5 – The Freest City in The World

Diogenes plodded forward.  It began to snow.  He cast a glance at the lake’s leaden waves dividing, nudging restless refugees on rafts together.  The wind carried a cold nip with new snow.  Trees razed between the city and its camps, allowed the wind to rage unabated over the soft earth landfills, and over its bulldozed slope, demarcating the Berlin of buildings from its ring camps.  Old Berlin stretched down rows of praying mantis streetlamps haunting rusted tracks, paralleling demolished buildings, which barely survived Berlin’s latest incarnation.

As Diogenes walked along, balancing on the tracks, he knew he was being followed. A snub-nosed girl in baggy pants pressed close behind, shadowing him. The dogs ran forward, sniffing.  Diogenes looked back.  Sparrows winged back and forth in the steel gray dawn.  He shivered.  It snowed harder.

The girl ran forward and spat near Diogenes’ feet.  Diogenes turned and told her in English that he was too tired to fight her and to beat it.  She refused to answer and kept skulking behind him, kicking cans and refuse.  He led the dogs further toward the center of town, through Charlottenburg, and, at length, to the former site of Zoologischer Garten, or “Zoo”, where trains once flowed into and out of Old Berlin, to its last incarnation as the German capital.

A blond boy played a screechy violin as thousands milled around in an open-air market.  Kudamm’s old storefronts were bashed in and a trade in potatoes, wurst and beer carried on irrespective of the lone figure propped by a walking stick, surrounded by dogs. The snub-nosed girl finally slapped Diogenes in the nape of the neck.

“What’s the matter?  Never seen a potato before, shithead?”

Diogenes looked at her ugly mouth, her skin pocked and scarred by a dreadful accident, but her face would have been ugly anyway.  She walked like a man, puffing a shag cigarette rolled in brown paper and spat.  A thick cloud of black smoke drifted between them from the flame of a grill frying fatty wursts.

“I’m looking at one right now, bitch!” Diogenes said, trying not to slug her for striking him.

“And what did you come here in the first place for, t’ import fleas?”

“Are Berliners always this bitchy?”

Always?” she glared at him mockingly.

“You know what I said.”

“I speak German and I don’t talk to dogs or smell like one.”

“But you smell of dead pussy.  Now get out of my way.  I’m tired.”

“Look everybody! We got an American who walked through Immigration, with dogs!”  She yelled out, now in German.  “Is he better than the millions out there?”

No one listened.

“I said! Look everyone … Got an old man here who wants to import mange who bribed the border creeps, ein Arschloch!” She kicked over a table full of pumpkins.

“He’s probably a Grabmaler, a cocksucker fairy come to tell us how to fuck Das Kapital’s dog!”

Diogenes jerked around when he heard Grabmaler’s name through her German, “A what?”

“Leave the old guy alone.  He passed the Station.  He’s already been questioned.”  A young man cried, with thick glasses and a very pale face who had watched, irritated and tense.

“And look, you stupid girl, you ruined my pumpkins!”  The vendor seconded.

The girl wheeled around and punched the spectacled young man in the nose.

Responding quickly, a group of young men and women with black arm bands jogged over, restrained, then walked her away, a few staying behind to upright the cart.  The snow flurried more furiously.  The young man dabbed his split lip with a ragged handkerchief and approached Diogenes.

“Is this your first time here?” He asked, in English

“I was here decades ago.”

“Oh.  Well, Berlin has certainly changed since then.  So has … the world.”

“Did she say ‘Grabmaler’?  Diogenes asked, quizzically.

“She might have well said that.”

“I knew a Grabmaler.”

“I guess we all have once in our lives.”

“No, he’s a real man!” Diogenes insisted, crankily.

“Well, I understand you’re upset.”  The young man murmured, still dabbing his lip.

“I was told that Berlin is ‘The freest city in the world’.”

“By whom?  Mmm.  It’s hard to say.  One never hears what is going on in, say, Bangkok or Tokyo.  Even New York.  It’s rather … speculative.”  He said, reaching for his pronunciation.

“You still have trade, an economy?”

“Yes.  We creak by.  It’s our independence as Berliners from ethnic Mafias or Nationalists that we’re proud of.  Yet Berlin can be dangerous now.  More so than it once was.”

“Like an idiotic girl slapping and ridiculing me publicly?”

“That should mean nothing to you.”

“Why more dangerous?”

“There’s a brutality to our everyday life that some rationalize as our rigorous anarchism.”  He said, polishing his glasses.

“Well, it’s really two cities now.”

“More, if you count all the ring camps encircling Berlin.”

“What’s your name?”  Diogenes asked, wondering if he had been impolite.

“Georg,”  the young man replied, petting one of the dogs.

“My name is Diogenes.”  He too petted a dog.  They were becoming familiar to him.

“Do you always travel with dogs?”

“No — they were to be delivered to a meat factory near Wannsee and the driver let them go.  They followed me in.  We just met.”

“Are they hungry?”

“I guess.”

“We should see that they are fed.  Here’s a few coupons.  Let’s barter up some cheap wurst.”

“I still have some sausage left.”  Diogenes began to unroll his now moldy cloth.

“Save them.  We’ll have fresher meat at my apartment.  Do you want to come to my place?  It’s warm there.”

“Sure.”  Diogenes said, taken back by his kind offer.

Georg bought a dozen wursts for the dogs which they wolfed down, tails wagging gratefully.

They walked damp streets under somber gray mist as snow melted over ash and gravel.  Noise crackled from speakers hung on streets lamps, spouting German ashcan rap and garbled propaganda.  The dogs trotted to garbage cans and sniffed in gutters.  Georg fell silent, smoking a cigarette, a pamphlet in a leather folder under his arm.  Diogenes’ legs nearly buckled from fatigue as they wound along the boulevard, but Georg reassured him they’d be home soon.  Signs scrawled on sheets hung from windows.  Old men smoked hiding in tarpaulin shacks propped by tires on traffic islands.  Ragamuffin hags dropped strips torn from Nationalist flags to the pavement.  A one-legged rummy swung his flesh-tone limb by rope from a window frame to a heap of snowy glass.  Slowly the snow changed to rain and they were soaked to the bone as they arrived before a courtyard behind a large wooden door, which Georg unlocked.  They entered a larger courtyard.  Georg suggested he could leave the dogs there and Diogenes insisted on handing them the rest of his sausage.  They labored up a stairwell overlooking the courtyard to the top floor, when Georg took out an skeleton key and opened his heavy door and led Diogenes into his apartment.

He lit a fire under a furnace with old newspaper and hung up his damp leather jacket.  Diogenes lay down on a pillow, scanning the papers and a printing press dominating the room. Georg brewed coffee and stood motionless, purveying the proofs of a pamphlet.  It already felt like noon — as the light slanted through dusty windows, across yellowed papers and Georg’s iron press, yet Diogenes felt he had come to the right place and feebly thanked Georg, still absorbed in his proofs.

Particles of dust danced in slanting rays of light.  An air of work and honest intellectual solitude pervaded the apartment.  Diogenes watched the stove and studied its blue flame’s yellow center.

Georg threw a pamphlet on Diogenes’ lap entitled: Die Leute und unsere Freiheit: Berlin. Diogenes remembered enough German to understand it was on politics.

“I’m not political and … my German is rusty.”  Diogenes apologized.

“I am concerned with politics.  We each must be, to build ourselves a city-state.  We have to run our own economy, our own security force, and make decisions daily which could turn our isolation into a siege.”

“I am concerned only with survival.”  Diogenes said.

“So are we.  Politics is our survival.  The survival of our city and our lives.  We must remain freely organized.”

“Were the black-arm banded people who took away that ugly girl your police force?”

“We have no police.  They’re volunteers.  We all are called on to assume a week of security duty every fortnight.  We have heard how bad it is in New York, Paris, Tokyo.  We’re trying to keep The Collapse out while allowing creative refugees in.  Like you,”  he said, offering him thick Turkish coffee floating in a tin cup.

Georg sat down to his desk, smoking, reading, pen in hand.  Night eventually called for the lighting of lamps.  Diogenes dozed off.  Georg sat before his desk while the stove smoked by his left leg.  Hours passed.  Georg boiled lentils for soup.  Finally with the soup done Georg readied the press, awakening Diogenes.  He looked at the strange old man — his rough skin and white bristled chin.  Georg knew he was a special case, his past could conceal crimes, or just vagabondage.  But he felt that Diogenes and his dogs appeared almost prophetic and quirkily reassuring.  He had doubled his cloak like an experienced street bum — as if he had been sleeping all his life in subways or on doorsteps.  Yet his face, even in sleep, had something of a presence, of a skewed, homegrown greatness.  He smelled, of course.  He had strands of dog hair on his wool coat yet his brow had in sleep a guiltless look, which spelt either arrested development or bizarre nonconformity.  And he could sense already that Diogenes reserved judgment as he heard things explained, as if he were a chronic disbeliever.

He gave the old guy a soft kick.

Diogenes looked up.

“You wanna wiener?”  Georg smiled.


“Nothing.  I’ve cooked lentil soup and I have to run the press.”

“Well, sure.”

Diogenes rubbed his eyes and admired the night sky through filthy windows.  He could barely stand, his legs having stiffened.  Georg helped him.  He brushed the soot from the window and saw torches lighting the streets.  Smoke rose from their bright, chaotic flames and shadows danced on the building faces.  The dark austerity of Berlin’s architecture finally dawned on Diogenes.  The fractured stones and fissured Prussian friezes, gray on gray, with ghoulish torch shadows leaping were oddly beautiful.  Georg gazed out the window too.  Diogenes finally felt at home for some unaccountable and unconscious reason.

“Here’s your soup.”


“And what do you envision in our inky skyline?  Is there something here which went extinct in New York?

“A measure of sanity.”  Diogenes smiled broadly.

“It’s quite a city, Berlin!”  Georg said, proudly, sipping his soup.

“What do you hear about The States?”

“Violence.  The Collapse.”

“That’s all you need to know.”  Diogenes grunted.

“We need to know more.  It’s impossible to get a word.  We’re bored in our isolation.  We have a few short wave radios in town.  One bent satellite dish.  No transatlantic cable news, of course.”

All the satellites are falling back to earth!”  Diogenes laughed, “What do you know about the Collapse?”

We know it was engineered by a private cartel of financiers after they borrowed a huge amount of money.  It seems they finally wrecked the major currencies first by electronic counterfeiting, then by hoarding gold and silver, then hiring thugs, mostly drawn from international drug traffickers to undermine any governmental or public oversight.  Our view is that the international economy was already stretched beyond its capacity well before there was any organized tampering.  Someone just gave a rotten structure a kick. Add the repeated natural disasters from global warming — whole countries laid waste by hurricanes, floods, many coasts submerged, rivers drowning millions.  We skuttled the world.”

“That’s what Grabmaler said.”

“Who?  Oh that!”  Georg shrugged.  “He the mythological boogie man behind it all, right?”

“What?  How have you heard of him? He is not mythological!”

You claim you have met him?”


“What does he look like?”  Georg chuckled.

“Gray hair, nice clothes, big shoulders.  I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry.  It’s like an adult claiming to have met or worked for Father Christmas.”

What do you know?   I could lay out his whole operation for you.  I did work for him.”

“Well, maybe you know something we don’t.”  Georg shrugged it off, laughing as he washed dishes in a tub.

“Do you always refer to yourself in the plural?”  Diogenes joked, handing him dishes.

“If you can believe you met a Grabmaler, why can’t I speak in the plural?”

“O.K.  Well, what happened here, in Germany?”

We’re so much farther East!  Russia never became civilized, really.  Neither did Ukraine.  Poland, almost made it. The once-called Third World, with its ethnic slaughter, religious hatreds, local mafias, the fractioning of states, an ever-growing run on natural and economic resources finally became global with the collapse of the first. The UN scrambled to patch up the black holes of starvation and chaos then went bankrupt.  World order, the phrase once went.  Since the EEC never finally unified — but, with dropping borders, the East and the South on the move, it gave way to horrific jingoism and Europe fell like a sack of potatoes.   Or wurst.  When trade, industry, the money to finance technology – everything finally blew.  And then, with that concerted kick — we too collapsed.  Germany followed the U. S., into the same trough, down the same sink hole, with a difference … “

“What happened in Berlin?”

That’s my point.  Berlin’s population exploded before and after The Collapse.  Everyone West of the Urals and North of the Persian Gulf seemed to migrate here.  There were anti-immigrant mini-wars.  Right wing political reaction.  A right-wing splinter group took over the Reichstag and declared an exclusively Prussian State, from the ashes of old Germany.  Yet they only ruled fully in Berlin.  After three years of riots, and violent attempts to “purify” Germany by driving out millions, gunning down hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the right-wingers imploded.  Murdered each other.  Then the vacuum, a lull, a dusk, until we occupied the Reichstag, torched it, and we accepted this … dis-order.  Trying to work with it now.”

“You mean you, the Anarchists…”


“Are you an Anarchist?”

“I suppose I am.”

“Why would you advocate anarchy now?”

“Anarchy is just another theory.  No one lives by theory.  But we need some way to keep our typically German character from destroying itself. I can say this because I’m German: the German temperament loves conformity.  Look at the Prussian Nationalists!  And having ‘ideas’, making decisions for others, displaying ‘creativity’ by forcing on others the right idea, about how to do things — is nightmarishly German.  A deep need for order, for taking control.”

