May 3. 2012.
We take a train to the huge, glassy Deutch Bank at Potzdamer Platz. There’s $50 in Garth’s Bank of America account. The two banks have some kind of agreement which might result in low exchange rates. There are no ATM’s in sight. If we talk with a real teller, Garth’s bank account with accrue charges. It’s supposed to be online only. I pull from my pocket the $200 in money orders that our California benefactor sent. The moment Garth opened the envelope the other day, I got a bad feeling. We take a close look at them now and the bad feeling turns into the pinch of an empty stomach. They say right on the back, “Negotiable only in the U.S. and possessions.” As far as I know, the U.S. doesn’t own Germany. We’ll have to find another way to cash those. It may take a while.
“I emailed my family to see if I could send them the money orders to cash,” Garth says. “Then they could just deposit $200 in my account. They didn’t respond. There’s something weird going on. They don’t wanna do it.”(comment added by Garth – YES THEY DID DEPOSIT THE MONEY AND I RETURNED IT BECAUSE I FOUND ANOTHER SOLUTION!)
I’d send them to my family, but they don’t share a last name with Garth and the city they live in is big enough that no one knows or trusts anyone.
“We’re going to have to leave the Biennale,” Garth says. “I don’t want other people feeling obligated to pay for us and by us food.”
“How was the meeting?” I ask Garth.
The Global Square Project met officially as a group for the first time today. The meeting was supposed to take place at 12:00, but it began an hour late, so I only participated in the first 5 minutes before leaving on other errands.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna do,” Garth says. “It was finally revealed that there is no back-up of the website.”
Theglobalsquare.org has been down for a couple of weeks. Carolina explained that someone in our group needs to provide legitimate ID in order to pay the server to get it back up and running again. But it was in Santi’s name, from what I can gather, and he’s lost his visa. If they’d made a back-up of the site, they could re-create it again anywhere they wanted. But since they didn’t, they either have to get the information from the original server or start all over again.
“This makes me wonder if anyone in this group is really legit,” Garth says.
Making a back-up of a website is very basic. Even I know to do that, and I know almost nothing about the internet.
It was also finally established that none of the people present at the Biennale are actually capable of coding on the level required to build something as complex as the Global Square anyway. Most of them aren’t coders at all, just philosophers.
I’m beginning to think that no substantial work will happen during the Occupied Biennale. I’m not surprised that the Occupiers are mostly useless, selfish leeches; but I am surprised to find that the Global Square people are so incredibly disorganized.
This in addition to the possibility that we may have no space in which to work makes me think I’m wasting my time. There was supposed to be an assembly today, during which the “Space Organization” working group would propose to turn the hack lab back into a sleeping room. It never happened. I have no idea when a decision will be reached about that, but I’m fairly sure that when it is, The Global Square will end up without a workspace.
Garth and I are exhausted. We retreat to the outdoor tent, which is empty now except for a few rolls of carpet. We spread a little piece of foam across the rolls, lie down and fall asleep. When it gets dark, it gets cold. We wake up just long enough to make our real bed in the corner of the tent, then we go back to sleep for the remainder of the night.
May 4. 2012.
“We need to go to the post office,” Garth says. “I finally figured out how to cash those money orders.”
Before anyone else wakes up, we walk down Tor Strasse to a Post Bank, where Garth signs the checks and mails them to Arizona. Bank of America will deposit them in his account. If the checks don’t get lost in the mail, we should be able to access the money within a week.
We eat a 1.30 euro Turkish pizza at an outdoor table, go to the store for yogurt and cereal and head back to the KW.
I’ve just set up my computer and removed my miserably sweaty boots and socks, when Heather comes in and demands that we accompany her to the last day of the Republika Tech Conference. I don’t want to go. I have a lot of other things I could be working on. It’s not likely Garth and I will get in anyway. We don’t have tickets. Heather’s banking on being on someone’s guest list so she can get us all bracelets. Garth doesn’t appear to be any more interested than I am, but Heather continues to pressure us, not for the pleasure of our company, but because she has such a terrible sense of direction that if she were to go alone, she’d get lost. She just wants escorts.
Grudgingly, I pack my computer and put my boots and socks back on. I feel bad for her. I don’t know why. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself.
When we arrive at the conference, Heather goes inside, telling us to act Spanish and argue our way thru security. We don’t try very hard. We’re tired of being in places where we aren’t welcome. We leave, not waiting for word from Heather.
“What do you think?” I ask Garth, as we walk back to the subway.
“I’m just tired of having my time wasted,” he says.
“You know why she invited us, don’t you,” I say.
“So she wouldn’t get lost,” he says.
Just outside the KW, he slows his walking pace.
