Alexanderplatz is a vast open concrete monster. A square in East Berlin that would have the average Mr and Mrs tourist fiddling nervously with their new top-of-the-range digital camera, and scanning desperately for something remotely photographic.
Visually, there is nothing in this place that instantly jumps out at you. It's central features are its overground and underground station, a bustling intersection from where you can get to just about any other part of the city, and the domineering 'Fernsehturm' TV tower. Only the slow-turning World Time Clock offers any token attempt to lure in the tourists. And that isn't much to look at.
None of this matters. It's not what you see at Alexanderplatz, it is what you feel. Popular opinion is that there is definately a right and a wrong time of year to visit Berlin. I'm glad I went at the wrong time. I can imagine that in summer, Alexanderplatz loses some of it's atmosphere amidst smiling faces eating ice creams and people strolling around in shorts and T-shirts.
In the middle of January, when I visited a couple of years ago, people scurry around with their heads to the ground, hugging themselves against the freezing biting chill. It's as if the Wall had never fallen and you're still standing in the heart-beat of the GDR's communist stranglehold.
Around the Brandenburg Gate area, even on its Eastern side, there is little now that gives you the feeling of how life had been in a divided city. In contrast, when you step out from the U-Bahn station at Alexanderplatz on a cold January night, your senses are immediately assaulted by a realisation that this place holds many untold stories.
Most evocative of all, is what I now think of as 'The Alexanderplatz Chime. ' At first you think it is a church chime, but it seems to be at slightly the wrong octave for that. Then you realise it is a public announcement chime coming from the station and echoing around the square.
There is something almost Orwellian about it, as if it were a call to order of its citizens.
It is a place that has partly inspired the idea for this story. There is something extremely fascinating for me about the former East Germany. Whatever anyone believes politically, in this age of Western governments occupying other countries for their own economic interests ( under the banner of 'Humanitarianism' ), it is interesting that the GDR did the exact opposite for the same ends, by completely sealing itself off from the rest of the world.
To drown or to endure?
To allow the excruciating physical pain to take him, draw him across the threshold from unbearable agony into unconsciousness?
Un-grit his teeth and let his head loll submissively forward into the bucket of cold water. Exhale until his lungs overflowed, with the knowledge that to release his soul to the murky contents of the pail would be preferable to the horrors that hovered above the water's periphery?
Or to endure?
To resurface in a spluttering revival, and return to the single dull lightbulb suspended from a black ceiling supported by black walls supported by a black floor. Return to the wooden medievil-like yoke that cruelly bent his body double and clasped his head and hands like a fairground attraction with wet sponges.
Return to the claustrophobic stench of damp, and vomit and something unmistakably worse.
And return to the pain. It barely seemed possible that the sharp ridges that lined the floor and bit incessantly into his bare feet, could drive him to such physical distraction.
But that was the purpose behind the design of this dank chamber. There was nothing instant and sharp about what was dealt here. It was a pain ruthlessly constructed rather than recklessly inflicted, and targeted as much at the state of mind as it was at the physical body.
It would gnaw away at him, pressing resolutely against the soles of his feet, ever more insistently. Until the rest of his body felt numbed and non-existent and all of his senses focussed centrifugally on the ridges, and the tender defenceless flesh they now seemed to be burrowing into.
Only dimly aware was he of the constant droplets of water that dripped onto the back of his exposed neck, before sliding down into the bucket of water suspended inches below his face. This he suspected was a finishing touch created not with discomfort in mind, but as a final nudge into the hazy environs of insanity.
And it was this he was flirting with now, both physically and mentally.
A wetness had gathered around his feet.
Blood, for sure.
Involuntary shudders brought on by the raw torment. Almost orgasmic spasms of the most unpleasant kind. Such maddening, relentless pain. He tried not to picture how the ridges had probably carved their way through a couple of layers of skin, and were now cutting deeper into the more sensitive layers beneath.
He growled defiance through his teeth.
As throughout, the reaction of the two guards present was to remain motionless and speechless. Any conscience that did lurk at all in their minds remained just that - recessed in their minds. Perhaps the younger of the two, fresh-faced and clean-cut, had betrayed the slightest discomfort at what he was witnessing. The older man though, not a chance. He was the senior officer who had interrogated him, and grown increasingly frustrated by his refusal to inform.
There was no interrogation now. Just a diligent silence. This was no longer a means to an end, no longer a torture to coax answers. It was punishment, devised to run its course and scar in more ways than one.
More blood now, he could sense it soaking his heels and trickling between his toes.
With eyes closed, he could picture the faces of those he'd helped to the other side, across the forbidden line into the 'free' world. Or as his interrogators would have him believe, the land of the 'parasites'. As the "Black Channel" on his television set would tell him, the land of greed and war-mongering.
He wondered where those faces were now. Did they make it undetected through their journey? Were they happy and smiling? Perhaps they were sitting in a park somewhere in their new world, soaking up the spring sunshine and picnicking on food they had previously not had access to, swigging Western brands of beer.
He hoped defiantly that they were. They would not know that he'd ended up here in this approximation of hell, they would not be aware of the price he was paying for their freedom. But it didn't matter, so long as they had made it.