“But that’s a contradiction”

“Of course.  To force conformity, to influence others wearing the guise of inventing the bright idea –is quite typically German.  We design our own hells of rigid control under someone’s bright idea without balancing negative concepts — which is what anarchy is – no external control — no solution to the Collapse but more life, somehow to develop …”

“Your English is developed.”

“I studied at Oxford before it shut down.”

“England now?”

“A Necropolis.”

“What is this about developing anarchy?”

Practicality. This printing press.  Making readable prose.  And working to keep Berlin from decaying further into isolation.  Or from going mad with fear for our miniature economy and our invadable city.”

“Who is going to invade it?  The immigrants?  The Second City?”

“Well, perhaps this arms-merchant, drug-lord invading Prague now.  He’ll either move on us or, its rumored, Paris. He has the means to do both simultaneously, anyway. But, about the ring camps.  We’re not proud of them, believe me.  The city just cannot hold nor house, twenty six or seven million people.  But we help many.”

They get to pick over your garbage?  Haven’t you set up two castes or classes of homeless: those we can live among the buildings, and those shut out?  Just open up the city, man,  You’ll help everyone!”

We can’t!  That’s the stark, lamentable truth and the horror of it.  Berlin, however, is porous.  There’s been no Wall for decades and we choose to keep it this way.  The outsiders either are judged dangerous or choose to live in ring camps rather than rot or freeze on city streets or in utterly jammed squats.”

“I don’t believe you … “  Diogenes said, crunching on a stone hidden among the lentils.

“Then you haven’t seen the whole city.”

“Of course not.”

“Those are suburbs!”


“Compared to how many of us live inside.”

“No, I don’t believe you.”

“That’s fine, you’ll catch on about Berlin on your own.”

“I know printing.”  Diogenes said, running an admiring finger across Georg’s press, beside which he now stood.

“Go ahead.”

“I worked counterfeiting money.”

“I figured as much.”


“That’s what Grabmaler is said to do in our folk tales.  If you haven’t just streamlined your story, you needed to run this far.  You must have done something, political.”

“No. I hate politics.  I am apolitical.”

“Not any more.”

“What do you mean?”

“You left your country when almost all transatlantic shipping has sunk or rotted.  You must have done something underground.  You come here because … you heard its ‘free’.  You talked your way in.  Just coming to Berlin now is political.”

“Oh, it was underground all right!  Though not in your sense.  Yet I can’t see how any of it was political.  I counterfeited as a private livelihood.  I used to work as a clerk in a small company before its shares were sold.  Then I was lured — I guess that’s an apt word — into counterfeiting for Grabmaler’s cartel.  His whole operation went on in an inverted skyscraper.”

“Then you know printing?”  Georg asked, brushing away his story.

“I just said that.”

“Well, I’ve just completed this essay.  You might want to look over the proofs.  And a play is upcoming as part of our political education program.  We act out historical events.”

Diogenes wandered over to the press again dragging his fingers along the oily iron, inspecting the boxes of type, wiping his hands on a towel to inspect the essay which Georg handed him.

“Where did you get this ancient press? It’s beautiful!”

“Yes, it is.  During our first weeks of liberation, after the Nationalists were defeated, amongst the ruins, we got it from a gang who plundered a museum.  Museums can’t be maintained anyway — so we bartered for the thing.”

“It’s more majestic than a computer.  How does it run?”

“Let’s talk while we work.  We have a whole night of setting type before us.  Meanwhile you can answer my original question about New York.  Do you want to help?”

“Sure, and you can answer mine about why simply escaping or coming to Berlin is political.”

Georg instructed him on how to break down the original type and return the characters into their slots in wooden cases.  It was laborious work and Diogenes wondered how anything was ever printed before computers.  Handling the letters themselves — down to the periods and umlauts — proved restful, however.  Cleaning the type, selecting the slots, replacing each, Diogenes recounted his “story” and they stopped only for Turkish coffee and sips of grain vodka until Diogenes again mentioned Grabmaler.

“He’s a German. If he exists.  Perhaps his name’s a pseudonym.”  Georg sipped, with a smirk.

“By whatever name, he’s at the center.”

“Don’t be deceived.  No one has all the power.  Anyway, the myth serves as a childish legend here.  I don’t know how it started.”

“He has the power and the resources — at least from what I’ve seen.”

“Capturing power means identifying with the process of destroying the old and the personal while creating the new and impersonal.  For good or evil”

“That’s exactly what he said.”

“He’s an economic ghost in the machine.  He’s risen from the grave!  Boo!”

Diogenes looked up mischievously, “Perhaps he’s an economic anarchist?”

“When did you see him last?”

“I think I saw him in Paris.”

“You’re paranoid.  You’re seeing him everywhere.”

“Maybe.  But it seems to me that he creates anarchy for the advantage of his process and you believe in anarchy to the advantage of your conscience.  Now, whose ghost, and whose epitaph?”

“You’re a fantasist and a cynic.”

“I am not a believer.  Beliefs are little ‘X’s’ taped over the unknown, which keep us from experiencing the limits of what we know.  They’re cowardly.”

“Experience without belief is stupid.  I believe there’s a floor under this printing press.  I can’t experience it now — but it’s common sense to believe it’s there.”

“There’s nothing less common than sense!  We’re individuals.  Yet we fear our power to act honestly on what we know.  So we make up things up.  We lie.“  He spat out a coffee ground tickling his tongue.

“Grabmaler –  your tombstoner – he doesn’t believe in anything either.  He’s also a cynic.”

“He believes in power and pleasure.”

“What’s wrong with pleasure?”

Diogenes shrugged.

“You‘re crazy.”

“No, real.”

“Everyone believes in something.  You believe in Grabmaler.”

“No I don’t.  I’ve experienced him.”

“O.K. Then why did you save that kid?”

“No reason.”

“And why do you bother to survive?”

“No reason.”

“Then why don’t you work for Grabmaler?”

“I have no reason to.”

“You’re mad.”

“No.”  Then Diogenes seemed to reconsider, “Well, yes! … if the ghost is more important to me than the machine, then I am crazy. “

Georg knitted his brow then resumed work.  After a few minutes, however, he seemed disturbed and sat down for a drink.  It was nearing dawn.  Diogenes sat down too — drooping, haggard but content.  He drifted to the window, facing the courtyard, and eased the black paper blinds from the glass and checked on his sleeping dogs.  He yawned, impatient for Georg to signal an end to work.  Georg watched his difficult guest.  Diogenes looked as absurd to him as he anyone he ever met.

“I should let you write something and print it.”

“On what?”

“On the need for public honesty.”

“Can I say whatever I please?  Do you trust me?”

“Sure.  The question is — can you write?”

“In English, yes.”

“If you set the print yourself I’ll translate your text.  I’ll ask a volunteer to help you set the German.”

“That’s reasonable.” Diogenes replied.

“I’ll tell you why we need it.”  Georg said, smiling and pouring Diogenes a shot of vodka.

When Diogenes woke, a wintry halo leaked through the sooty windows.  The black paper blinds were peeled back. The dogs huddled close in the courtyard below, snow heaped on their backs.  Stacked crates of paper and barrels of ink with Czech markings stained the snowy pavement.  Delivered at daybreak, he thought, as he heated tepid water, discovering Georg dozing in his chair with a pile of final proofs at his feet, finished while Diogenes slept.  He edged down the steps, waking his dogs, pouring hot water into their wooden bowls.  As his dogs lapped, he faced the chill wind, blowing in burnt aromas of brown coal and firewood.

Backing into the cement underhang of the stairwell, he brushed against a damp sheet which covered what appeared to be another barrel.  When he lifted the sheet, it was really a huge tub or vase or urn, the kind the ancients used in which to bury their dead.   Half-concealed and damp, the clay was layered by a paint which shredded when touched.  The lip, ringing the vase, was chipped but curved back smoothly into the body, and had a huge hollow inside.  Diogenes didn’t know what to make of it.  He heard a wild tapping above, on the window. Georg was signaling him to walk up for a cup of Turkish coffee.

The next few days passed in the continual printing of Georg’s pamphlet.  When Diogenes wasn’t actually running the press or cleaning old typeface or replacing it, or washing dishes, sweeping, looking up German words so as to get a direct notion of Georg’s essay, he laboriously took notes of his own.  He cared for his dogs, watched snowflakes sprinkle into the courtyard on their coats, steam rising from their black nostrils.  Georg took only brief naps.  Guests dropped by, organizers for the upcoming Council, and Georg argued and negotiated with them, tirelessly. Arranging details for the speakers, advertisements handled by another, smaller press, across town in Dahlemdorf, following endless cups of coffee and cigarettes, they ended each session with a toast of vodka. Georg would finally leap up and exclaim “Gut!“, rubbing his hands, see them to the door and dive back into the details of the pamphlet, instructing, nodding, rereading, correcting, shouting or quietly shuffle papers.

“You see, my dear Diogenes, when we present this appeal, we will torpedo the opposition gently. Thwart the defeatists.  The fence-straddlers.”

“And who are they, might I ask?”  asked Diogenes, leaning from the press.

“Fanatics on the left or right.”

“You’re proposing to further build up the landfill around the city?”

“Oh yes!, I want to make it impossible to sneak into Berlin.  But, and here’s the controversy, I want to try and include, soon, the people of the Second City.”

“Is it possible to build out like that?”

“Yes.  But, let me tell you a secret. This dictator I mentioned before. He calls himself Nebuchadnezzar. I hear he’s a rapist, ex-arms dealer, extortionist. He’s beginning to fill the vacuum created by The Collapse with an empire of his own.  Our intelligence is terrible but he could march on Germany and Berlin. He could veer the other way, and try to invade Paris. No one can stop him.  We’ve tried to send spies to find out, but they were murdered. That’s my main reason.  We need protection. And intelligence. We need to be demarcated as a separate entity to keep out the social fascists — or Atavists — who’d destroy us.  Europe doesn’t know what it is anymore.  One thing’s for certain, it’s a mess.  Also, we have never worked on Berlin alone, without considering the rest of Germany.”

“You tried to spy on this dictator?”

“Yes.  We did it all wrong. We should have sent women, because he is an incessant fucker of women.  We feel he has a blind-spot.”

Mmmm.”  Diogenes’ mind wandered, and somehow he thought about Rupert.  “Wait,”  Diogenes regained his focus,  “Didn’t Berlin once have a Wall?  It’s one thing to manage a free city.  But it’s another to be the advocator of enclosing it.”

“We‘re not re-building a Wall.  That was a short-lived cliché among philistines quite long ago.  But a border is natural for reasons other than nostalgia: smaller politics allow for direct democracy.”

“But why was I admitted and not refugees in the ring camps?  They were there for years!  It’s arbitrary!  Further, how can you keep people out if conditions improve here?  Word leaks!  People will keep pressing.  And where are the borders of the Second City?  From what I saw they went on forever, separated by ditches.  And if more refugees come you’ll just have to exclude them too, right?  So the “Third City” or ring will grow in size, so will the “Fourth” and “Fifth!”  All excluded!”

“Yes, that’s what we need now, a fifth.”  Georg replied, joking away from a confrontation.  Then he added, “You got in because we need word from the States. But what’s more, I now believe you about Grabmaler.”

Diogenes sat down stunned, then rose and walked to the windows in the rear of the apartment.  There it was: Berlin at twilight — bricks strewn from collapsed buildings, people picking their way over ruins.  Georg meant to further encapsulate them.  It still carried a faded meaning for aged Berliners and their freedom.  It meant isolation.  They would soon see their isolation with a chilling finality, surrounded by landfills to separate out refugees in ring camps.  And protect from invasion.  Yet it’s one thing to protect oneself from a dangerous world.  It’s another to entomb oneself without arable land or natural resources, to imprison oneself voluntarily.  They were being forced to be free — building up a city-state in order to exclude the latecomers, Balkan Gypsies, Kurds, Coptics from Iran, refugees from Palestine or Georgia or nearer yet, from Poland.

Diogenes turned back to Georg, again bent over proofs.  He was reviewing the section Diogenes just printed on brick brigades to be organized after working days by neighborhood committees. He planned to cart away debris from old buildings to beef up the border, pack inflammable garbage and pour topsoil from the Tiergarten left over from a reservoir construction designed to collect rain for drinking water. Berlin would be protected by a huge trash border — against refugees or a Middle Eastern drug lord who proclaimed himself an Emperor.  Georg wrote of it as achieving independence and of protecting democracy but it all boiled down, for Diogenes, into encapsulating the Council or Georg’s sense of order in the name of anarchy.  He had listened to Georg’s talks with his Council allies — who would argue endlessly over the implications of any project.  Even his friends cavilers, split hairs — it was all so — German.

As the afternoon wore on they finalized proofs, collated, stapled and boxed the pamphlet to be passed out that evening as the crowd entered the hall.  Diogenes felt exhausted but Georg gained in vitality as his day wore on.  Eventually, after the volunteers left, when an hour lay between them and the Council, Georg pulled on his coat and persuaded Diogenes to walk the half-mile to the hall.  They’d been working at printing and editing for a week.

“We’ve done it!  And now, we sightsee and relax on our way over.”  Georg said, as they passed beyond the courtyard and into the street.

