I spy this fracture pattern in a cobblestone one Sunday afternoon, as I walk through Mauerpark
in Berlin, Germany, with a friend, Helena, who is visiting from The States.
Mauerpark is more than two American Football Fields long and almost the width of a Football field wide. It is oriented North-South and was once part of No-Man’s land between the inner and outer rings of the Berlin Wall. The Western edge of the park is where the Wall that greeted West Berliners stood and now a simple wire fence demarks the boundary between Mauerpark and the Flea Market, which is bustling every weekend. The Eastern edge of the park is up on a slope, where the outer ring of the Wall once stood and there is a section still standing as a reminder. At the base of this slope, there is a cobblestone road that runs straight through the full length of the park. Roughly at the midpoint of this road, in the center of the park, embedding in the hillside, is an amphitheater with a circular, stone stage and the cobblestone road is tangential to it.
This Sunday, Helena and I are standing on the Cobblestone road at the circular stage of this outdoor arena, which is packed with people waiting for outdoor karaoke to start.
We look up at the tiered seating on the hillside and decide to make our way up the slope to the top, find a place to stand and have a look down onto the stage. We are being jostled by the throngs of people, who are walking, standing about, exiting and entering the arena area, waiting for the singing to start or cruising and looking for some other excitement in the busy park, carrying bottles of Berliner Pils, bouncing basket balls, kicking soccer balls, pushing strollers, walking bikes. This is both a Berliner and Tourist hotspot – it’s the same deal every Sunday with the Flea Market packed and the promise of both awesomely embarrassingly hilarity and bust’n live beats of Top Forty swing-a-ding-ding from the Karaoke singers who do their best (or worst) in front of about 500 people: we are hoping to see people embarrass themselves with a Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus song or, perhaps, we’ll get some old-timer East Berliner giving his best Frank Sinatra imitation – in German! We move along this road out of the congested area, and I glance down to give the cobblestones a cursory look.
See: as a sculptor, I work with stone, I’ve done work with found cobblestones, and I had a notable experience with a New York City cobblestone that I relate in this blog, as it was a stone I had walked over for years, but for whatever reason I had never noticed it until that day and, given the different context, it triggered an avalanche of thinking about important historical moments in the field of Science and pointed towards a relevance of stone for our present day and reminded me why I work with this material, in the first place. Here is a picture of it:
As I prepared for my trip to India to find Indian granite to work with, I made both mental and physical lists of the kinds of work, the kernels of ideas really, that I’d mull over while in India, and one of my ideas had to do with comparing, contrasting and relating this New York Cobblestone with other stones I find else where. I didn’t know how I’d execute this – I suspected through drawing – but it was part of the mental database I would bring with me to India … more about this in part 2.
As I glance down at the cobblestones along this pedestrian roadway in Mauerpark amidst the sea of people, I am conscious of the fact that I may be artificially trying to find significance in another urban stone by making some obtuse or forced connection, but then something irregular jumps out: a cobblestone that has a bizarre – decidedly ‘un-urban’ – fracture pattern. I can’t help it and I am hooked. Here’s an expanded image of that first stone I saw:
This triggers three simultaneous, yet distinct mental activities, like the clap of thunder accompanied with a flash of lighting and then the smell of Ozone – I wonder; I scan; and a cascade of thought pours in. I see the initial stone:
1. I wonder: “What … is … this? This is unexpected.?!.?!.”
2. I scan and see another and then another and another with a similar odd breaking pattern: a small grouping here, a larger grouping there. These are common cobblestones, so the strangeness isn’t the material but the breaking. There are deeper fissures and lesser fissures; there are voids of missing stone; there are places of more and less stone damage, scattered in an indiscernible pattern around the area we walk. The damage is subtle, most would not even give it a second glance, but the pattern doesn’t fit. Something is off, as the lesser breaks stay shallow along the upper layers of the stone, not deep and penetrating like you would find if erosion and changes in temperature and weather were the cause.