With his eyes still clamped shut by the pain slicing through him, he could see the faces smiling gratefully at him, waving to him.
It was then that he vomited, with nowhere for it to land but into the bucket of water, settling mockingly across the surface. To add more shame to his predicament, he could now smell his own fear and indignity as it floated and waited to smear his face when he next passed out.
His earlier growls of resistance were now a series of short, teeth-gritted screams. His head convulsed, and then plunged into the soiled water in a final surrender.
There had been others before him, some of whom had been left to voluntarily drown themselves. For some reason, he wasn't.
He came round to find himself being dragged back to his cell, the young guard and the officer either side of him with an arm locked under each of his.
He wouldn't have been able to walk it anyway, his feet by now were a mess. Could he ever walk again?
When the door slammed shut, and he was left submerged in the darkness of his own cell, the tears began to stream from his eyes.
Tears of pain, self-pity and fear. But most of all, and to his mild surprise, wet blurry wells of anger. The knowledge that he had been broken, was tempered by a determined resolve.
Olaf Schulze was roused from his doze by the train's jolting decrease of speed.
" Wittenberg. " The voice on the tannoy system was toneless and abrupt as it announced the latest stop.
It was clearly a quiet time of day on this line, something that Olaf noted with gladness as he eyed the small scattering of commuters who had isolated themselves at even intervals along the platform.
So he was mildly irritated at the elderly gentleman who took a seat opposite him. He viewed it as an un-necessary proximity when the rest of the carriage was largely empty. Olaf needed solitude for this journey. Time to take stock, and to think about the days ahead. He knew there would be no better opportunity for this than on board the train.
One of the few beauties of rail travel is that the present is temporarily taken out of your hands, and your brain is left with no decision to make as you are obediently carried to your chosen destination.
It's a limbo period, a tract of non-time where your mind can wander in whatever direction it wants to.
No distractions. Unless an elderly stranger plants himself opposite and starts talking at you.
Dozing off hadn't been part of the plan for Olaf, but he wasn't surprised it had happened considering the sudden and hectic turn of events that morning had taken.
The phone call had been the catalyst, and his girlfriend Kathrin had been far from impressed by its consequences.
" I told you when and when not to call me, " he said quietly into the mouth-piece, carefully watching Kathrin's movements in the kitchen. He'd moved to the safe distance of the hallway. " This is not a good time. "
" I know, " replied a female voice at the other end of the line, " But I have something for you that I thought you might consider an exception to the rule. "
Olaf caught his breath.
" Okay, what are you saying? You have found him? "
" I have found him. "
When the brief phone call ended, he had braced himself for the headache of explaining to Kathrin his sudden departure.
" This is crazy, you have to leave right now? Just like that? "
" I'm sorry Kathrin. This is a matter of great urgency to me. " He bundled a random selection of clothes into an old brown leather suitcase.
" How it can be, I do not know. " She then repeated his glib explanation back to herself. " A person whom you met once before, who you need to know everything about. "
" That's about the sum of it, yes. "
" And you only ever met them the once? "
" Yes. "
She circled him, throwing her arms in the air.
" That has to be the dumbest explanation for anything that I've ever heard! "
Olaf tried to ignore her, retrieving soap and a toothbrush from the bathroom.
" You do realise how that comes across to me, don't you Olaf? "
" Not really, but I guess you're going to tell me anyway aren't you. "
" It says to me that you're seeing somebody else. "
" Kathrin, the person in question is a man. "
" Oh it gets even better, " she spat, bursting into a fiery bloom that he normally enjoyed. " So it's a gay affair is it? "
Normally, but not this morning.
" Please Kathrin, it's a private matter for me, and not one I can even discuss with you. Just show me a little trust on this one, and I promise I"ll be back within the week. "
Well, he thought, promises are made to be broken after all. And he knew it was highly unlikely he'd return in a week.
She folded her arms tightly and turned her head away as he attempted a consolation peck on the cheek.
A little later, when he hauled his case into the kitchen in preparation to leave, he caught her grabbing a couple of his cans of beer from the fridge before pouring them calmly into the sink.
He could only smile. This was a regular act of hers, a quirky and silent display of her displeasure towards him. Still wearing the smile, he leaned against the door-frame and watched.
' Perhaps I will miss you, ' he thought.
Now , as the flat grey and green expanse rolled endlessly towards and past his line of vision, Kathrin was already fast becoming a distant memory. Left fuming no doubt, somewhere back in Leipzig.
He had a picture etched in his mind of her throwing a solitary tantrum in their apartment, but with no audience present to witness the plates shattering against the wall. He smiled again as he pondered how much crockery they'd got through in their two year relationship. Enough to single-handedly keep a department store in business?
A cliched act to resort to it may have been, but even when dodging the plates and cutlery lobbed in his direction, he'd still found her exciting and attractive. Of course, plate-lobbing had always been the next stage on from pouring beer quietly and ominously down the sink.
Right now however, she mattered about as much to him as the elderly man sat opposite on the train.
The elderly man who, it had not escaped Olaf's notice, had twice now peered at him over the top of his spectacles before shifting his eyes back to his newspaper.
Published on writebuzz®:
> Stories & Scripts