“It’s getting mighty cold, isn’t it?  I’ve been worrying about the dogs, whether they can take the cold.”  Diogenes said, shivering in gusts of snowy wind.

“I hope they can.  Listen, Diogenes, have you seen the evolution of the U-Bahn?  Our subway?  We can take a shortcut by walking through a station.”

“Does it still run?”

Of course not.  But many people live there — especially during the winter.”

“I’d rather not see anymore homeless crowds, Georg.  I had my fill in New York and Paris — and passing by your ring camps.”

They aren’t homeless!  Here, here are the stairs. I’ll show you.”

They walked down the stairs into the old U-Bahn station where rusted cars stood and people sat on the worn benches, passing time.  In the parked subway cars, mostly separated from each other, families or couples lived, faces creased with aggravation and economic embarrassment, closing shades as Georg and Diogenes passed.  Yet they did have their own space.  They resembled private courtrooms — boxes undergoing severe domestic renovation where discipline and order — or slovenliness — though only one seemed so — could reign absolute.   Each box had a theme of sorts, a young woman was folding clothes in a kind of cabaretlike interior, in another, an old man pressing his nose to the glass mistrustfully to eye them as they walked by, decorated his car to resemble a hunting lodge.

“This really is strange … ” Diogenes remarked, after the old man hurriedly drew his curtains.

“Why?  I thought nothing was strange to you, Diogenes.”

“I mean, they … “

“Take pride in being trapped in subway cars?  They aren’t trapped, you know.”

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

“They own the cars in which they live.  Last summer, over opposition from the left — who oppose any ownership –  the Council adopted a resolution that those who squatted subway cars could own them.  If you were to board one — you would be entering someone’s house or apartment.  We don’t have the means to renovate many buildings but, well, we can help a little.  It’s against the law of greater Berlin to harass or enter owned subway homes.”

What happens if you violate this law?”

Prisoners work on cleaning up and restoring old buildings.  They do what I do, really.  Because I, like every citizen, put in manual labor each week.  A prisoner just has no choice.”  Georg added as they emerged into the street.

“What about violent criminals, psychopaths?”

“We expel them.  That has been a controversial policy, believe me.  First of all, even the people in ring camps don’t want them.  So they’re likely to be booted around if not out of the camps.  It does involve coercion.  We have to force them out.  Finally, many people claim it’s natural to be a psychopath now — given that the world is in shambles.  Our former psychiatrists are outraged.  Some claim we should treat them, of course.  Others maintain they are healthy, because, again, the world is such a rotten place now that those sensitive enough to know what humanity has lost — go insane.  Some psychiatrists claim that the world is an insane asylum, or Berlin is, and we have no right to judge.”

“And you?”

“I argued for it.  We just don’t have the resources.  We have to fix the fixable.  And the world is no more insane than before.  We’re just living with — how could I say it — the collected residue — the interest accrued on old insanity.”

“The world is insane.”

“No, the world is poor, beaten, overpopulated.  If it’s insane we can do whatever we want now.  We can murder.  Everything is permissible — as Dostoevsky once put it.  But everything is not morally open.  Even under the worst conditions, even when the world has collapsed.”

“Only a moral optimist could say that.  You assume there’s some kind of law outside our perception of it, outside human invention.  If humanity is ending, morality too is attenuated.”

“The world is still here and so are we, Diogenes.  As long as a child can say “ouch” That how you say it?  We say “aua!”  As long as victims can say “aua!” we need morality.”

“Needing morality and actually having one is another matter.   We need morality.  But we also need bread. Housing.  The people sleeping in ring camps need to get in.  And how can you admit a morality when you admit that history or humanity is dead?”

“Just look inside this door, Diogenes.”  They reached the hall.  “If you want to see humanity.  And oh, by the way, thanks again for helping me print the pamphlets.  But I have one more request.  Come with me to the podium — to the desk from which I’ll read the proposal — I want you to say a few words.”

Diogenes shivered, hundreds of people waited outside the hall.  Peeping through the door as one entered he espied hundreds more, seated.

“Good,”  Georg said, laughing.  “I knew you’d agree!”  And pulled Diogenes through the door.

The hall was crammed with Berliners, chatting, smoking, arguing, greeting each other, blocking aisles, folding coats on planks, or seated on brick benches.  Georg threaded through, hanging tight with Diogenes, pulling him into the white lights hanging from steel rafters, tied with ropes, focused brightly on the speaker’s desk. The cement floor, already littered with pamphlets, also provided corners for those quietly reading or making points about its proposals.  The desk had three obligatory glasses of water and three microphones tied with electrician’s tape to broom handles.  Another panelist greeted them, a young man with a shaved head glistening under the intense light.  He wore a frock coat and acted with dramatic poise, like an impresario.  He was, it seemed, a favorite of the crowd’s because, when he cleared his throat, then burped into the microphone, dozens of conversations abruptly ended.

“Wie geht’s Berlin?”  He yelled out.  The crowd generally sat rapidly in place, but many stood in the back to yell encouragement or whistle.

Berlin!  Are you feel’n gooooood?”  He sang out, surprisingly, in English.  The back of the hall had filled with younger people chewing gum, smoking, drinking beer, poking each other, chatting, resisting the introduction, though they seemed to acknowledge and admire the bald-headed MC.

He then introduced Georg and his pamphlet to the audience while the gallery crowd ignored him, turning their backs, or lowering their heads.  Those seated, however, readied for the speech.  They clapped when Georg stood up while the gallery boo’d or jeered as Georg adjusted the mike.  Then, after a cough, and a brief introduction, he immediately launched into the reading of his pamphlet.

Diogenes had not heard Georg speak so resonantly among his Council friends.  Though Diogenes had almost memorized the text in laying type, he hastened to follow the English version which lay to the left of his glass.  He couldn’t help, however, surveying the faces in the mass audience as Georg’s voice slowly filled the hall.  The crowd dressed humbly, mostly in gray or black jackets, which Georg once explained were issued by a cooperative factory.  They listened intently while Georg outlined his program with a rich cadence which rose and fell emphatically, crescendo’d, paused, lilted and broke, like a symphony.

When Diogenes scanned the back of the hall a few toughs stood reading comic books, drumming fingers. One caused a racket in the back, at the door.  The pug-nosed girl who harassed him at the border was kissing a young man with her sweatshirt pulled up, looking away as he fondled her breasts and as she chewed gum.  Just then, a few of Diogenes’ dogs scurried past the door, prodded by unseen hands, which further caused a disruption. Georg kept reading as if nothing happened, and Diogenes, though unsettled, concentrated, following the end of the speech in English, apprehensive that Georg might ask him for supporting commentary.  Though green to Berlin, Diogenes controlled his irritation and ignored the girl, and his abused dogs and read with Georg through to the end of his speech, arriving at the part which ran:

We must battle defeatism.  We are isolated but we have instituted direct citizen control.  This is a tension we can withstand.  We are the only democracy which has risen after The Collapse.  And we are the only democracy I know of in the world which goes beyond pulling a lever or choosing specialists — politicians — to govern for us.  Our duties revolve.  We can see with our own eyes the results of decisions collectively made.  We may fear invasion, even starvation, but we are not slaves.  We don’t even have maids or a police force.  We are not Socialists and we are not Capitalists.  We feel that every economic system is merely an instrument of political democracy and so a tool by which we govern ourselves.  No one in their right minds will die for an economic system.  Only democracy is worth dying for.  So we choose whatever economic means works best to overcome shortages and inequality.  This is why we are free.  This is the essence of the New Berlin, our Berlin, united.

It’s possible to panic about The Collapse of the European Community and Germany. It is possible to yearn for control from the outside.  We can always give away our freedom.  Give it away to some other individual or to surrender the responsibility we assume in governing ourselves.  Or we can let chaos reign.  There are certainly plausible economic reasons for yearning to do so.  For being seduced by the German Nationalist Movement, as it is called.  But we know that the world economic crisis was engineered.  We know that as economies became intermeshed and interdependent just as the world-population grew beyond the world’s ability to feed itself that it was possible to wreck it for profit.  A century ago this would have seemed fantastic.  Every liberal and peaceful trend argued for economic intermeshing.  It meant ‘peace and prosperity’.  The logic went that if you are economically interwoven with another State it would be against your interest to attack it and so destroy your own economy.  This was right as far as history and resources of that time dictated.  And we can’t blame the people of a better time for thinking so.  But the world-economy was based on the illusion of inexhaustible resources fueled by the miracle of technology. Technology became a religion which would always work us out of shortages by changing what was needed to alter production away from dwindling supplies of raw materials.  It was the faith in technology which produced the great mirage, the end of the rainbow, which became the end of the global economy, and for many, the world.

So we have inherited all these contradictions.  Who anticipated, really, what was to happen?  What technocrat or public scientist or glib academic with prophetic prognostications did not have a glum doomsday scenario in order to argue for their program or for their career?  It is not a matter of blame.  And it is resentment and retrospective thinking which is at the heart of much defeatism now.  It is the worm of capitulation which fears these historical ghosts or slinks backwards.  Nothing, now, can be changed about our calamitous past.

But we can say this much, in the context of this practical, this concrete problem we are facing now:  We can change our present.  We can better ourselves.  And if these contradictions — grown out of greed which wrecked a world economy, centralized, intermeshed and interdependent — can be overcome by our anarchism, our independence from any outside control, then we must work it out despite the shadows which the past throws across our city.  If we are isolated we are also free.  If we are sequestered and poor we are also democratically devising a sensible way to live.  If we are separate from a world in ruin, then we are the exception which will rekindle history and humanity which erred by dousing that flame, which is human conscience, in greed and in cowardice born of the illusion of the endless creativity of technology which amounted to idolatry.  Our creativity is this-worldly and pragmatic.  Our faith is in the minutiae of making our city work.  We have no idols.  But we have our city and we have our freedom.  This is the essence of the new, even if it be the last, Berlin!”

As Georg closed, the seated audience rose to its feet to applaud. The gallery whistled and jeered.  Georg cast a curiously mordant look to Diogenes then raised his hand to calm the crowd.  He interrupted in English:

“O.K. thank you.  We have here tonight a man who volunteered to print and consult on the English translation of this proposal.  He just arrived from New York via Paris.”  Meanwhile, the gallery began to heckle them both.  The pug-nosed girl was shouting “Arschloch!” at the top of her lungs, surrounded by “nihilists” making threatening and obscene gestures at Georg.  Diogenes wondered why Georg asked him to speak at all, rather than stage a debate about his proposal.  Different groups began stamping their feet while the majority of the crowd acted to quiet them down.  The bald-headed impresario who had introduced Georg waved his hands to dampen the uproar, interjecting in German:

“His name is Diogenes.  We promise you he has nothing political to say.  We thought it would be interesting to hear from someone outside Berlin who just in from New York.  He has no prepared speech.  We ask you to greet a newcomer to Berlin.”

This delivered the still restive crowd, curious about New York’s fate.

Diogenes refused to stand or make his remarks until those mocking Georg quieted down.  Even the thugs who surrounded the pug-nosed girl in the gallery spurned her, sharing the same craving for news filtered in from New York:

“I never speak in public. Never have before.  I know nothing of your city beyond what I see with my own eyes.  And … I don’t even know if you understand my English.  Finally, I don’t know why Georg wants me to speak.”

“I … am not a political man.  I have nothing to add to Georg’s speech.  I came from New York by riding a Black Market barge to Calais.  After stowing away on a train to Paris … I hitched a ride with a sheep truck driver and a friendly dogcatcher.”

“New York?  Well, it’s a great place to die.  When I remember New York, once a wonderful city, a city I moved to as a young man … after having traveled … and Berlin is one of the places I traveled to … when I think of New York, I hear rumbling tanks or roars from hysterical crowds. A good half of the streets are perpetually flooded. I hear sirens whining above body-carpeted streets.  I mourn vanished colleagues and friends kidnapped or supposedly dead from Plague.  I remember unemployed stock investors scavenging Grand Central Station or tearing their shirts off screaming or blowing their brains out on Wall Street.  I remember New York … in a rather elegiac mood.  New York has fallen and no cops nor managerial miracle-worker will put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

“From what I saw of Paris, it was less violent but psychically more spent.  Paris reminds one of a disease caught in one’s sleep.  It reeks of sweet psychic contagion, of sexual trance, a hypnotic religious ecstasy which creeps under the flesh like a numbing microbe.  I was infected by Paris.  But it’s an interesting disease.  Certainly better than crabs!”

“A black marketeer first advised me to thumb to Berlin.  He may have been in the employ of one of the chief architects of The Collapse — his name is Grabmaler — and he does exist.  Grabmaler runs an underground skyscraper across the Hudson River from New York filled with hoarded wealth, technology and living ghosts who kiss his gravedigger’s ass.  Anyway, a black marketeer told me that Berlin is the ‘Freest City in the World’.  From what I’ve seen, given that you’ve taken pity on a beggar and a ‘citizen of the world’ like me — and from your independence from gangs and dictators — I guess he was right!”