3. The cascade of thought happens quicker than one can chug a full glass of water and include:
“But, not one cobblestone sticks out: this doesn’t fit … my symbolic expectation.”
“Ignore. That is not important … Breaking … Looking …”
“But, this is not an identification with an individual cobblestone
or a decisive event of recognition and insight. What is it you are looking at and why is it significant?”
“Wait: your expectations can blind you … hold on … Processing …”
“Ok. This is outside your mold; deal with it. Discard your present system of analysis and observe. Take in more than you usually do, more than you are comfortable with. Wake up. Pay attention!”
“This break in the stone is not normal, unexpected. Period. Looking …”
“A mystery … Cogitating … How did they get this way? Not by any means you’re familiar with.”
“But no one else notices.”
“That’s right, no one else cares, but that doesn’t mean there is no mystery … and they are no concern of yours, anyway … Thinking …”
“Trauma here; Trauma there. Geez, about a dozen cobblestones in this one clump, pummeled, broken, abused. What force did this?”
“The cracks are too strange to be the consequence of the freeze and thaw cycle … You highly doubt it was the freeze and thaw cycle … You’d be surprise if it was the freeze thaw cycle – erosion, too slow … these leave distinctive breaks and you can see how it follows the weakness of the stone. There are patterns to … usually that follow a natural, weak contour of the stone and … Freeze-Thaw? Can’t be?”
“This is explosive. What?”
“Dubious. What? … Move … these are fast breaks. How fast? Simultaneous?”
“That’s important …”
“How long has this road been here? Long – the road has a wear and polished surface of vehicle use. But these could be recycled stones from another road.”
“Possibilities … all and any …”
“First: historical context …
“A grenade during the battle of Berlin, a shock wave from an allied bomb, a tank tread from the time Mauerpark was part of No-man’s land?
“Road most likely not old enough … What does that even mean?
“Could this have been deliberate? A sledgehammer? A carpenter’s hammer? More than a boot strike. But in such random places? And the characteristic that is so strange is that these cracks don’t go deep into the stone, but in and then along the surface… then there is a strange mellowing of the newly exposed surface. What is that?”
“Large machinery parked here for a construction job close by, but unrelated to geopolitical conflicts?”
“For these things to be confirmed, you need to know the history of this park: was it always a park? Like before WWII? When did it become a park? Were there homes in the field to the west, and were they then destroyed by bombing or to clear the area between the outer and inner Berlin Wall? Was it always a field, a park? When, What, Why … This Road?
“A force from below: What is underneath us? Different forces? Different times? Tectonic – naw, no way, not even close. Breaks mostly on top …”
“What other force could have broken these stones?”
“Create a mental map. Create a mental marker. Remember this: we are walking through an unexpected field of trauma. An individual cobblestone is not the issue. Something occurred to these stones, but What? I have never seen this kind of pattern before … and a municipal force could have fixed them … why not? … why?”
“How, now, Watson! The game is afoot!”
This transderivational search goes on for a bit longer. It was a quick glance and rapid-fire thought. We move and are jostled among all the people and are now walking up the slope. Helene has no idea what I am thinking as I didn’t break stride with her. We were talking about her painting and I decided not to overtake our conversation with my unformed thoughts; besides, we already have plenty to talk about. We move up the slope to the top of the arena.
I knew my initial thoughts were accurate only in the sense that there was a mystery. I didn’t really think those military reasons where possible, but, given the closeness of the history, it was easy to go there.
I remember reading somewhere: “Everything is the way it is because it got that way,” and those stones were not broken by magic.
I needed more information … or did I?
Then, I drop it. However …
Over the next 24 hours, I kept finding this mental marker for the Unexpected Field of Trauma
peering out from my much higher priority thoughts and daily tasks …
until the next afternoon, and I could not let this lie.
I go back to Mauerpark
with my camera.
To be continued … (part II here)