“I don’t wanna go back in that room,” he says.
He doesn’t wanna be mobbed by people who want their sleeping room back. He doesn’t want to sit thru more posturing on the part of the GENIUSES behind The Global Square.
We continue past the KW, buy some ice cream and beer and sit in the cold, gray park to eat.
“If there’s another assembly about that space, we should disappear and let the rest of them defend it themselves,” I say. “We could just disappear into the woods for a few days and say nothing.”
Garth and I are the only ones who have attended every stupid meeting to speak on the Global Square’s behalf.
We spend a couple of hours doing laundry, sitting on washing machines eating chips, watching people act weird.
Laundromats are my home. The click of the round silver doors, the smell of powder detergent, and the red bags under the eyes of the woman with the frizzy hair are familiar to me. The walls are always plain white. The only decorations are diagrams that show how to wash and dry your clothes; close-ups of dials, buttons and change slots. A woman in threadbare sweatpants sags tiredly against a wall. A man in a straw hat and sunglasses goes form one machine to the other, wafting air out of each one with his hand as tho he’s sniffing the fumes rising from a beaker in a science lab.
Laundromats are for human beings. The tired ones who don’t have the time or energy to tell you what a genius they are. They’re not here to talk to you for an hour about Julian Assange and then say, “It’s so pathetic how all these people attach themselves to Julian Assange.” They just want to get their clothes clean and go home.
A spastic, drug-addled tough guy strides back and forth in his ripped-up leather jacket , humming and spilling his wet laundry all over the ugly tiled floor. He will disappear into oblivion. No one will argue over his latest blog entry in the comment boards of WL Central or The Dissenter.
I feel more at ease in a laundromat with the poor nobodies of the world than I do at a hacker conference or a political rally. I feel like I’m amongst people who have nothing to hide. They are a part of raw life. They are not something smoothed over to create a nice image for the public.
Later on, we’re sitting in the hack lab again, working, when Paula comes in to give us the latest news on “The Sleeping Room Decision 2012.” Helliquin argues with her, telling her, in essence, that non of the people who really want the sleeping room back really matter because they’re wimps. She gets incredibly frustrated, yells, “I’m not the fucking Occupy Manager!” and walks out.
I email Garth, who’s sitting right behind me. “I’m seriously considering going to the woods,” I write. “I don’t want to be the middleman anymore.”
“Let’s go,” he replies.
We pack all our things and leave immediately. Helliquin doesn’t notice. I’m glad. I don’t want to explain myself to anyone. I don’t want to argue with anyone. The Occupied Biennale is turning out to be a giant failure. No one actually cares about anyone else. I know not to expect anyone else to take care of me or provide for me, but these people claim they’re in the process of envisioning a new world which will be better for everyone. If they’re going to claim they’re saving the world, they could at least pretend to give a shit about the people who are right in front of them.
The train jerks forward, headed north out of Oranienberger Strasse. With my forty-pound backpack on, I nearly fall over. Catching hold of the metal pole, I right myself. Two men stride toward us, coming from my left. The big one, dressed in black jeans, a t-shirt and a denim jacket, says a single word in German. It’s not a word I know. Assuming he’s addressing someone else, I ignore him. He and his crony slip around back of me and shuffle around to my right side. He says the word again. I don’t respond. He taps me on the shoulder. I look at him and he repeats himself once more, translating this time: “Ticket?”
I get nervous around authority figures, even if I haven’t done anything wrong. My heartbeat skyrockets, blocking out the voice of logic that says from the dark recesses of my mind, “Who are these assholes? They’re not even wearing uniforms.”
I pull my wallet from my pocket and shuffle thru my Boise Public Library card, ATM card, Alaska Driver’s license, buying time, trying to muster some prize-winning acting skills so I can either pretend I lost it, or play the “I’m a dumb tourist and I can’t figure out how to use the subway” game.
“I have your ticket,” Garth says, pulling one from his wallet.
The large fellow looks at it closely.
“This is not a proper ticket,” he says. “It is not stamped.”
The train slows to a stop.
“Get off here,” the man says.
Garth and I follow the two men onto the platform. Once again, I fail to register the commentary from the back of my head, which says, “Why didn’t they ask anyone else for their tickets?”
I’ve ridden lots of subways and lightrails in lots of different cities. Generally, a metro-employed ticket checker will explain why your ticket isn’t valid. If they can tell you’re from out of town, they’ll explain how the system works and let you off with a written warning.
Garth and I speak English and we’re wearing giant hiker backpacks. We’re obviously from out of town. Way out of town.
“What do we need to do?” I ask. “I don’t understand.”
These two men don’t explain, they just keep telling us our ticket is wrong.