“But I am no flatterer.  I’m like one of those dogs of mine, in the rear, wagging their tails.  I’ve had my fill of human vanity and I nearly starved.  I am no idealist either.  Whatever fills my bowl without mixing my bones with shattered glass or rat turds — and whoever disbelieves that History is their epitaph and the afterlife paradise — is good enough for me.  Excuse me if I am blunt.  But I have looked into the human heart.  And I see more aggression there than in any animal.  I hope you succeed with Berlin.  Yet any city on the hill can get buried in the trash of its outskirts   If you are still Germans — this time ‘conquer the world’ by opening your doors — no matter how ragged or desperate the beggar armies of the world.  Open your city!   Then your kennel — which is what you did when you let me in.”

“For me, history is a segmented worm without head or tail, stretched between two dungheaps.  If we live now like dogs, why imitate our old Masters?  Perhaps anyone caught trying to make history should spend time on a leash — or get exiled to this dungheap.  Like we have.  In this dungheap there is no future.  But now that the future is over, perhaps we can enjoy the present.  The dogs do.  At least we can scratch our backs — without bones of contention — or hypocritical cant.  Now that technological Babylon has fallen — let all distinctions between rich, poor, foreign, native, infidel or believer, between all races of people — all walls, all old boundaries fall with it ! But I’ve said too much — I hope you understood my English, a little, Auf Weidersehen!  And thanks.”

When Diogenes finished, a punk from the gallery, shouted: “Three cheers for Diogenes the dog!”  And much to the amazement of Georg and The Council, dog howls and yelps echoed throughout the hall.  The bulk of the crowd whispered or tittered — providing Georg cover, implying it was all a harmless joke, as if he had not been contradicted by his guest.  Embarrassed, Georg smiled until the bald-headed impresario ended the Council.

Those who admired Georg’s speech came crowding to the desk to congratulate him.  Tweedy academics, stroking salt-n-pepper beards and smoking pipes tried to engage him in subtleties and held court with each other, vying for attention.  Georg, however, held his gaze above the fray to greet a tall blonde woman who waved his way.  Diogenes was surrounded by a different kind of Berliner. Disheveled in ragged black shirts and leather pants, many with bowl haircuts — the fashion among the “nihilists” — as they called themselves — passed a milk bottle of rot gut and a steel cup to him, then lost interest in speaking English, joking among themselves, soaking up the lion’s share of liquor.  The pug-nosed girl, with her sweatshirt back on, strode up to him and said: “Entshuldige!” tenderly, then yanked the bottle from his hand.

Diogenes recognized the woman now speaking with Georg as the same helpful interrogator from Immigration.  Diogenes nudged his way over to them and Georg, noticing him, tried to introduce them.  She smiled warmly:

“We’ve already met!”

“Hello again!” Diogenes replied, then turned: “Georg, did I talk too long?”

“It’s not how long you talked — it’s what you said.  By advocating opening up the city …  We’ll discuss it later.”

“Diogenes drew a self-portrait for us.”  The woman giggled.

“Oh, I’m glad you were there when he came in.  Otherwise who knows what would have happened.” Georg smiled.

“My name is Silke, Diogenes.” She said, glaring at him.

“I was rather nervous.”

“At the border or before this crowd?”  She asked, with an ironic wink.

“What did you think of what I said?”

“Let’s talk about it at the Weimar!  It’s a pub not far from Georg’s.” Silke then returned to her seat to retrieve her coat.

“Listen, Diogenes.  Is it all right if I walk alone to the pub with Silke?  We were lovers a year ago when she left me …  I still want her … and I could lose this chance.”

“Yes, of course.”  Diogenes said, watching Silke mosey back.

“Well, what did he say behind my back, hmmmm?”  Silke joked, affectionately rubbing Georg.

“Nothing.”  Georg protested.

“You were fine tonight Diogenes,”  She said, understanding Georg’s reaction.  “You see Georg is an idealist, no matter what he pretends to be.  He’s the fix-it man for practical Berlin problems.” Silke said, imitating Georg’s oratorical voice.

“Don’t listen to Silke, Diogenes!  She’ll prejudice my case!”

“I have the goods on him!  We would never let him back in if he left now.  These … how do you say it … charismatic …?”

“Yes ….”  Diogenes said, weary of party chatter.

“These charismatic leaders are the biggest nuts of all!”  Silke ribbed Georg. “You must not listen to him, Diogenes, when he is doped on praise.”

“I wonder what kind of portrait he would draw?”  Diogenes asked.

“One with a very big head!”  Silke replied, lifting Georg’s glasses then fluffing his thin hair.

“Enough compliments for one night!”  Georg cried, wriggling free.

“Oh!  Georg, we didn’t mean it!  We all love you.”  Silke giggled, blowing a kiss.

“Listen, Diogenes.  Is it all right if we go alone?”  Georg whispered.

“Didn’t I say it was all right?  I remember the way home.  Will I be able to get in?”

“Shit!  I don’t have an extra key.”

“Then don’t worry about me.  I just want to walk the dogs home.  Then I’ll go out somewhere too and come home late.”

“Is that O.K.?”

“Of course!”

Diogenes gathered his dogs now panting, scratching at the door.  Walking into the amber night, he reviewed his transformation facing the crowd.  He had never made a speech before.  He tramped down damp cobble streets, entering a district faintly lit by fires glowing orange through smoky glass.  He looked down at his dogs, their coats sooty and their noses smudged with ash.  He passed no inns or bars.  Yet he was not far from a quarter of Kreutzberg where he once frequented an outdoor beer joint named Golgotha nestled inside a park with a manmade waterfall.

Now, as he stumbled under snowy ledges, in the shadow of pre-WWII relics and dilapidated off-pink reconstruction era eyesores, and the squatted bureaucratic offices of Berlin as post Cold War capital — he wondered if Georg and his brigades could ever save Berlin.  The vanity of politics nauseated him.  One had to pose behind a scaffolding of a pragmatism disguised by political idealism which, essentially, acted as a veil – the window-dressing — to power.  And seated behind, in the boxseat, suffocated an unloved homunculus, a reduced, exclusionary Ego.

When Diogenes reached Georg’s courtyard he found the door forced open and defaced by a spray painted through stencil skull and crossbones .  The dogs who trailed him in, whimpered, skittish, as he shut the heavy door.  Those dogs who remained sat, muzzles lowered, surrounded a young shepherd bitch, lying flat, three of its legs splayed out, as if she had been blungeoned.  Snow fleeced her brow and no breath warmed her black nose.  Her glazed eyes stared at the courtyard door.  Diogenes examined her for traces of violence, and felt her frozen paws.

He lifted her stiffened limbs, and bent her head and torso to better carry her weight on his shoulder.  He swung open the heavy door and led the rest of the mutts into the street, searching for a proper burial spot.  Why a young shepherd, he wondered, guiltily, closing her eyes with his thumbs.  He was probably prattling into a microphone or chatting with Silke while death crept into her innocent brow.

He passed the Weimar. Candlelit windows, a room full of Georg’s congratulators — graybeard ex-professors sipping yeasty beers.  He walked beyond to a vacant building, tripping over bricks, until he found a huge girder twisted upright in the snowy night sky.  Cement dust, wire, broken cement slabs and a pile of bricks, consecrated it.  As he burrowed a brick niche at the base of the girder he heard a cheer from the Weimar, a tuba and an accordion crank up and play.  After easing the bitch in her little grave he methodically replaced and built up the bricks until she was fully concealed.  He mused beside the mound, listening to street revelers, following racing night cloud veiling a crescent moon, and he wished he could have known, perhaps mourned, his mother.

He walked by the Weimar on his way home, peering at the green tiled room and aluminum tables, the scant selection of homemade liquor behind the bar, the professors still chatting, cliques of conversationalists competing with two wry blonde girls trading bawdy songs.  He looked for Silke or Georg and felt alone.  Panning the faces, he didn’t spot either, but couldn’t bear asking after them and labored on to Georg’s apartment, and his couch.

Arriving, he looked up to his candlelit window, and saw Silke’s shadow cast across the ceiling.  She edged away, blouse off, back to the street and to the window, arching her long legs and leaning on Georg’s desk.  Diogenes felt like a voyeur.  He would wait.  Eventually they would finish.  He began examining the urn to pass his time — running his fingers along its clay, smelling the earthy interior, brushing away leaves obscuring its base.  He patted the dogs and considered naming them.  He rolled the vase out a little from the cement underhang.  Finally, out of frustration, he tossed pebbles at the window, hoping Georg would hear.  Fatigue had made him an intrusive killjoy.

Silke heard and peered first from the window, wearing Georg’s undershirt, her blonde pubic hair wedging her white legs.  Diogenes felt guilty, especially when Georg appeared at the window.   Georg just signaled Diogenes to walk up and seemed nonchalant about the interruption.  Diogenes climbed the stair and found Georg waiting for him against the door in his bath robe.

“Diogenes, I’m sorry.  You can’t sleep here tonight.  Here’s some blankets”.  Georg murmured, apologetically.  “Perhaps they’ll let you sleep on a bench in the Weimar.  The academic types who showed up tonight might take you home.”

“No problem.  I understand.  You’d have to be crazy to let Silke go unloved.”  Diogenes winked.

“Thanks.  Listen, I have a present for you.”  Georg slipped a vial filled with a milky substance from his bath robe pocket. “This was a gift from someone at the Weimar.  Drink it — it’s liquid morphine.”

It was the same drink Antisthenes offered him on the sheep truck.  Diogenes eyed it and looked at Georg:

“Should I drink it all?”

“Probably not. But it’ll help you sleep. Be careful. It induces hallucination.  And you could freeze to death if you swallow it and sleep exposed.”

Diogenes accepted the blankets and the vial and Georg eased the door closed behind him.  Back in the courtyard, Diogenes inspected the vase and decided to sleep in its hollow.  He crawled in after pulling one blanket inside as a cushion and draping the other over his head, devising a little tent, rubbing his hands, peering out over the lip to check on his dogs.  He then drank half of the liquid from the vial and crawled inside the vase, watchful for sleep.

It wasn’t long before he was dreaming.  But a succession of cartoons oddly accelerated in his mind:  the seascape from the barge, personages from the Council and from his early childhood danced by with an agitated, electric intensity.  The rapidity of images streamed through his mind with an eerie luminosity, films of transparent water exploded into flame, glass shattered from apartment windows and sentences composed of German, English and French mysteriously narrated enigmatic landscapes.  Finally an image rose of a charred field, near an old industrial park.  A helicopter crashed into an empty storage tank.

When he woke he peeped over the lip of the vase and sniffed the burnt-charcoal from building furnaces.  The gray wind was blowing madly across the vase top.  Newspapers and soup cans slid by, rolling through the courtyard.  Sand and large flakes of ash stung his cheeks and –  he thought  — he smelled after-shave.   Georg was poking around for paper when he discovered Diogenes surfacing from the hollow of the huge urn.  Georg didn’t seem surprised that Diogenes had endured the night inside. He perused Diogenes’ face for discomfort.

“I was disturbed by your performance last night, I mean at the Council,”  Georg started, “There are trouble makers in that audience who need a spokesman, who are dying to hear someone explain why the world is meaningless.”

“I never said that,” Diogenes practically yelled back as he rubbed sand out of his eyes.

“It came out that way.  Aren’t times bad enough without making them worse by destroying our efforts?”

“I destroyed nothing.  I simply said what came to me.  It was an honest statement … “

“You undid what I slaved for in writing that pamphlet.”

“Is that what the Council said?”

“No,”  Georg replied, as if Diogenes’ whole take on the events was inaccurate.

“Don’t hand me this shit!  Did you think I was going to get up there and chant all hail Sri Georg, wizard of democratic miracles?”

“You ingrate!“  Georg worked to control himself: “You can leave the manuscript in my mail box outside my apartment.”

“No need.  It’s right here.”  Diogenes produced a bundle of frayed but carefully written prose on yellow-lined note paper. “I guess this means I’m out.”

“I have to ask you.  Silke moved in.  What are your plans?  Where will you go?”

“Are you merely curious?” Diogenes replied coldly.

“Diogenes!  Why so nasty?  I introduced you to this city, and gave you, a complete stranger, lodging for two weeks.” Georg seemed truly hurt.

“Am I now to recount the work I did on your pamphlet?  Is this our game — our tête-à-tête — now?  You’re fine.  I chose to come to Berlin and now I’ll have to scrounge for myself.”

“There‘s another matter, Diogenes. I haven’t the time to print the translation of your essay.  I’m sorry, we are already moving on to the play I told you about earlier.  We’ll print fifty and you can find them in a crate just outside the courtyard.  I’ll hurry and it’ll be done by late tomorrow night.”

Diogenes was incredulous. “Great.  Now, about this vase.”

Georg looked at it, with slight embarrassment.  “What about it?”

“I was able to sleep in it last night.  Can you lend it to me?”

“Sure.  Be careful with it.  We got it from the same museum which supplied the press.”

“Thank you.”  Diogenes bowed ironically.

“Take care of yourself Diogenes.  And come back around.”   Georg added wistfully as he walked back up the stairs.

Diogenes began rolling his vase out of the courtyard.  His dogs padded behind, as he turned the vase over and over again, slowly, so as not to scrape the inscriptions.  Sand and dust flurried with newspapers and pamphlets, including one of Georg’s, wrapping around his ankles.  Flakes of ash mingled with cement in his dusty hair.  After blocks of easing the vase over curbs and espying possible sites through heavy wind, he found that a dozen or so people followed.  They seemed to act as if, in a secular way, a rite was being performed down their street.  Somehow, after his remarks at The Council, the vase, his dogs in tow, they looked as if fate itself was given legs and driven out of doors, driven like a dog of the road or forest.  They marveled as if he were the man determined to close the Pandora’s box of history, to roll the world away without casting back a glance or shadow.

