As I hold forth to the morning’s guests, I can sense their misgivings. Moabit is an island in the center of the city, reconnected by virtue of bridges. Industry has fled but left a symbolic warehouse, pharaonic in style, and though the travelers want symbols from me, their guide, they need symbols full of commotion, its own symbol for them. Light flossing the window will not suffice to call this history.
A request has been lodged: may we see the rebuilt palace?
In other words, a construction site. Every day it sheds its modernist scaffold and blasted concrete to reveal baroque saran wrap beneath it. The city works as an exploded frame. Sometimes in reverse. The old town is refurbished. We prefer these symbolic debates, with our love or disdain for the center. That empty courtyard, where “things” “take” “place.” The quarry of air quotes, the mines of of.
But most new developments break ground on the outskirts, dear guests, which is where I’d like to take you next. Notice the two-storey buildings I’ve christened “reverse chameleons.” They negate their surroundings to such an extent that the landscape itself begins to look like the bad mimic.
All my tour moves go unnoticed. My brochures taken for mouse traps. My captions taken for images. “Any questions?” taken for “ask a question to validate the last 40 minutes of your attention.” Nobody knows my name. They see a blank name tag and guess I’m stubborn, but my name is Name Tag, a spontaneous fit of paperwork I filed to conduct an experiment, to prove that I cannot communicate with objects, but must, like subtitles, stand apart, to become the object of absence, gelatinous day seeping through the drain cover.
“But we came to see the stones make lessons of the past,” leaks the audioguide of a frustrated guest. Oddly enough, it’s a guide I recorded. He’s come here to match a necropolis of facts to me, the mouth that spoke it. But a guide must fall away from permanence, like smoke curling off the newly ashed log.
The power is in your hands. Keep it off.