“Give me your passports,” the big man says next.
There is no way I’m giving my passport to anyone. God only knows what they’ll do with it, or what I’ll have to do to get it back.
“We don’t have our ID on us,” Garth says. “We’re staying at August Strasse. Our passports are there.”
“Alright, 40 euros each or I call the police,” the big man says.
Forty euros? First of all, I don’t have forty euros. Second, I wouldn’t give it to you if I did. What kind of metro ticket officer asks for cash? You’re supposed to write me a ticket. Where’s your little book?
“We have no money on us,” Garth says. “That’s at August Strasse too. You can either follow us there or we’re walking away. Come on, Sarah. Let’s go.”
We walk around the two men.
“Hello!” the big fellow says.
We keep walking. Before we can reach the stairs, the two men grab Garth’s backpack and wrestle him to the ground. No legitimate metro employee would do this. It would generate seriously terrible publicity.
“Call the police!” Garth yells. “Somebody call the police!”
There’s no one on the platform. I run to the top of the stairs, where there are more people.
“Police!” I scream. “Somebody call the police!”
Now, I realize I’m screaming in English, but I have yet to meet a German who doesn’t speak it, and the word “Police” is so similar in both languages that you can’t claim not to understand. Still, no one reaches for their phone. They either stand and stare or walk on by.
“Call the police!” I scream a few more times. But these people are hopeless. They do nothing.
I run back down the stairs. The men are still wrestling Garth. He’s trying to get away from them, but with a 40-pound pack on, it’s difficult. He’s pulling inch by inch toward the train tracks.
“Who the fuck are you people!” he yells at the top of his voice. “Get off me! Somebody call the police!”
I run over and grab the large fellow by the arm, trying to pry him off of Garth. He won’t budge. I grab for the phone in his hand.
“Hello!” he says, flinging his arm out of my reach.
I lunge toward him and shove him, but he still holds onto Garth, who continues to yell at the top of his voice.
“Sarah! Get out your camera!” he screams, still unable to get away.
I should have been filming from the very beginning, but my camera is buried. I remove my pack, drop it against a pole, unstrap the buckle, untie the chord, take out the stack of shirts, pull out the daypack, unzip it, dig out the camera, slip it from its case and turn it on.
By the time I’ve done this, Garth has pulled himself within a foot of the train tracks and a uniformed metro employee has appeared. I press the record button. The two men release their hold on Garth. He stands and runs up the stairs and out of the subway.
The big fellow strides up close to me.
“Get out of here!” he says. “Schnell!”
I do know that word. It means “fast.”
“I’m going!” I say. “Let me get my things!”
“Piss off!” he says.
“You piss off! Who the fuck are you that you’re scared of a camera! Huh? Why are are you afraid of a camera?”
“I have rights,” he says.
“I have rights too.”
Like the right to not be bribed and assaulted in a subway station.
Did they let go because they were only a foot from the tracks? Because they were being filmed? Because a real metro employee was present? We’ll never know. Either way, their timing indicates they aren’t legitimate.
I continue to brandish the camera at the men as I gather up my scattered belongings. It stays on as I run up the stairs and out of the subway. Garth and I walk quickly down the road and around the corner to a park. We see no sign of the police. I don’t think the thugs ever called them.
We were targeted. The two men came straight for us the second we boarded the train. They didn’t ask any of the other riders for their tickets. They saw our packs and knew we were foreigners. I should have ignored them from the get-go. Metro employees don’t wear jeans and denim jackets. Even if they were some sort of undercover officers, which would be highly unusual on a subway, they would have shown us some kind of ID so as to ensure our compliance. And they would have written us a ticket rather than demanding cash.
“Everywhere we go, some kind of weird shit happens to us,” I say, as we walk toward another subway station.
“Yeah, it couldn’t be regular metro ticket checkers,” Garth says. “It had to be some weird thugs trying to bribe us.”
Is this kind of thing typical in Germany? Do people know about it?
“Those assholes probably make a shitload of money off of tourists who don’t wanna fight with them,” I say.
Garth and I board the train again and ride thirty minutes north. We stop at the grocery store for food and beer, then we trek thru the woods to our old camping spot. Sun filters down thru green leaves and into the treehouse as we eat our sandwiches. The forest is so much thicker, so much brighter now. It’s quiet. Cool. Relaxing. There are no tedious general assemblies, no tourists, no elitist activists, no dirty dishes. We are not the middlemen in some stupid argument between people who can’t handle their situation and people who are too self-absorbed to be present at their own battles.
Carolina calls. She’s the only person in our group I can tolerate. She’s hardcore, but she’s also human. She doesn’t think that being nice or getting to know someone is a sign of weakness. We tell her we’ll be back in two days, after we’ve had some rest.
