Berlin Watching

For the first day of the World Cup, restaurants and bars in Berlin had old television sets hooked up on the sidewalks, side by side, or makeshift movie screens (sheets haphazardly hung), or the occasional widescreen, and people sat quietly in chairs watching. Noa and I walked from Mitte to Prenzlauer Berg at nine (it was still fully light out), and then I walked around Prenzlauer alone as the lights of the cafes got brighter in the warm, darkening air, and there was not one marauding band of twenty-something boys with giant plastic cups of beer, not a single drunken middle-aged man pissing on the street. Unlike New York City (which I love, don’t get me wrong), this is not a hell realm, though maybe that’s because it was one not long ago.

The quiet public watching of television reminded me of the one day we did something like that en masse in Manhattan—on the morning of September 11, 2001, when there was a car or workman’s van stopped every few yards, doors and windows open, radios blaring, and people standing around it in small groups, silently listening, with the towers smoking and then just smoke in the background, people emerging with briefcases in silence, cops all over the city with white circles around the hems of their pant legs.

These two occasions, of course, are nothing alike—one is happy, one is very, very sad. They are similar, though, in that they involve a city of people led to congregating in public, their hearts open.