My feet slipped slightly on the wet and sandy sidewalks. The wind drove the rain against my face. The evening was dark gray like old concrete, lit up occasionally by shining lights from passing cars and trams. The red man with a hat on the stoplight held both of his hands to the side, telling me to wait before crossing the street. My black umbrella shook with the wind. The light changed to the shape of a little green man walking. I stepped onto the street and walked across, still struggling with my flailing umbrella.
The air stilled and seemed to hold its breath. Suddenly music blared loudly as though a record had been switched on. A powerful, familiar voice spoke from some distant radio, “I know of no town, no city…” The breeze easily stole my umbrella and tossed it ahead. The rain no longer splattered on my head, but seemed to pass through me. Trees stood tall beside me in the swampy soil – tall trees, old and calm. I hadn’t notice them before. I heard rain pattering lightly on their leaves.
The trees fell soundlessly to the ground and were replaced by stone and dirt. People walked along the bare road. Bricks were dragged through the mud and the sludge. Some laughed as they worked and others cried in the rain, its sound covering their sobs. The dirt road was replaced by carefully-lain bricks. Through the commotion, I caught some words from the far-off radio, “…still lives with vitality…force…hope…determination.” Horses strutted and the people topped their hats. Smoke whirled from brown, sooty chimneys and women walked in and out of the factories chatting. Gray smog flocked through the streets with the people.
Processions of soldiers marched proudly through the streets. Horns blared and drums thundered. I watched with confusion as the soldiers began to fall. Some suddenly collapsed in line, others flailed back as though struck. They fell and disappeared into the ground and the rising smoke. Only some remained walking away, not seeming to notice as their comrades staggered and disappeared into the darkness.
Many flames burned. People threw bills into the fires and their faces were haggard and desperate. Like some apparition, a monstrous figure appeared – fierce and looming. Two blood-colored flags were raised and carried through the dark rain. The distant radio-voice spoke over the heavy rain, “…an offense against humanity….”
Trains screeched in the distance. I heard chanting and then screaming. Thick black smoke filled my sight and the sky rained ash. Heaps appeared around me. I thought they were piles of wood, but they seemed to be moving and wreathing in agony. “Lift your eyes beyond the danger of today…” the voice boomed powerfully.
Another line of soldiers marched through the streets. They squatted and fired into the distance and I felt helpless. Chaos ensued. I couldn’t move as men sprinted around me. Some flew into the air and landed tattered and broken. I wanted to run or throw myself to the ground as bullets rushed past me and soldiers ran by, but I couldn’t move.
Then it all stopped. The rain steamed on the hot, broken pavement. The ruined street was empty. There was a great tension and anxiety. I wanted to look around out of fear that more danger would come. Before me were wire fences and bricks.
Suddenly a dark wall grew before me and towers sprung from nothing. People fell from the sky and splashed like cloudy water against the ground. I was surrounded on both sides by stone, cement and wire – great, resolute walls. “…beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice,” said the voice as a few shadows desperately flew from one side to the other. Many were struck and suddenly turned to black, smoky liquid. They melted into the ground. I was stuck in the middle.
The radio cracked on and grew louder through the heavy pattering of raindrops. The staticky voice cut through the rain, .”..freedom is indivisible. When one man is enslaved all are not free.” The wind picked up and an unseen storm brewed beyond the wall. The static grew louder and the wind wailed. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” finished the strong voice with great intensity and authority.
The ground shook and rumbled. There was a great noise – crying, laughing, screaming, shouting: sounds of joy and sorrow, victory and defeat. There was a monstrous applause. The wall in front of me burst as thousands of shadowy figures broke through. A cloud of millions of human shapes swarmed around me and broke through me.
I heard the staticky voice grow fainter behind the stamping and splashing of countless phantom feet. Remembering the words, I repeated slowly, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” The drops of rain grew fiercer and the wall crumbled more under the infinite hands and feet, crawling furiously over the wall and over each other. The shadows sprung and danced over the ruined walls. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” I said loudly. Dark tanks smashed through the wall and the buildings. Large stones and bits of metal pipe flew past me. “Ich bin ein Berliner!” I shouted. Shadow soldiers appeared and fired their weapons in the air and through the storm of people. Bullets ripped painlessly through my flesh and the torrents of rain drove me to the muddy ground. I was sprayed by blood and water, pelted by stone. The shadows kept running across in a frenzied parade, sometimes falling and driving up waves of dirt and stone. “Ich bin ein Berliner!” I screamed as hidden mines exploded in flashes of orange. The shadows screamed in pain and excitement, shoving me, throwing me. “Ich bin ein Berliner!” My cry was masked by the wailing and screeching hordes of people – the splashing of their feet – the massive explosions. “Ich bin ein Berliner!” I roared as loudly as I could. It was not my voice, but a million voices, infinitesimal souls screaming – the cries of children and the moans of their grandparents, proud men and strong women. My voice was a symphony – an immense multitude of people, of trains and rustling leaves, of war drums and saxophones. I wanted so badly to die and be dragged away by the waves of shadowy figures, but I couldn’t move with them. They whirled past me and through me. I pleaded – Kill me! Take me! Let me fade into the soil so I can once again shoot up to the sky! Trees and buildings erupted from the earth. From the churning soil, life sprung again. My skin was ripped and my bones broken, only to be instantly reformed.
“Ich bin ein Berliner!” I yelled breathlessly as I was thrown to the wet pavement. The music vanished and a car screeched loudly. I tasted blood in my mouth. Figures actualized around me and picked me up. A car door swung open. Quick footsteps. A worried man looked deeply into my eyes. Am I alright? I took a deep breath. His face was concerned and confused; the night was black with blurry red and yellow lights. My umbrella was broken on the ground. I nodded and swallowed some blood from my cut lip. I told him I was fine.
The people dispersed and I continued down the sidewalk. I turned suddenly because I thought I could hear a strong, staticky voice cutting through the rain, calling me back. Then I realized that there was no voice, but some force was compelling me forward. I continued through the dark, rainy evening, past the trees and the buildings.