Diogenes felt their eyes on his back.  Walking away from Georg held no political significance to him.  And he was quite used to not having a cranny for himself.  The world, practically, was homeless now.  Why should one old guy, escorted by dogs, who made a few remarks through a microphone, after having scavenged a funeral vase to live in, mean anything?  It was absurd.  He felt sure that the crowd collecting on each side of the windy street, like ashen scarecrow, would disperse, but none did and as he rolled his vase up through the frozen mud of the park now called Golgotha, he shouted:

“Why are you watching me?”

They remained silent.

“If you are waiting for me to break down and whine so you can vent your pity, forget it!  This vase and this park are bloody fine.”

No one in the shivering crowd uttered a word.

“I’m simply going to clean up here.  And then probably go to sleep.”

Still, not a word from the expanding crowd.  Only the crackling sound of sand and pebbles driven by the cold wind onto the frozen earth.  Diogenes rolled ahead, shimmying his vase so that it remained secure.  Then he drew a blanket over his head.

That night, as he slept, the wind roared across the top of the vase.  He peeped over to see if the crowd stayed there so that he could bring one of the dogs into the vase.  He needed their warmth to survive.  As the night progressed the blankets seemed to conduct the cold.  He chose two of the dogs and lifted them painfully into the vase and eased himself back in, careful so as not to step on or crush a tail or paw.

Then, snug with two bodies beside him, he rifled through his coat to find the rest of the morphine.  There it was — a half vial.  He drew back the blanket then swallowed all of its milky contents.  The dogs seemed happy too, allowed into their master’s quarters, as it were, and a sweet sleep descended on Diogenes.

The sun had long risen when he woke.  His legs were terribly cramped and when he peeled back the blanket, the dogs scrambled, with his help, to the ground.  He couldn’t recall a single dream.

After dusting ash from his coat, which poured from his blanket, he realized that the crowd had returned.  They filled the park now from the bluff on which he set his vase to the street.  Spread out on mats, newspapers, in hand-me-down coats, warmed by ashcan fires, with sterno cans lit to boil soup on aluminum grating; their mood seemed to have changed.  They were greater in number but tranquil.  And content.  Diogenes scanned over their heads briefly to the sooty buildings across the park, still pink with winter dawnlight.  He could faintly hear someone cry out his name, like a coyote.

Near his vase, a girl wearing torn burlap over loosely fit men’s long underwear had heated warm water for his dogs.  She had also set up a makeshift desk of two planks propped by a pile of bricks.  A stack of papers was spread out as if work had proceeded for hours.  He rubbed the circulation back into his legs, trying to stand.  With this, several groups crouching in the back stood up.  A wave of rustling followed and Diogenes shuddered.

“What are you doing here?”  He yelled out, amazed.

No one said a thing except a wino under a tarpaulin, whom Diogenes could see now, resting his mat-haired head on army boots — continued to howl his name.

“I’m just trying to survive here.  I planned to stay … by myself.”

The girl, with dark circles under her eyes, was biting her nails looking at him from her makeshift desk.   Another group stood up in the middle now — student-types holding a newly printed pamphlet, sipping from tin cups.

Diogenes, glanced over to a young man in a wheel chair with bicycle tires, asking him: “What’s going on here?  Verstehst du Englisch?”

“We want to hear you put down liars.”


“A few of us … those students over here and Andrea here,” he said, admiring the girl at the desk, “… heard at the Weimar that Georg didn’t want to print your essay on honesty.”

“So what?”

“So we demanded last night, after getting drunk, that he print it while we waited.”

“At the Weimar?  At his apartment?”

“Yea, at his exclusive apartment and on his expensive printing press.  With his girlfriend bitching at us from the window!”  He bragged.

“What did Georg do?”  Diogenes asked.

“He tried to call the black bands, you know, the citizen’s police.  But no one came and he did it — he printed your On Liars, while we waited, drinking his liquor, of course.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.”  He wheeled over to the girl at the desk, Andrea, and she handed him an extra copy. “Here” he said, wheeling back.

Diogenes took the thin essay printed on unevenly cut paper with the same typeface he used in setting Georg’s speech.  It was poorly bound but finished and as far as he could see there were few printing or typographical errors.

“Why do you care?  I don’t know anything.” Diogenes breathed, exasperated.

“We don’t care.  We don’t give a shit!  You’ve traveled, though.  Almost none of us ever left Berlin.  And we think you got it right.  History is over man!  We’re finished!”

“Is that what I said?”  Diogenes began thumbing happily through the copy he handed him.  “I mean, I’m not sure what I actually said … “

“That’s what we came to hear.  Someone who says that we’re finished, kaputt!”

Diogenes was speechless.

The guy in the chair wheeled up closer to Diogenes, bumping into the vase, exclaiming:

“See that girl, Andrea?  She’s translating your essay into Deutsch mann! Then we’re going to copy it longhand!  So read it!” He said from his wheelchair, thrusting back his neck, then again yelped:  “Diogenes!”

Diogenes took a gander at the crowd, struck, as he focused on each face, by the level of addiction — by the nicotine, alcohol and morphine  — which had ravaged their health.  On the other hand, he mused, this was also evidence of a desperate prosperity.

He stood there lost in thought when the wino got up from under his tarpaulin, holding an empty bottle in his left hand and started shouting his name.  The rest of the crowd then broke out, yelling, stamping its feet.

Then the girl, Andrea, came up: “There’s so little printed now, Diogenes.  Please read …  at least your opening.”

She said this with such naiveté that Diogenes decided to read.  He stood up in his vase, without having left it since last night and began: On Liars . Then several shouted “Lauter!” He began again: “ON LIARS!” He balked again.  “This is ridiculous.”   Andrea only nodded encouragement and he began reading:

Everyone lies.  That is, insofar as you accept that everyone has lied — at least a few times in their lives. So, I just want to say “Guten Tag” to all you liars.

Lying is acting, gesturing, mouthing strategic phrases and wearing the right face.  Lying is a way of life.  But!  When one takes and distills all those lies and looks at a system, at history, at civilization — then it makes everyone and no one guilty.

I greet you as liars.  But don’t worry — I don’t blame you.

Take this dog here.  I pat his behind and he is cheered.  I give him a drink and he’s grateful.  He never whines about what is lost.  And he neither counterfeits nor shares in “history”.  I pick up a piece of dog shit.  One can examine it.  It’s no big deal.  The dog doesn’t care — he doesn’t worry about what he leaves behind.  He doesn’t worship it.  It doesn’t paralyze him!

If we can live as simply, the weight of our vanity, with all our crimes can be examined and dropped.  It is the shit Man has left behind.  Why be paralyzed by it, when it’s over?

We thought we had a mission in life.  But the mission became a lie.  The stars, the forests, the oceans — be damned!  We went for the Big Money.  We hoarded our resources and worshipped God.  But in what way were we truly unique?  We shat, we ate, we copulated, we died. We collapsed under the weight of our lie and the technology which raised it up like a sacrosanct stone phallus.

Who will be dragged with it — with prosperity — as it withdraws, as the names and crimes and events are scraped back through memory and disappear?  The true liars won’t.  They never committed themselves in the first place.  It’s those who worked at truth we must worry about.  For them, it’s a tragedy.  Were it a comedy for them.  And for you!  And would you join us in disbelieving in another lie — and its erection.

Humans proved their difference by assuming they’re unique.  But I beg to differ.  It’s not a question of destiny.  If we could step outside it — we are being forced out –time would find our lie.  When all is brought to an end  — when language unravels, law denied and subverted and time sputters out, what’s the residue?  Does it paralyze you to pick it up, to examine it, to let it drop?

His voice flung with the wind, sand, and snow into the hungry visages grudging him thanks in German, cheering him through crusted masks of poverty.  Their dilemma finally struck him.  It was, in part, the isolation of their city.  Even the iron-filings of dusklight filtering through treetop icicles and the white flames from their camp illustrated it.  But it ran deeper.  They lost their quotidian.  Iron and fatigue had rusted into their souls.  With them — and some humor — perhaps one could forge and fire the bolts which would seal the vault of the still familiar past … but then what?

That night, the restive drifted to former squats.  And those who remained dragged in blankets, boxes or cooking utensils from their old haunts.  The translator girl, Andrea, slept with his dogs, handing a couple to Diogenes as she understood the warmth they provided last night.  The sky cleared.  Not a star shone.  The tessellated cloud thinned before a moon halo.  A leather spiked wrist handed in a candle — as Diogenes shimmied down.  He accepted with it a gift of runny yogurt in tightly folded newspaper.  He reread the pamphlet and decided that it wasn’t practical.  The sky, the starless night under hints of cirrus, and with a little yogurt, companions, his cubs … were pearls enough, bijoux, miracles of existence.

When the sun rose he woke from dreams of Antisthenes, found himself meditating on his comments, rising again from his sheep truck, surprised to be in  a funeral urn in Berlin.  He scratched, and yawned.  Andrea copied out her translation of his pamphlet into German pamphlet-ettes which resembled old Gymnasium exam books.  He chewed over Antisthenes’ unprovoked claim, that freedom would not be “enough” when he reached Berlin.

All of what Antisthenes had to say, about going it alone, surviving through adversity and the message of that dream — the scroll — seemed to roll by.  ‘Who was he, really?’  Diogenes wondered.  He was beginning to scribble out his reflections when he realized that it was, perhaps, time to wash.  He called to Andrea:

“Andrea, why are you so helpful to me?”

Andrea looked at Diogenes sympathetically, but felt unwilling to offer a reason.

“Do you believe it’s time for me to wash up?”

“I was hoping you’d ask.”

“You know, I have a friend that you remind me of.”

“Or did she remind you of me, before we met?” Andrea responded, with a mischievous look.

She helped Diogenes out of his vase and walked him through groups of squatters, pursuing their chores, cooking, cleaning boots or sewing, feeding children, playing bent harmonicas.  Walking through the clutter, Diogenes asked:

“Why didn’t these people camp here before?”

“There was a riot here two months ago.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Yes.  Twenty dead.  Hundreds wounded.”

They approached a group huddled around several large steel vats filled with steaming water.  Fires built beneath them were fanned by a few young men with sheets of tin.

“And everyone left because of that?”

“The Council held a meeting and it was voted illegal for us to live or set foot in the park.”

“Is that why everyone followed me in?  I was first to break the rule?”

“That was part of it.”

“And I would suppose that Georg attended The Council that night?”

“He argued for it, yes.”

“But then who are the liars?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Diogenes.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me this?”

“You defied the law spontaneously.”

“Then the truth was kept from me.”

“No, you were for the truth when you led us back into the park.  That is our truth.”

“Oh well,” Diogenes sighed.  “I am here for a bath, am I not?”

“Yes, you are.”  Andrea replied, a little shamefaced.

A group of young boys stood naked, drying off.  Diogenes felt shy about undressing openly, yet seeing Andrea’s careless ease in their presence — as opposed to what they had just discussed — he decided to strip himself down for the first time since he left Ms. Duykinck and the printing room.  The boys followed him with interest — to see if after all these years that he had some of the athletic tone of limb and abdomen which was their chief pride in life.

Diogenes had particular trouble with his wool pants which had now almost merged into his skin, after so much travel and musk had bonded the skin and wool.  He would have preferred to peal them off as one would the rind of a ripe eggplant.  He prepared to joke and beg the boys for a knife so as to shave the pants off his legs but forgot the word both for knife and shave in German.  Instead he asked:

“Wie geht’s?”

“Gut!”  the boys chuckled.

“Verstehst du meine Schwierigkeit?”

“Ja!, du bist alt!”  one of them joked and they all laughed.

“And you smell like it!”  Another said, in German.

“So they think me old and smelly eh, Andrea?”  At last he had his pants off and the boys ran up, one of them pretending to spray lighter-fluid on his discarded clothes and then light them.

When he had slipped himself into the bath the boys burst out laughing again, the vat resembling his vase in shape.  Diogenes joked too, sawing the air like a soap-box orator, charading from the vat as if he were holding court.  They all began to help scrub him, with Andrea taking the fore, his cramped but thinly muscled old man’s legs and stomach, and his hide breathing after weeks of travel.  When he was washing up this way, laughing, with the help of the boys and Andrea he saw Georg walking up the street, reaching the edge of the park and then the bottom of the bluff.

“Georg!”  Diogenes hailed him through the steam.

Either Georg didn’t hear him or he was waiting to reply.

The boys seemed to faintly recognize him but Andrea begged them to mind their own business.

“This means trouble.”  She whispered to Diogenes.

“Diogenes,”  Georg began when he reached them, “How are you?”

“Much better than can be expected.  I hadn’t time to mourn the death of one of my dogs from the cold on Council night when I had to move.”

“What? I didn’t know, I’m sorry.  And you had to sleep out in this damned Berlin winter.”

“Yes. But don’t think that I rolled my vase — or your vase…”

“No, it’s yours now, Diogenes … “  Georg muttered.

“… into Golgotha, out of revenge over my dog’s death or because you kicked me out.”

