It is ridiculous really, if you think about it. A metro map is supposed to show connections, because the metro usually connects people and places. This map, however, is full of disconnections. There are ghost stations, marked with an “x”, where western trains couldn´t stop and soldiers guarded the platforms; and there are lines that just end, where a few years ago they would have continued on. And finally, there is a grey wall cutting through the middle.

 

Just looking at this map makes me realize how insane and absurd that is. How strange it must have been to have passed under a hostile foreign country as part of your daily commute. How was it to know that western trains passed beneath you every day, but you could not get on board?

 

Sometimes I feel like I am too young to really understand what it meant to live in a divided country. I try to imagine, and to come closer by trying to feel a little disconnection and separation myself. But what are our temporary feelings compared to the real past? And what am I trying to get closer to?

 

(Figure 2. By Sophie Seydel)

 

I imagine it must have looked very strange seeing us standing around this station entrance, everybody with their eyes closed and holding on to the railing with both hands. Before I closed my eyes, I caught a few confused looks from people coming up the stairs. And I get it, I´m pretty sure we looked like a weird cult of some sort, trying to feel the energy of the metro. Which is in fact, what we did. Because it runs so close under street level, you could feel the railing vibrate when a train pulled into the station. This is connected to the point I made before: how could you forget that the Western metro was running beneath you, when you can both hear it on the street and feel it when you get close to the entrance? But we heard and felt more than that in this moment. For many of us this was a very intense experience. I still don´t really know why. Maybe it was only because we did something out of the ordinary together that made it special. Maybe it was the feeling of connection through holding on to the same thing, maybe it was listening to the footsteps going up and down with closed eyes.

 

To me, these footsteps of passengers felt like the footsteps of ghosts, like a sound from the past. It changed between footsteps of soldiers going down for duty and the lost footsteps of passengers from a time when the station was still open. How could something completely imagined get so intense? Maybe everyone was deep into their own imagination in this moment, but in a way connected to the rest of the group, experiencing it as well. Maybe that was the beauty of it.

 

Thinking about this experience I wonder if it matters what we connect to? Would it matter, if, in that moment, we thought of something completely unrelated to the topic of the walk? Or to some kind of past that only existed as a construct in our minds? Can the past even ever be something else than a figment of our imagination? The point is, does it matter which past we connect to, as long as we make a connection that means something to us? Something that makes us care about it and keep us interested?