Art vs. the World

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Untitled I find Berlin overwhelming. I experience the city as one giant gaping wound, a trauma. You are walking down the street and there, at your feet, are two cobblestones that have been replaced with tiny memorials to people once living there, who were shipped off to Auschwitz and killed. Here's a memorial to Peter Fechter, the East German kid who tried to get over the Wall and was shot dead by border guards. Here are bullet holes in the side of a building from street-to-street fighting that doesn't seem all that long ago. Here's the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church far in the former West of the city, bombed to smithereens by an Allied air raid and left that way as a memorial. See the empty hole where the rose window once stood? Is there an emptier hole, a more desolate monument to destruction, in any city on the planet?

Every street in Berlin is ghosted. Every memorial is plastered in 20 layers of tragedy, heroism, and shame. To spend time in Berlin right now, to live here, takes a skill for living in the moment, for bracketing the past, that I do not sufficiently possess. I walk around the city in a daze, waiting for the next historical shock, cringing at the prospect of what memorial might be waiting for me around the next corner. I admit, of course, that it is possible to experience the city of Berlin in a less traumatized way. People do it all the time. Good people. Just not me.

Walking around Berlin, I simply did not feel a great need for art. When I poked my head from the FischGrätenMelkStand installation and gazed out at the sights of Berlin, the installation couldn't measure up to the meaning and impact that was being achieved on every street and in every square. Reality was a better and more meaningful work, here in Berlin, than anything contrived by the cleverest of artists.

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