“I’m not judging motives here, Diogenes.  But your moving into this park does create a problem.”

“Is this another textbook lesson in local politics?”

“It used to be said, Diogenes, that ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse its violation.”

“That’s cop-talk!”  Andrea interjected.

“That’s just what I meant, Diogenes when every action, at least in our community, is potentially political.  It’s a matter of survival.”

“It’s a matter of our survival!”  Andrea sprung up to Georg.

“Andrea, stay calm!”  Diogenes scolded her.  “Georg, I apologize for not knowing, after you kicked me out, that I couldn’t roll my vase into this park, and sleep for a few nights.  But now what shall we do?”

“Persuade everyone to leave.”  Georg offered, unequivocally.

“Maybe I will, Georg.  When?”  Diogenes resumed soaping himself, as if the thorny part of their meeting was past.

“It’s your choice, Diogenes.”  Georg agreed, softening his tone.

“What if we don’t want to leave?”  Andrea interrupted, “We need a place to live and this is our park.  There’s crime in every Berlin street– every member of that Council — which is a load of shit anyway — has seen or incited violence.  It’s your political question.  So throw us out of our homes!  Just as you did to Diogenes!”   Andrea cried out.

“You can attend any meetings you want, Andrea.”

“So you know each other?”  Diogenes tried to interject.

“You think we are uneducated trash — the democratic people of Golgotha.  Will you ever listen to us?  No.”

“Andrea, you’re answering your own questions.”  Georg said, reverting to German.

“And, Diogenes, he came in innocently,”  Georg started slowly, sympathizing with her, “… but that’s not the point.  If we allow violence to develop — and I don’t hear anyone here defending the two guys who were killed … “

“I’m not going to defend them — they attacked us — then each other.”  Andrea said, under her breath.

” … we could end up like beasts in a cage.”

“It’s you who are the beast.”  Andrea shouted.

“The Beast!”  Diogenes tried to joke, glancing over to the boys, who were fast pulling up their pants.

“The judgment and law of The Council stands.  It was just, thorough and fair.”

“According to someone who lives in an apartment.”  Andrea replied, riding her second wind.

“Will you two shut up?”  Diogenes finally shouted in English.  They both jumped a little, the boys included.  “All this has changed, hasn’t it?  You assume one situation in the past determines our actions in the present.”

“When I wake up everyday, I live in the street.”  Andrea blurted out, in English.

“You know you had a chance to live in an apartment and turned it down, Andrea!”  Georg countered.

“Is that true, Andrea?”  Diogenes asked.

Andrea balked at admitting it.  Then, said: “I refused it because all my friends were homeless.”

“What?” Diogenes asked.

“Yes, she once worked for The Council.  You have one of the finest literary translators in Berlin.”

“I already know that … Ouch!”  The boys had poured more hot water into Diogenes’ bath, laughing at his discomfort.  “But you turned down a place to live?”

“Yes.”  She said, sheepishly.  “But … it was due to my connections at The Council.”

“She’s lying here, Diogenes.  She was just smart enough to sign up for an apartment years ago and secured one, a rather nice flat near Alexanderplatz.”

“So you’re trying to bury your intelligence by living exposed?  I guess even the virtuous are liars!”  Diogenes chided her.

“I am not a liar!”  Andrea spoke up, changing her tone.  “A city cannot be democratic without its people housed.”

“Here, here.”  Georg clapped.  Diogenes also clapped just over the steamy water of his bath.  The boys in the back clapped too, since it seemed funny.

“Why, Andrea, don’t you work for Georg?”

“I’m working for you now, Diogenes.  This is insulting.”

“It’s not insulting.  You see you’re lying again, Andrea.  You have two writers fighting over your services and they are both — taken together — three or four times your age.”  Diogenes replied, good naturedly.  “And Georg pays.”  he added.

“What is your decision, Diogenes?”  Georg asked, reverting to the question of the park.

“I’ll speak about it tonight.  We’re having a party this evening, ‘Midnight at Golgotha’, I heard several people call it.”

Georg immediately grew uneasy.  Andrea eyed him again with contempt.

“Is there anything wrong with that?”  Diogenes asked, nonplused.

Georg paused as if to decide.  Andrea held back.

“No.  I guess there isn’t.”  Georg said, nervously.

“You should come, Georg.  We’re going to have music after Diogenes speaks, and a little play of our own!”  Andrea offered, stiffly.

Diogenes stared sternly at Andrea as if to keep her from taunting Georg, just after a compromise.

Georg was rankled but maintained his calm and then went up to Diogenes in his bath and kissed his steamy forehead: “Thank you, Diogenes.”  he said.

They watched Georg walk down the bluff.  The afternoon was wearing on and preparations for the play and the music to be performed were beginning.  A platform was rolled up the hill.  Musicians arrived with pots and pan drum sets and guitars.  A crude stage was being erected just behind Diogenes’ vase.  Cooks were already concocting the night’s soup and baking fresh dough.  Mothers weaned infants.  And there was a line forming for the baths.  Diogenes had spent a majority of his time talking to Georg instead of scraping the road off his skin.

“Georg gets me so angry!”  Andrea huffed, as she watched the boys dry off Diogenes and hand him a temporary set of clean clothes.

“Can I wear my own clothes this evening?  I’ll miss them.”

“I don’t know why!”  She smiled, looking at the heap of mangy wool.  “I’ll have these guys hand these rags to the group washing over there.  You’ll have to wash them next time.”  She added, throwing his clothes to the boys, obviously still pursuing her confrontation with Georg.

“Are you devising cleverer things you should have said to Georg to win the argument?”  Diogenes laughed.  “You know that’s futile.”

“I can just see trouble brewing, Diogenes!”  She lamented.

“Why don’t we take a walk before the ‘Midnight’ begins, Andrea?  Are you acting in the play?”

“Yes, but I know my lines.”

“Do these crazy guys want to join us?”

“Maybe.”  She whispered, still struggling with Georg in her mind.

“Great.  I feel wonderful.  You know, I wouldn’t want to wash more than this.  But on occasion … “  Diogenes glanced at the boys who had signaled him.

“They want you to drink grain alcohol, Diogenes.”  Andrea said, distantly.

“Fine, then we’ll walk!”

The boys had been heating a bowl on the same fire which heated the vats of water.  They were rubbing their hands together in anticipation.  None of them could have been over eighteen but, even if their bodies were lean, they were aging quickly.  They scooped out the liquor with a ladle for Diogenes and passed him a steel cup.  Diogenes waited for them to drink and held back until they made a toast:

“May all the assholes in the world die!”  Diogenes declared, and they looked baffled.  He then held up his cup and nodded that it was time to toast.

“Freiheit!”  The oldest shouted, catching on.

“Sex!”  The ugliest rang in.

“Musik!”  sang the dreamiest.  And they all drank.  The liquor torched Diogenes‘ mouth, sliding like hot kerosene down his throat, exploding in his stomach.

“Was ist das?”  Diogenes said, stooping to examine an old lantern.  The boys watched, delighted.  It was a kerosene lamp, wick and all.

“Do you keep this to find girls in the night?”  Diogenes asked and they blinked, puzzled.

“Für Frauen?”  Diogenes picked up the lantern, pretending to be searching for them.

“Frauen?  Ja!  Ja!  Jede Nacht!”  The ugliest chuckled, poking the skinny dreamer in the rib cage.

“Auch für Andrea!”  the oldest jibed.  The other two cast him reproachful looks.

“Andrea?”  Diogenes wheeled around.  She was busy studying her script from a pile of scribbled over brown bags.  Then, in part to change the subject, he strode over to one of the bottles of liquor the boys had set aside to be heated with the lantern, pulled the cloth out which stopped them, and began pouring the liquor into the lamp for fuel.

“Warte!”  The oldest screamed, scandalized, “Das ist sehr teuer.  Sehr teuer!”

“Ja, Ja!”  Diogenes laughed, filling the lantern.

The three boys looked on painfully, as he poured away their liquor.

They walked together along the rows of tables where goods were bartered.  An array of old dungarees, security guard uniforms and flannel shirts were laid out on frozen planks.  Above them on the tables, strapless watches and lenseless eyeglasses, frayed cardboard comic books, pre-Collapse postcards with smudged ink inscriptions from France.  The boys busied themselves with broken hammers, stripped screws and cordless irons, admiring them as Andrea and Diogenes passed over to the tables filled with potatoes and beets.  Then to a half-dozen or so people who surrounded another plank.  A lump of salted fish had attracted a partisan crowd but no one offered anything good enough to barter for it.  Several middle-aged men lifted an old writing table with a rolltop desk, but the fish monger would have none of it.  The tuna fish, however battered, was the envy of all would-be merchants and traders alike.

As Diogenes followed the proceedings, lamp in hand, a thinly bearded, scrawny adolescent scurried up to him and began following him, walking in his footsteps.  The merchant saw Diogenes and yelled to him, waving:

“Ja!  Super!  Diogenes!”  The fish monger waved, speaking German with a thick accent.

Diogenes asked Andrea to translate for him.

“He thanks you for opening up Golgotha.  He said he has twice the business here than he had at bartering in Kudamm.”

Diogenes bowed to the heavy-set Turkish fish monger, with the scrawny adolescent peeking over his shoulder.  The merchant then ceremoniously handed him the tuna, which Diogenes did not want, plopping the bovine-eyed head into Diogenes’ cradled arms.  The crowd clapped briefly, a little envious, but glad that is was Diogenes, who had led them back to Golgotha, and not the rolltop desk owners who had ended up with the tuna fish.

The adolescent, then, working up his courage pleaded with Andrea to introduce him to Diogenes:

“This fellow wants to know you, Diogenes.  He says his name is Benedik and he desires to become your disciple.”

“Tell him his name frightens me.”


“He says,”  Andrea added after listening to the young man who whispered anxiously into Andrea’s ear, ” … that he wants to understand your teaching.  And that he won’t leave you until he does.”

“Have him carry the tuna fish!”  Diogenes said, embarrassed.  “He’ll learn everything I know from it.”

Dusk shot its dark steel across the frozen mud of the park.  Diogenes stumbled down a slope now crawling with fans waiting for the play, the music and his speech.  The boys who had wandered off while he had surveyed the market, ran back, excited as the lull in preparations for the party gave way to the whine of electric generators and tuning guitars.  Andrea ducked into the make-up tent.  Stage props appeared draped in black.  Actors, in full costume consulted an old woman director and rehearsed cues.  The boys ran up with a bottle of hot alcohol and tackled Diogenes, forgetting in their enthusiasm Diogenes’ age, and comparative frailty.  They all laughed forcing back Diogenes’ mouth in a mock battle, pouring hot liquor down his gullet as he gulped and pretended to protest.  The scrawny lad, still cradling the tuna fish in his sore arms, waited at his elbow.

“Arschlöcher!¨” Diogenes laughed, using the pantleg of his would-be disciple to dry his chin.

“You still have your lantern?”  The older boy asked in German.

“Yes, I should light it!”  Diogenes answered in English, still wallowing on the ground.

“What does an old man like you want with a lantern?”  The ugliest asked, glad now that Diogenes followed their German.

Diogenes stood up, pondering why it fascinated him.  “I’m looking for an honest man!”  he announced, in German.

He slipped a matchbox from one of their jackets and stooped to light the lantern as it was nearly dark and lamps with paper maché wrappings were also being stoked from wires hanging throughout the park.  He lit the wick, pulled down the glass, and walked over to the boys shining the lamp into each of their rugged faces, eyeing them like a Grand Inquisitor, pretending to interrogate them.  They went along with his examination, making faces like criminals or saints.

“There are no honest men!”  The oldest shouted.

“Certainly not among you!”  Diogenes shot back.

“And what about him?“  The ugliest inquired.

“He’s a sycophant!”  Diogenes replied in English, forgetting the German equivalent.

“Let’s help Diogenes find an honest man!”  They all shouted pulling him through the crowd sprawled out on newspapers and old rags.  They guided his hand and lantern to each unexpecting face, fascinated, imploring Diogenes to judge if it was honest.

The lit faces expressed surprise, and many of them fear.  If Diogenes wasn’t drunk and examined each face, he might not have smiled at all, as decades of cold and malnutrition had ravaged them.  He recalled the moment he peered at them during his first speech from his vase.  Now he lit up individuals, internal exiles, the outcast populace of the “new” city-state of Berlin — the inner ring.  He looked into the blue eyes of a girl-mother, her daughter on her lap dressed in burlap.  He watched an old rummy squint with a scruffy red beard, resembling a Black Forest burgher having taken a wrong turn into Hades.  He surveyed the faintly aristocratic features of an adolescent girl shyly surfacing from the shadows with dusty auburn hair tied with a red velvet ribbon.  He looked into the obsidian pupils of an Afghan father, laughing with gentle irony as if being photographed.  He saw the chiding expression of responsibility on a seated gray-haired grandmother who appeared as if it were all a matter of keeping clean behind the ears and mumbling humble words from a Lutheran prayer-book.  He watched a broken-nosed black man return his glance that Diogenes must be crazy and Diogenes nodded that so, indeed, they both were.  He found a sad child pouting in the corner of a cardboard box, hiding a discarded shoe as if it were a gift from a Magi.  Embarrassed by their ingenuous faces Diogenes turned around, wondering how he ever had the arrogance to call them all liars.  Then he heard the scrawny lad, who had all this time been carrying the now sweaty tuna fish, scream.