May 5. 2012.
The forest is so thick I got lost ten yards from the tent. I couldn’t see anything I recognized. Garth didn’t answer when I called his name, so I walked to the store alone. I bought liver because I wasn’t paying attention. We spent the day in a tree house. Not the usual one. This one had full walls, windows and a door. It was cold. A bird screeched. Rain pelted the metal roof. The front windows reminded me of the windshield of an old car. I thought the treehouse was going to drive away. An embroidered pillow and a pillow with strawberries cushioned the bench. They reminded me of my grandmother. A dark blue towel covered the back window. It hung from rusty nails. It reminded me of pornography.
I had a dream last night in which I was supposed to act in a play. Within the play there was a dance number which I knew well. That was the only part I had rehearsed. But I didn’t know a single line from the actual script. I hadn’t even read it. I can never read in dreams. Everyone else seemed to know their lines tho.
This dream concerns me. It’s a weird twist on a recurring dream I’ve had since I was a child. Usually, in the recurring dream, I’m performing in a dance recital. Everyone knows the steps but me. I go onstage with the rest of the dance group and try to follow along with them. The audience never notices I’m faking it. I only have this dream when I’m doing something I don’t really want to be doing. I usually have it when I get a job and an apartment and try to act normal and fit in with society.
But in last night’s dream, I knew the dance number. I had it memorized. And I wasn’t dancing alone as a member of a group, I was performing with a man, doing a ballroom dance of some kind. I wasn’t concerned about that tho. It was the play, the scenario into which the dance number was supposed to fit, that I didn’t understand.
This dream makes me question my actions, my motivations. There’s something wrong with the relationship between me, the Biennale, the Occupy Movement and The Global Square. I can’t put my finger on the crooked vein, but I can feel it pulsing.
May 6. 2012.
The moment Heather entered the room, I became angry. I could barely speak to her. This new fellow was trying to talk and she completely shut him down with her terse, know-it-all tone of superiority. I can’t believe how self-absrobed she is. Almost everyone at the Biennale is self-absorbed. It’s incredibly disappointing. All they do is talk. They make no effort to live up to their own standards or to act according to their own suggestions. They argue and whine and they care about nothing other than how right they are about everything. They do not listen, they just wait for their turn to speak. If these people, these activists, are our best hope for a better world, we’re all fucked.
I don’t like being observed. I don’t want to be on display. I want to live my own authentic life. What is authentic? Macaroni and cheese with spam.
I had a dream last night that I gave Garth a tour of Gresham, Oregon. This is the house I grew up in. My older brother and I climbed to the tops of those trees and little neon green bugs rode back down to the ground with us. This is Hollydale Elementary School. At recess I ran for the swings because I didn’t want to have to talk to anyone. That’s the house where I lost my virginity. I climbed into his room thru that window. That’s the house I lived in when I sliced my thumb open on a bean can. By that time, my friend Sara hated my guts. Those cherry blossom petals formed whirlwinds in my mind and I drew treasure maps to places where magic existed.
Garth and I will turn into the slugs of the rainy night and slither up the sticky sides of dumpsters looking for food.
“The hackers have finally packed up to leave,” Garth says. “They’ve reached a breaking point. They’re gonna go to C Base or something.”
We may be leaving Berlin soon.
Frank invites us out to dinner at a Persian restaurant. He buys the food and wine. We talk endlessly about everything except the Biennale. Frank and his wife married so they’d be allowed to ride in a car together across Saudi Arabia. They took a long trip across the middle-east in a camper. Iran was Frank’s favorite country. He’s an easy person to talk to and very unusual. The dinner is an incredible escape from everything.
May 7. 2012.
“Can we just leave this place for good?” Garth says at dawn. “We’re like ghosts here. Our project is gone. There’s no reason for us to stay.”
“You should walk with us so you know how to get there in case you have to come to a meeting,” Heather said when they all left for C Base yesterday.
We weren’t invited. We were supposed to remain in this hell-hole, where everyone hates us because of actions taken by our group. Paula and Mona were going to build a wall to make the space between the kitchen and radio rooms private. That wasn’t good enough. Knowing Garth and I had spent our last dollars to come to Berlin and work on the Global Square, knowing we wouldn’t be able to participate if they moved out of the Biennale, and after turning everyone there against us, the group left.
“Sorry it didn’t work out,” one guy said.
Yes. I can see how tremendously sorry everyone really is.
We eat a breakfast of sausage and coffee in a kitchen full of images of starving African children, then we take the S2 north to Buch, where we set up our tent in damp woods swarming with huge, slow mosquitoes and sleep until 3:30pm.