January, 1st, 2017, it’s 7am and I’m walking alone on Unter den Linden. Deserted, quiet, beautiful, in spite of the countless cranes. It’s still dark, dustmen are already cleaning the streets. Here and there, a sleeping bag in a corner. Homeless people are still sleeping rough today. There’s shattered glass everywhere and fireworks residues all over the streets. It smells like manure and gutters, and it’s cold. The Russian flag silently floats on top of the Embassy’s building. Some candles and posters burn in memory of the Alexandrov Ensemble which lost so many members in a plane crash last week. Eighty lives that couldn’t really be mourned in Europe due to other news. Because all lives are not equal. Because you can die in the streets or of hunger anonymously and without anyone to care or you can be a space princess and be mourned as if you were some kind of real life Goddess. You can starve to death in Darfur or overdose in your 100-room castle if you’re a rockstar and only one of those two will be remembered. Because we don’t celebrate all lives equally, and we feel more sorry for the rich and famous than for the needy and anonymous. I can’t help but wonder what our social media would look like should be mourn each tragedy as much as we do the death of a rock or film star.
Anyway, first day of the year and my eyes sting from the lack of sleep. I saw some friends the night before and we laughed and cried and talked and sang into 2017. I slept two hours, and now I have to report on the fact that all went well in Germany. The Brandenburger Tor stands majestically in front of me. It’s still dark. I get into the TV studio. We have a lovely conversation with the cameraman and it all goes by quickly. The lack of sleep makes me stumble and shake through my report. Not my best one, and I must look poorly in spite of the make up. But when it’s done, I’m out again with the immense privilege to enjoy an empty Berlin all by myself.
In Pariser Platz, facing the Brandenburger Tor, I take that time, that precious time when you feel blissfully alone in the world. I finally have time to contemplate what is around. I look at this symbolic place of Berlin. I look at my own flag, my own home, just next to it. I watch those bloody concrete blocks supposed to protect us from another mad lorry. It looks awful near the Brandenburger Tor, completely spoils the view and makes one feel anxious. Are they necessary? They’re some kind of protection against some kind of threat I suppose. But they also embody the end of our safety more than an attack itself. As do machine guns and military vehicles everywhere. A concrete block won’t stop a mad man, will it? It will stop a specific action at a specific spot, but we can’t all walk in bulletproof bubbles, in a bulletproof world, can we?
Anyway, I must look for the beautiful right now, and I find it. As I stare at the empty Parisez Platz, birds start singing. It’s life, all over again. They sing through the silence as the sun rises on the other side of town. Behind the Fernsehturm. I can go home now, I saw the awesomeness of life, taking over, again, and that is the clearest answer to terror: darkness never lasts.
I wrote after each attack that happened in “my” countries” on that blog. of course I felt the need to write about Berlin. I did at the very moment it happend, I just couldn’t, because I was already reporting on it and already not getting any sleep. But that’s how I experienced it, as a journalist, and as a citizen of the German capital.
Berlin, December 2016th
I have been writing for most of the day so I don’t know what is left to write – everything, perhaps. From last night onwards I felt I needed to write. It started shortly after 8pm, when the lorry shattered all those lives. Here we are, I thought, it has happened. No one I know was surprised by Berlin being attacked, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt you to the core, when the city you love, the people you know, are under attack.
As a journalist though I have the ironic privilege to pretend I’m just dealing with facts and to keep busy fulfilling some kind of a mission as an informer instead of thinking much about what is unfolding right now. So as soon as I understood it was yet another horror, I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep for a while. First, I made myself available to my employers. It’s that moment when you’re on the lookout for who knows what and who will need you. It’s a bit of a “before the hunt begins” start of feeling, when you know you’re going to need all the adrenaline in you to sustain the race but it hasn’t started just yet. It’s the perfect cover for not taking time to process whatever is happening in your life, because you’re in such a rush. So I make a few call, and immediately … jump into the shower. This summer’s attacks taught me to be prepared to not eat properly or sleep for several days in a row, and a friend having told me at the time that he had had literally no time to shower during that whole dreadful weekend, I knew I needed to be ready.
When I’m back on the laptop there are already five media waiting for feedback. Some years ago I would have been completely unable to manage the amount of stress implied. But you become very factual, and in the end of the day one can become quite organized about downing one thing after the other. As I scribble down the few information and spread some colour on my face for the first live report, I’m on the phone giving a radio report. “Automatic pilot”, they say in my own language.
Canadian newspaper wanting me to go on site immediately. I don’t want to go all the way there just now. It’ll be cordoned off and I have to write about it already. Plus I don’t want to see broken glass and blood on the pavement if I can avoid that. But they take an article anyway.
It’s 3am already, I’m due to give a live report at 6am on site. It’s not worth sleeping anymore, so instead I write two more articles for a magazine I like to work for. Better to write when the brain isn’t too foggy (yet). 4:30am, I head to the site of the attack, the beautiful Gedächtniskirche. I’m so grateful I’m working so that I have no time to be sad. Outside, it’s still dark and there’s an icy, cutting wind. There are other people outside in the public transports. People heading to work, unfazed. I’m scribbling away on my notebook, wondering whether I’ll be able to utter those words without looking at the notes when on the spot. Once there, of course, everything is cordoned off. I arrived much earlier, so it doesn’t matter, I walk a mile or two to reach the camera team. The scene is surreal: the road, cordoned off, is icy and full of journalists, all of them looking sleep-deprived and looking for their camera team.