Diogenes shined the lantern in his face.

“I won’t carry your goddamned tuna fish nor listen to your bullshit anymore!”  He stomped, flinging the tuna fish to the dirt.

“You see!”  Diogenes said, pausing to remember the German for tuna fish, “A tuna fish came between you, me and philosophy!”

The crowd which had been watching him make his rounds began clapping.  The scrawny lad stormed away while the boys pulled at Diogenes’ sleeve.

“The play is about to begin!”

The curtains drew back and a drummer with hands blazing over a kettle drum announced “The History of Berlin” — a sign lowered over the stage as the set grew bright with kerosene lamps focused by funneled black paper.

As the play began, the curtain unraveled with a war-ravaged Berlin coarsely painted on it.  Bricks were strewn with actors lying under or beside them.  Soldiers patrolled the rubble, poking corpses with bayonets, rolling over wounded with boots.  Three women came on stage, Andrea among them, and implored the soldiers with outheld bowls.  The soldiers joked among themselves then roughly kissed the girls and hauled them offstage, intending to rape them.  Soon, another group of soldiers, identified by different uniforms, unrolled wire, while the first group womanized offstage.  They carried out a coffee table and sat down for a drink.  When the first soldiers returned and spotted the wire they glowered, threatening those who laid it.  Bosses in suitcoats strode in to accuse the opposing group while women and children begged.  The bosses on either side ordered the soldiers to drag away bodies and clear bricks from the stage while they made speeches or aimed rifles.

Night fell, symbolized roughly by covering all but one stage light.  As the actors retired from the stage, the bosses on one side reappeared, directing that a Wall be built.  They built the Wall with cinder blocks and draped it in wire.  Morning rose, the lights were uncovered, and the people of either side emerged wondering what had happened.  The bosses who had slept, argued and directed their soldiers to threaten the Wall-builders, but they remained separated.  As they retired, the people from the side which built The Wall peeped over and several tried to scale it, but were shot.

The inmates of either side then swept their benches adding potatoes, boots, pants etc. to symbolize the onset of dual economies.  The soldiers continued to aim rifles while bosses came and went with orders to dispatch, handing out receipts and collecting bribes (wads of play money).  One side prospered better than the other.  The actors on the side which built the Wall wore shabby clothes but actors on the other side improved their dress as their tables filled with food.  A Father Time then walked on stage with a large calendar consisting of newspaper strips blown by a rusty electric fan, powered by an offstage bicycle generator.  The calendar’s pages fluttered, signaling the passing of years while either side pursued their bargaining and policing of the cinder block Wall.

From the Eastern side, then, a new boss with a red blotch on his bald head dismissed older bosses, carrying a “democracy” sign. The crowd both cheered and booed.  He soon left, after East Germans slipped around the Wall and the door flungs open. The actors rolled up the wire and towed cinder blocks away until both sides crossed, drank, laughed and couples from each side paired off until night finally descended with the covering of lamps.

When they woke up, with terrible but comic hang-overs, immigrants arrived — initially welcomed by the still Wesies.  Soon, however, the stage grew crowded.  The Westerners resented the crush and the pleas from slow but constant new waves of refugees, represented by a swirling dance.   Father Time appeared again.  Soldiers returned, after money was piled up and burnt to dramatize the Collapse. More soldiers dressed in leiderhausen marched on stage and segregated the Germans from the immigrants, pushing them by gunpoint offstage as all Germans traded in their nice clothes for rags. After a short fluttering of calendar pages, men and women in black arm bands burst onto the stage and blew up the Bavarian leaders, carried offstage with an ardent cheer from the crowd.

One of the arm-banded men began to speak.  The toughs in the audience jeered since he was an obvious Georg-prototype.  Only the better clothed, formerly Western actors with a few ‘anarchists”, gathered around him, listening, while others held back.  Those who listened, Georg’s followers, began to leave and then emerge from off-stage with better clothes and placed a few items on tables to be bartered.

A brief intermission followed as the scene switched to the very park in which the play took place.  A cross was erected with “Golgotha” scrawled on it, while everyone drank, laughed and played guitars.  It was a Golden Age or Eden scene where refugees were smuggled in, greeted with flowers, and everyone undressed, fully naked, miming conversations of Love.  The audience howled approval, raising fists and stamping their feet, applauding.  It wasn’t long, however, until, from the wings, a new boss directed thugs to begin harassing the park dwellers, provoking an argument. One of the young men stood up and put his clothes back on and defended the people of Golgotha.  Yet he wasn’t among the original park dwellers and he peeked over to the new boss, and received a signal.  He ran over and gesticulated wildly and began pushing around the thugs.  This inspired a fight when a second young man ran up, drew a gun, whereupon the thugs shot not him but the first young man who originally stood up to them.  A riot ensued and many innocent park-dwellers were shot.

Black arm banded citizen’s militia cleared the park.  And again, with some shifting of sets a mock Council was revealed after the lights were dimmed then re-lit.  The same actor who had portrayed a villainous Georg was pointing to a drawing with an new plan for the reconstruction of Berlin.  When he appeared, everyone screamed insults at the stage which didn’t die out even though a new scene followed, which resembled the introduction. This time the bricks from collapsed buildings were carried by former park-dwellers and a new landfill barrier was slowly hoisted.

When the hard work was finished Georg, with a number of prosperous “new bosses” assembled the black arm-banded militia.  Guns were drawn and those who had formerly enjoyed the park and had put labor into the landfill were exiled from Berlin, while a number of the militia lifted cinder blocks to close the opening after them.  The play ended here, among hoots and whistles from the audience, with the people of Golgotha exiled from Berlin, their access sealed off by the hated landfill they had helped erect.

The crowd began shouting “Never Again!”,  and “Down with The Council!”  and “No more Walls!”  “Death to Georg!” then greeted the cast when they re-emerged with praise, tears, and flowers.

While the applause died away Diogenes’ vase was rolled onto the stage and the original black canvas lowered.  He walked up, stick in hand, and paused before a statue covered with snow and began conversing with it.  The statue was of a stern-faced German Nationalist during the turbulent years following The Collapse which was to be used as a prop for the band to follow.  The crowd’s cheers and hoots slowly drained as they began to focus on Diogenes himself, as he hugged the snow-covered statue.  He stepped away, scaling the small wooden stairwell, and said:

“You know, this statue said more to me,”  he paused to brush snow off his coat, “… than I could use from any ideologue or historian.”  He then lifted his pamphlet,  “I was going to finish my reading of ‘On Liars’ but I will read only a paragraph which introduces what I now intend to say.  I’ll attempt to speak German.  Excuse my accent and bad grammar as I’m hardly fluent.

“I will read only this part, as a preface:

“There is something magnetic in all states of volition.  You can draw on another’s lie.  You can seduce it.  It’s not that you cannot be lied to without provocation.  One can certainly be raped or cheated, lied to, without lying first, but there are levels of fiction.  And the subtler levels, which one conceals, infiltrate even the grossest behavior … down to farting or fucking.  Even a liar’s fart is compromised.’

“Which is to say, a lie is usually a psychic contagion.  And one can be culpable for another’s lie.

“I am not a spokesman for causes, but I read this paragraph because your play bothers me.”

“Are we being lied to?  And should we assume that by recasting the history of Berlin and forecasting future oppression we’ll know the truth?”

“You’ve dramatized your regret and fear.  This is the truth of your play.  Also, it was written to compete with your opposition’s, The Council’s, plan to present one of their own.  Right?  Congratulations!  you’ve anticipated your enemy!”

Diogenes paused and the audience had grown silent.

“Let me put it by way of paradox:  If we could devise a new calendar and there should be two histories, would we find another euphemism for death?”

No one replied.

“If a person commits suicide we look for an explanatory note.  But if a human race commits suicide, where do we look?”

Andrea’s face, partially illumined by the stage lights, expressed befuddlement.  The crowd remained silent.

“History is a mausoleum.  Its doors are open … but its contents are sealed.”  He paused again, without expecting a reply:

“There may be fingerprints on all the vaults.  But the owner of each crime has vanished.”

The crowd looked puzzled.

“I say, if the ‘Race of Man’ should cease to exist altogether, there’ll be as much cause for regret as there’d be if flies or wasps should disappear.”  Again, he paused, to catch his breath.

“Look, I have no city, no apartment, not even a bed.  I have no wife and no children.  Yet I have no one either to inhabit me.  I’ve no business, no money and yet I … am Diogenes.”

“The road back to Babylon is lousy with corpses but not the road back to myself. I’ve come to Berlin and found myself waiting.  What should I regret?”

“This morning, I watched a mouse scurry this way and that.  But it didn’t look for an apartment to bed down.  It wasn’t afraid of the dark.  It didn’t need a duplex condo!”  The crowd laughed.

“The other day, on a walk, I saw a snail moving his shell with him.  His life was portable.  And then I rolled my vase into this park.”

“If I have nothing, how can they deprive me?  And if I desire nothing what can I lose?”  He paused again.  The crowd seemed less confused.

“I sit motionless and my mind turns to ashes.  I do nothing and have nothing.  When I taste the ashes of my worries, I’m amazed I ever went hungry.”

“We all want to live in Paradise.  But I don’t know anyone who has ever been there and returned.  Is there a God?  Perhaps there ought to be.  Do we want to know about what exists after we die — an after-life?  It’s hard enough to live from day-to-day, this is in our power.  What is prior to our existence is withheld by nature, so the things after death must be trusted to it.”  He said, brushing his hands.

The crowd labored to follow him as he changed subjects:

“We devise stories, tell tales and so justify our lives.  But suppose there are events which can’t be made sense of?  When we meet a Sphinx, face to face with our Enigma, whether it be why the innocent suffer or the evil win, or why we can consciously experience Eternity — then die — why violate the mystery?  For curiosity?  For revenge?  The mystery of existence is inexorable.  For there are unanswerable questions.  The most important questions — about evil, power, injustice, success, about life and death — are unanswerable.  We can only do what’s right toward that which is within our power … within our reach … if we are honest about what we can and cannot know.”

“One could tell the history of Berlin or the crimes and suffering of the German people anyway one pleased.  That isn’t quite true about the enigma of existence.  We are faced with mystery, and so frustrated, we find a scapegoat: The Past, the Refugees, The Council.  But who can re-sow this retrospective passion into the present, into this earth, and into our comrades who are just as stunned by our endgame which seemed to pre-destine our defeat. We have nothing now but each other, but is that so bad?”

“Excuse me if I stumble over these words in German … I know my syntax is rotten, but I intend to close regret so that a quality of experience in the present can be recovered.”

“It is easy to blame.  Revenge is poison.  Beware of that genius for revenge which builds a tower from which enemies will be hung for our personal failure.  The enemy — if there is one — is ambition, for fame, money, success.  I suggest giving them up!  Give up belonging to friends, to family, give up housing, food — as far as it is possible — and step on to the road or into the forest.  I advocate pulling down the tower of success and its shadow, which we cower under in envy.”

“There are truths which skyscrapers cannot reach and earthquakes cannot rock!  And the dust they raise as they fall makes as fine a dawn as a dusk.”

“There, now, I’ve now become a bore!  But you see, the fears you have dramatized, fictionalized, made into a story, a myth, a history, will fall too and all we will have is … life.  Pure and brutally real.  Then one can be generous and one then, even an old hound like me, can be interesting.  And the mind can be transparent, light, truthful.  This is what I’ve learned from this shaggy dog existence.  It’s all I have.  And this is all I have to say … “

Diogenes ended here, needing to be steadied by Andrea and stage hands.  The audience endured his speech rife with grammatical errors without offense.  His vase, beside which he had stood, was rolled off stage and he descended the stairs, with Andrea’s help.  Polite, impatient applause followed until the cloth covering the speakers and drums were pulled away and the band wandered onto the stage for the evening’s entertainment.  The lead singer drew a huge cheer from the crowd when he bounded to the microphone dressed in a pelt loosely covering his hairy chest, wielding a club.  Just under his matted head his eyes darted maniacally, while the rest of the group sported animal hides and necklaces strung with teeth, and bone belt buckles, as they cranked up their amplifiers.

Diogenes circled back behind the stage and saw a boy furiously peddling the bicycle driving the generator.  Three or four other young boys were lined up to spell him during the concert.  The crowd roared and he could see through a tear in the black curtain that they had stormed to the stage, stepping on each other’s spread newspaper and rags.  He wandered away from the stage when he heard the first chords ring like chain saws and the hoarse ejaculations of the primeval singer.  He was thinking of his past, nostalgic for Undine and Rupert, and feeling like a hypocrite.

As he hobbled away from Golgotha, he could hear shouting and roaring chants following the chorus of the popular song.  They were repeating the same phrase, drawing it out, “Fucka, Fucka, fucka, fuck, fuck, fuck, Fuck You!”, over and over again, with middle fingers thrust in the air. “What noise!”  he lamented.  It occurred to him then that he hadn’t kept his promise to Georg to help vacate the park.  He got lost in the spectacle of the play, in his own critique, and the oddness of his circumstances.  Already, however, the chill gusts of the Berlin night stirred and only the mob jumping up and down to the music could ignore it.  He didn’t know who was right in the political struggle between the have’s and have not’s in the democratic “new” Berlin.  Every political question was an ethical one to him writ large and its letters blurred as they expanded and he could read nothing but exaggeration or greed in any conflict.

