When Will I Be Blown Up?
The Prologue to When Will I Be Blown Up?, which was previously titled Berliner Ensemble. One of the middle chapters of this novel is published in After the Berlin Wall, edited by Katharina Gerstenberger and Jana Evans Braziel.
International Herald Tribune, June 18:
German Government Fears Islamist Attack
Berlin—The Reichstag, the building which houses the German legislature, exploded in the early hours of Friday morning. No fatalities have yet been confirmed. German authorities have sealed an area of several square kilometers around the building and police have been mobilized to the streets and transportation hubs of the city. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The German Chancellor, Friedrich Detweiller, said in a press conference yesterday, “Germany has become the latest battlefield in the ongoing war against terror. Like other countries that have come under terrorist attack, Germany will do everything it can to defend itself.” Asked explicitly if he suspected an Islamist group was behind the attack, Herr Detweiller responded, “It is too early to say for certain, but at this time that seems the most likely scenario, yes.”
Details of the explosion, which happened while most of Berlin was asleep, are sketchy at best. A blast was reported around 3:30 a.m. local time and the city awoke Friday morning to find the Reichstag reduced to a pile of stone and twisted metal.
Completed in 1894, the Reichstag was the traditional seat of the German parliament until its partial destruction in a fire in 1933, blamed by Hitler on a communist plot led by the young Dutchman Marinus Van der Lubbe, but now more generally believed to have been started by the Nazis themselves. The building remained empty, sustaining further damage in the bombing and street fighting of World War II, until German reunification in 1990. Since 2000 it has housed the Bundestag, the lower house of the German legislature, under a glass domed roof designed by the English architect Sir Norman Foster. Herr Detweiller indicated that it was “too early” to speculate on whether the Reichstag would be rebuilt. The Bundestag will sit temporarily in the State Opera House until further arrangements can be made.
Peter Cameria Kokemus arrived in Berlin the day of the Reichstag explosion. This is how he told the story, and this story is mostly about Peter, what he did, and what was done to him, so it might as well be mostly his version that gets told. On the same day, and unbeknownst to Peter at the time, NATO planes flew sorties over a variety of targets from the Hindu Kush to the Euphrates, dropping the biggest payload of bombs and missiles that a single military mission had ever managed since 1945, resulting in what was variously reported as at least 21, more than 63, or close to 100 deaths, including one high-ranking al-Qaeda official, in the ongoing or perpetual war on terror, or terrorism. The papers reported it the next day somewhere in the middle sections. War wasn’t front page news any more.
Peter had been travelling for over twenty-four hours: the drive from his suburban house to O’Hare, where he’d left his car in long-term parking, planning never to return, the flight to London Heathrow, a bus to Stansted and another flight that touched down at Schönefeld around noon on the day the German parliament would become a pile of rubble, an event that had nothing and everything to do with Peter. He’d felt drugged after so many hours and miles bound to airplane seats, moving while sitting still, of packaged meals that pushed hunger away for an hour at the most, of the secondhand, dehydrating air, the weary smiles of flight attendants and weary frowns at passport control, and watching other people’s bags go around and around on the carousel conveyer belt as he waited for his own to appear. He slouched against the window of the S-Bahn carriage and watched the highway that ran alongside the tracks, listening to the recorded voice call out the—to him—meaningless names of the stations as the train passed through Grünbergallee, Altglienicke, Adlershof, Betriebsbahnhof Schöneweide, Schöneweide, Baumschulenweg, Plänterwald, Treptower Park, Warschauer Strasse. He listened also to the meaningless rattle of the Japanese students two seats in front of him, and the thick sounds of the old couple speaking the Berlin dialect that surpassed the understanding of his aging university minor in German Studies. As the husband hoiked and rattled his words had transformed in Peter’s exhausted mind into the rattling voices of the neighbors back home, of his colleagues, and of the parents of the high school where, until he’d backed down the driveway and pointed his car towards the airport, its taillights winking goodbye through the fog of that June morning, he’d been employed as a teacher of English literature.
Despite exhaustion and the weight of the backpack slung over his right shoulder he bounded up the steps that spit him out of Warschauer Strasse station and onto the bridge to be greeted by his first view of Berlin. He stared down the tracks as his train continued without him towards the armadillo roof of the Ostbahnhof, rumbling through the wasteland scattered with tower blocks and power plants, and large piles of dirt and rubble from half-excavated foundations. Beyond that stood the television tower, a disco ball skewered by a concrete lance. The sun was dropping from its midday apex and he shaded his eyes against it. The stench of auto exhaust mingled with the smoke that rose from the currywurst vender who stood on the sidewalk, his grill strapped to his belly like a fat, mustachioed cigarette girl. A group of punks, drinking and smelling of cheap beer, sat with their backs against the wall and hounded passersby for change as their dog licked its crotch. Peter’s exhaustion fell away and a smile pushed across his face. He felt the excitement of being young, naïve and American in a far away European city, where nobody knew him and he knew nothing, where everything was there for him to explore, where he could forget the mistakes he’d made. Here he could become, if he allowed himself to get carried away, the person he dreamt of when he’d written in a college admissions essay years earlier that he intended to pursue a course of study that would turn him into a citizen of the modern world, whatever that meant.
He’d chosen Berlin more or less on a whim. He’d wanted a place where he could understand some of the language, and the flights to Berlin were cheaper than those to Vienna. Peter, like the rest of the world, knew nothing yet of Heike, of Matthias or Joachim, and he knew nothing of Marianne. He certainly knew nothing, nor would he for a long time know anything, about me.