Was ist die Befindlichkeit des Landes?

I listen to what is sounding around me right now. It is Friday late afternoon, here in Eastern Berlin. The night just falls, around 5:40pm and I can just hear the sound of the engines accelerating down on the large boulevard which formerly bore the name of Stalinallee – truly quite an architectural dispositive. My mind is wandering to the latest issue, volume 5, of the Sound Studies Bookseries: edited by the great Karin Bijsterveld: Soundscape of the Urban Past.

Moreover I listen to our three kids making playful noises at the other end of our apartment. I remember how I entered this metropolis, now almost on and a half decade ago. And I am rather incapable of remembering how it was for me then to listen to all the diverse and heterogenuous sounds of the city, of the traffic, the sounds of this multitude of people, ethnicities and youth cultures in this hybrid urban agglomeration.

I listen to myself remembering this soundscape of the late 1990s in Berlin and remembering this I try to figure out what soundscape recordings of these years could be an adequate representation for my memories – maybe as part of an exhibition on this city. I remember just how I left this desk this moring, how I pulled on my coat, it is the end of January, a horribly cold and icy day: around 15° below zero have been forecasted. I remember how the sun was so brilliantly shining in an almost cloudless sky today. I left the house and walked to the subway station, I later changed to the S-Bahn – and as I left Friedrichstraße Station I enjoyed the icy sun even more. Everything that moved today just moved a bit more silent, the freezing air almost sticky. With this brilliant sun and the characteristically reduced sonic activity of cold Winter I entered the Sound Studies Lab, the research environment at which I work at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

My mind now wandering back to my desk and my laptop on which I am writing these words right now, I am surprisingly reminded of an impressive documentary film that presented extracts from the historical soundscape of Berlin in the 1990s: Berlin Babylon by Hubertus Siegert. A film that is literally full of the extreme icy air – similar to the air of today 25th of January 2013 –, a film like a picture book of all the main construction sites the reunified metropolis narcistically was so proud of as a sign of its aspired renaissance.

This film had a soundtrack by the classic German Noise- & Avantgarde-group Einstürzende Neubauten. I was moving in my mind for some minutes now. My imaginations affected myself in a thoroughly bodily way, nostalgic and freezing, melancholic and joyful, deeply satisfied; the room in our apartment where I write this article rarely seemed to enter my imagination. I digressed into this captive sonic fiction of the Einstürzenden Neubauten-group and its dandyesque singer Blixa Bargeld; how he sang, interpreting in his characteristic theatrical voice, overly articulate, a question, full of harshness and self-doubt: »Was ist die Befindlichkeit des Landes?«

Die neuen Tempel haben schon Risse
Künftige Ruinen
Einst wächst Gras
Auch über diese Stadt
Über ihrer letzten Schicht

Mela, Mela, Mela, Mela, Melancholia
Melancholia, mon cher
Mela, Mela, Mela, Mela, Melancholia
Schwebt über der neuen Stadt
Und über dem Land