He walked back to the vats of steaming alcohol and stood in line after scavenging a tin cup.  The band was inciting near riot by now with their third song, which refrained like an anthem, “Down with the Council!”.  The lead singer, after a crashing drum solo and the bassist’s dry, fibrous, rhythmic meanderings, paused before the final onslaught, dedicating their song to Diogenes and the mob roared in clench-fisted solidarity.  As Diogenes shrank away from the stage and the vat, bracing for a hot gulp of rot gut,  he bumped into a tall figure wearing a black robe and a hood drawn over its face, blocking his way.  Behind his shoulder, stood, to Diogenes’ disbelief, Manfred, the dogcatcher.  Diogenes shivered, dumbfounded, and questioned Manfred, his brow lit by broken Christmas lights hanging from a frayed wire:


“It’s me.”  Manfred shook his hand, the hooded figure waiting mutely to his right.  “Your German has improved.”

“Never mind that!  How did you get here?”

“I followed you in.  Why turn back after I let the dogs go?”  He asked, realistically.

“And … who is this?”  Diogenes asked, remarking the obscured head covered by a black hood.

The figure stood away from the light and tugged off his hood putting his forefinger to his lip while pulling Diogenes aside.  It was Georg.

“The shit’s going to hit the wall, soon!  Within a few hours, Diogenes.”  He whispered in English.

“The fan, Georg.  Why?  Did they one-up your historical play?”

“Cut the bullshit!  I pray my predictions aren’t true and there’s no riot.  But the last time this happened, we had total mayhem.”

Diogenes considered it: “Are any of their charges true?  I mean, about The Council inciting the violence last time?”

Georg shook his head.  The whole process was extremely painful to him.

“Then I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.”  He said, returning to Manfred’s worried face.

“How did Manfred and you meet?”  Diogenes asked.

Georg slipped back his hood and walked down the bluff closer to the streets away from the stagelights.  The band raged on to a climax.  By now, the crowd whipped itself into frenzied dancing and drunken contortions, stamping feet and shouting hysterical slogans.  Despite the oncoming cool of evening, coats and shirts were ripped off, bare-breasted men and women were charging the stage and wildly kissing strangers.  Coupling lovers tumbled under the feet of the band members, then booted out of the way, crashing onto the chewed-up earth or into the laps of other couples.  Diogenes watched as a group of women stripped a boy naked and lifted him over the vat of alcohol, cackling, threatening to thrust him in head first.  Two women were locked in cunnilingus beneath a tree where a Vietnamese mother had just frighted away with her husband and two children.  The band members now were wearing leafs around their heads making women fellate them on stage, screaming of “Omens” into battered microphones.

Manfred shrugged shyly to Diogenes, suggesting that however  shocked by the spectacle they were not, afterall, Berliners.  Diogenes frankly experienced mixed feelings.  He had a voyeur’s fascination, or more accurately, a natural anatomical curiosity.  Yet the violence by which the crowd sought their fun struck him as despair.  The music was beyond the harsh dissonance he had heard in New York.  It snarled, whipped, scraped at half-intervals, with vocal sinkhole pops in imitation of puncturing flesh, quasi-Satanic grotesques which whined banshee-like recalling the buzz of dentist drills or chainsaws.  It reminded him of the roller-coaster nightmares and bed-spins under the spell of polluted alcohol in those long nights alone in the Met Life building.  He began to search frantically for a way to interrupt it on stage, followed by Manfred, to inspire the crowd into calm and suggest, by some symbolic ruse, that they peaceably leave Golgotha.  He edged to his vase and wished to crawl inside but there was nowhere to escape the riotous music.  Then he saw Manfred accepting a drink from the pug-nosed girl who was grinning malignantly from ear to ear.  She was ringed by male friends skulking behind the stage a few strides from his vase.  Another member of the group was pouring alcohol into a dish for the dogs, as they huddled closely, paws on ears, waiting on Diogenes.

“We have to stop this!”  Diogenes shouted, in German, to the pug-nosed girl.

“Why?”  She replied, sweeping her glance to the semi-circle of thugs who half surrounded her.

“It’s out of control.”  Diogenes answered, knowing he had already lost his argument.

“Control?”  One of the thugs winced, stepping closer to Diogenes’ ear, “Control is for cops!”

“I mean … where is Andrea?”

The pug-nosed girl lifted her hands: “Am I my sister’s keeper?”  She smiled wickedly.

“It seems … “  Diogenes shouted, stepping closer, ” … that we are fulfilling what the Council expects of us.  We are staging a riot!”

With this, a hulking member of the group shouted, after a baritone clearing of throat, “You can always leave!  There’s a cart over there … “  Diogenes checked in the direction he suggested, espying a cart, which may have wheeled in amplifiers or stage props.

“I’ll help you.  I must go home now. I live in Lichtenfeld.” The thug offered.

Diogenes noticed Manfred grimacing, suspicious of the man and his cart.  The pug-nosed girl smiled like a cat, then shouted: “Yes, Beria, lift his vase onto the cart!  There’s peace and quiet near Unter der Linden!”

She winked at him and he did it, then directed a scrawny guy to tag along.

Diogenes felt a pang of guilt that he was not arguing before the audience on Georg’s behalf, but gaging their violent and protracted delirium, he knew it’d prove futile.  And perhaps he could catch some sleep, sightsee and persuade someone tomorrow.  He supervised as they hoisted his vase onto the cart then lent a hand in tugging the cart from the park.  Manfred followed, caring that all the dogs trailed along.  And as they weaved and wheeled their burden from the mud to the pavement, leaving behind them the stage noise, and the revelers, Andrea, who had been resting with another girl beneath a tree, stood up and looked quizzically at Diogenes.

“Why did you say you didn’t like our play, Diogenes?”  She asked, reproachfully.

“I didn’t say that.”  Diogenes offered, giving her a kiss on the forehead.  “You were wonderful.”  He added gently.

“Where are you going?”  She asked, brushing away the compliment.

“To quieter ground.”

“With these guys?”  She asked, examining not Manfred but the heavy-set cart driver and his scrawny fellow-traveler.

“Why not?”

“But what about my translation of ‘On Liars’ and your solidarity with us, in Golgotha?  Did Georg get to you?”

“No, I’m crawling away on my own.  It doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just going to find a quiet place for the night.”

“Don’t be gone long.  I have a lot to say to you.  Georg is wrong, you know.”  She added, not quite believing that Georg didn’t influence Diogenes.  Her girlfriend coaxed Andrea away from Diogenes, and back to their intimacies.

By now, Beria and his friend had yanked the cart back into motion and they descended, through a narrow stone sidewalk, into the street, with Manfred leading the dogs.  When they reached a street barricade between neighborhoods, they had to lift, wheel by wheel, the cart over piles of bricks roped by tires. Having done so, they began the long, slow trek to Under der Linden to survey the ruin of its grand 20th and 21th century architectural leftovers.

In the foreground sank huge multi-floored warehouses constructed for the first major swell in refugees financed by the now defunct German Federal Republic.  They were flanked by the German Nationalist’s short-lived Dome for German Patriots — jutting blocks, rusted girders and iron wires covered now by greasy plastic, foundations obscured by trash.  Yet they could also see the older, decaying ornaments and Prussian friezes of old Berlin: elegant, sooty, squatted now by shadowy figures burning wood just inside their rocky edifices. Newer office buildings appeared erected to house the bureaucratic swell of the last stop for the former German government. The atmosphere seem changed now, something tentative, edgy, chilled the air as the surly Beria and his scrawny go-for forged on before them.  The buildings exuded a forlorn dignity at night, which ghosted Diogenes’ mind, and nestled there, rising in smoke, haunting him with dim sensations of exile.  Oddly, they ground slowly down the deserted boulevard, without seeing face-to-face, any single pedestrian.  Ahead, three dark figures hurried to cross the divider between the two sides of the boulevard then scrambled back.  They passed more vacant streets then encountered a canal spanned by a stone bridge in disrepair from which hung a sign, reading: The Pergamon Museum, above a spraypainted arrow.  The dogs sniffed and Manfred pushed the cart from behind, ensuring that the wheels wouldn’t wedge into the bridge ruts.

They took a short cut through what Diogenes could see was the foundations of the Museum, where a path led directly through the center of two caved-in ceilings, and directly under a largely intact porcelain archway sprinkled with cement dust.  Manfred turned to Diogenes briefly pointing up, as the cart rumbled over a few stones, and the dogs sniffed at and marked the porcelain with urine.

“Diogenes!  These are the Gates of Babylon!”  Manfred whispered, eyes rolled up as they rattled through.

“Yes, I saw of photo of them once.  Or maybe, I saw them in a dream.”

“What are they?”  Manfred asked, having heard their name, but without the faintest idea where or from what historical era they survived.

“I don’t know.  Perhaps they’re a warning?”

They rolled into narrower streets, pungent with charcoal and smoke.  Ashes drifted through glassless window frames from fires burning out fallen rafters or rotted floorboards, as they now could peer inside stucco ruins where families crouched, nervously attending to their crunching footsteps, and squeaky cart.  After a series of unlit alleys and funereal backlots, Diogenes worried about their destination and questioned Beria as to their whereabouts.

“We still aren’t there.  But, we’re very close … “  He grunted.

Diogenes looked more carefully at Beria’s scrawny assistant, his pocked face thinly disguised by a scar-interrupted beard, eyes sagging above black bags.  Manfred held his tongue, staring at his shoes or at the dogs.  Only after negotiating several boarded doorways and courtyards guarded by huddled families, did Manfred finally pull on Diogenes’ sleeve and bring him aside.

“You know, Diogenes, I don’t like this.  We were supposed to go to a small green just off Unter der Linden and  … we’re kilometers away.”

“But aren’t you interested in this district of Berlin, it has the fewest people I’ve seen inside the city.”

“I don’t like these guys.  Look at the dogs … “  Diogenes looked over to see the dogs’ lowered jowls, and slightly tucked tails.  “They can sense something is up.  I’ve been around dogs long enough to tell when they are suspicious … by their silence and … nervous ears!”

“That’s odd.  They look rather content, trotting and inspecting, nosing around … “  Diogenes replied vaguely.

“It’s not much farther.”  The go-for whined back, listening to  Diogenes and Manfred grow apprehensive.

It was yet another half-hour until, at the outskirts of town, under the sooty pall of the last landfill mound before the Eastern ring camps, their two escorts disappeared into an abandoned building.  Manfred listened through a window casing and the dogs held back with Diogenes as he, now very tired, stood on broken glass which littered the muddy street in front of the building.  They emerged with forced smiles declaring they had reached their destination, inviting Diogenes and Manfred in for a drink and for wurst.  Manfred refused.  It was only after much pleading and reassuring that he finally stepped, with Diogenes, over the pile of broken glass which blocked the doorway, leaving the dogs and cart outside.

The scrawny go-for lit a newspaper he had soaked in alcohol from a bottle he hid in his jacket, then urged Diogenes and Manfred to follow him a few flights up a rickety stairwell.  Entering a door, he extinguished the flame.  Diogenes and Manfred caught up and walked into a wholly darkened room.  They sensed others in the room but could see nothing.  They heard a rustling and the dogs barked outside when Manfred shouted: “Diogenes!”  Trying to respond, Diogenes’ arms were twisted roughly behind his back and handcuffed and a gloved hand smothered his mouth.  His two legs were bound by another set of hands then two kerosene lamps were lit.  The room was lousy with thugs staring at them.  Beria looked over to a man in a long brown leather jacket, who had just stoked his pipe and had been standing back.

“Did we do good or what?”  Beria asked the apparent leader.

“Shut up.”  The leader barked, examining Diogenes and Manfred.

He signaled to another overweight thug to punch Manfred in the stomach.  Manfred buckled with his mouth still held by another man behind him.  Diogenes was slapped in the face.  He said nothing when the hand which delivered the slap was withdrawn.

“You’re not German, are you?”  The leader asked, in English.

“Fuck you.” Diogenes replied.

“Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?”  Diogenes retorted.

“Well, I’m here to see that you make me money.  And you are here because you will make me money.  This is the beginning of a business transaction.”  He stated, reverting to German.

“Did Grabmaler send you?”  Diogenes continued in English.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What is your business?”  Diogenes asked, still in English.

“Does he speak German?”  The leader asked Beria who nodded. “Make him speak German.”  Diogenes was again slugged in the face, this time by Beria.

“I’m a labor consultant.”  The leader smiled.  The others chuckled instantly at his little ruse  Manfred finally stood up.

“This one is a German, a new arrival to Berlin.  The dogs outside are really his.”  The scrawny go-for butted in.

“Don’t tell me about dogs!”  The leader snapped back maliciously.  “Beat it!  Wait outside!”  The scrawny one slinked down the unlit stairway.

The leader gazed out the window casing and watched the scrawny go-for trip into the street.  He took a puff on his pipe, then asked:  “And why is that vase in the cart?”

“This one used to live in it.”  Beria replied.

The leader again surveyed it:  “It might be worth something.  Send it along with him.”  He slipped back into the shadows after snuffing out a candle, paused, then commanded:  “Then shoot the dogs.”