Justin in Berlin

Justin Smith at n+1:

I’ve just arrived in Berlin to begin a year-long research fellowship at a well-known Institute for Philosophy. All the really smart philosophers left here in the 1930s, but Berlin retains an unmistakable luster. Come here as a philosopher, and you are assumed to be thinking some very profound thoughts.


Day 1

I’ve rented a furnished apartment in Kreuzberg, and it came equipped not only with the usual couches and tables and IKEA dishware, but also with a Terminator 2: Judgment Day pinball machine. Digital samples of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice bellow you missed, and get out, and of course Hasta la vista, baby. I recovered long ago from the absurdity of Schwarzenegger’s governorship in my home state – that he was vastly less qualified than Ronald Reagan or even Gary Coleman for the same position, that his father was a Nazi, that he himself has been caught on film gleefully doing the Hitler salute. But when, here in the shadow of the Reichstag, the digital message beneath his grim, sunglassed image flashes “Los Angeles, July 11, 2029: Judgment Day,” it is different. Everything is different.

Unlike the pinball machines of my youth, in arcades, where one was required to insert coins to make them work, here at home in Kreuzberg, as an adult, I can simply stick my hand inside the machine and set it for as many credits as I like. I pump it up to 20 credits at a go. Already today I’ve done this 6 times, which means that I’ve played 120 games of pinball. At 3 balls per game, I’ve shot the ball into action 360 times. I only stopped when I realized I was out of crème de cassis and would have to go out for more. If I had played this much in an arcade in my youth (when I did not need crème de cassis), I would have spent $30 in quarters. If you had shown me $30 in quarters when I was 10 I would have had a grand mal seizure on the spot.