At that time, all the media have rented a “spot”, which means it’s an external provider which will deal with image. All you have to do as a journo is find the spot allocated to you, and preferably reach it within the 10 minutes slot for which it has been rented at high cost. Mine is just in front of the Berlin zoo. A dozen cameras are lined up, it’s the first time I see so many. Another journo stands next to me: “Looking for yours?” he asks. “Yup…”. “Just shout out your media’s name and the cameraman will turn his head”, he advises. Huh, not sure about that. I prefer asking quietly, and find mine. We’re two minutes away from my live report, he tells me to take place. I’m freezing, the chief editor calls me, am holding the phone with my left hand and the micro in my right, and the cameraman is fixing the earpiece in which I hear the production room in Paris and the news report already starting. “You’re on in 5 seconds!” says the earpiece. I hang up, put my gloves and try to look awake as I stare just under the light that blinds me. On my right, someone is giving a report in German. On my left, in Russian. Focus, focus, focus. I give mine, in French, and see the steam going out of my mouth as I give the little information I have to share at this stage. One down, one to go. The cameraman is freezing. I go grab us some hot drinks. It’s pretty hard to find at 6am in a cordoned-off sector of a town. I get a tea and a coffee, courtesy of a nearby five-stars hotel, whose manager asks me not to spread the word to other journos.
My colleague arrives, she can do the next report, so I just have one radio report to do. It’s quiet in the streets save from the occasional siren but it’s too cold. I try my luck to the hotel again. I spot the manager and ask him whether I can isolate myself in a quiet corner of the lobby for five munites for a radio report. He tells me to follow him and opens a whole (heated) conference room for me. I sit down, still not feeling my fingers and see “Massachusetts” on my phone. I’m connected to the radio studio in Boston and hear the same questions with an American accent. I report the facts, again. Then I thank the manager, and head back home. In the public transports, people read…books, magazines. Nothing reminds of the attack. I love that, I love them all, all those people I don’t know. Just for being alive and for not giving a care in the world about terror. At the station near home, I get today’s papers at the shop where the man calls me “Die kleine Dame”. I ask him how he feels after the attack. “Na ja, was kann man machen? ist einfach so.”, he says, shrugging his shoulders. I want to tell him I love him, for saying just that, for being such an Echt Berliner. It took me so long to understand this pragmatism. It is the only clever response just now. I head home, phone glued to the ear, planning the next report, and flicking through the papers. “In our heart”, is one of the title. Terror is here, no longer in other cities. I just can’t allow it to sink in just now. Anyway I won’t be afraid because it won’t help in any way. As soon as I’m at the door, another call. “Can you be on site for your next report?”. I’m just back. Key in the door. ” errr…sure”. I have time for a cuppa so I come in anyway for a five minutes break. In the meantime, my two articles written in the night were published, just two more to go. I will write them after those reports. Key in the door again, phone rings. “Nah in fact we’ll just Skype, couldn’t book the cameras”, I hear from the Paris production. Blessed are those busy cameras. Door opens again. Home. The sight of my comfy couch. I could sit there and write from… No. I still can’t sleep anyway, this adrenaline rush can go on for several days, I experienced it last summer already. It lasted more than six months when I was volunteering at the LaGeSo and at the train arrivals. It’s 4pm now, I sit to write the last two articles of the day. I had to refuse some telly and radio work, just couldn’t possibly fit it in the schedule. In the evening, I’m back on site, next to an Australian TV crew. The journalist is reporting for the breakfast news back home, I’m reporting for the late night program. In between two reports we talk about our job and laugh about this or that aspect. We laugh, in spite of the tragedy that took place a dozen meters away from us, because what can you do anyway. It’s no time to cry, just yet, it’s time to inform.
This was just the first day. All those which followed were the same, and Christmas break became a long forgotten memory. I did more reports, I managed some, struggled for others, worked at 200 miles an hour, almost failed to connect with the cameraman once and went on air only two seconds upon seeing him, still fixing the ear piece and having
no idea what I should say but talked anyway to interview people in German while live on the telly, all new experiences I tried not to freak out about. I juggled the media I worked for, all the time not allowing myself to think. Now that it has quieted down it leaves me with so much more information about my job and about my abilities and limits to perform it. It taught me what I loved about it (and it’s not being face camera) and what I didn’t (definitely the voyeurism part). I got to meet a dozen new people working at the same, weird, reporting job. It taught me that I could work well under pressure, and if obviously I would never wish to report on anything as sad as what often originates that rush, I manage the pressure nonetheless, and reporting fairly on such events is one way to deal with the countless tragedies that affect our world.
We’re in 2017. The world is still spinning mad and bringing its share of horrors on a daily basis. But today as it always does life also went on: the birds sang on Unter den Linden, the sun rose behind the Fernsehturm and it was otherworldly. It’s midday now, and I might do just what my friend told me yesterday evening when we parted: “For the New Year, how about you take better care of yourself and sleep a bit more?”