Living in Berlin

Emergency Landing on Graefestraße

I am in love with Christoph.

He works for the fire department and he wears yellow overalls.

I heard him in my apartment on Monday morning, just past 9am. He was so loud I thought I’d go out of my mind. Beating and beating outside my window.

I went out on the balcony, and there he was. A shock I tell you. Christoph was descending, close to the top of the buildings, kicking up leaves and wind. He was going to land right on the street! I couldn’t quite believe it. Was the Pope coming to visit Kreuzberg?

So I ran outside into Graefestraße and there I saw Christoph landing, surrounded by police officers and fire engines. It was odd to see him there, he is not someone you normally see in the street. There were plenty of people there, waiting, wondering.

I asked one: ‘What’s happened?’

‘Someone’s been shot’, I’m told. His friend adds, ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood’.

Everyone is waiting for the body to come out of the building in Graefestr. where the police cars are stationed.

The whole area has been secured. There’s an endless lineup of cars and buses at the intersection. No one beeps.

I look at all the children watching, and wonder what they will make of the dead body. I wonder why their parents don’t take them away.

Finally the body comes out. The rescue team are remarkably organised, the body is horizontal on a stretcher, it is wrapped in white, cloths are held to either side to prevent us from viewing as it is loaded into Christoph, who, moments later, as the police urge us to step back, kicks up a great maelstrom and rises up back to the sky.

I go to the scene of the crime.

The police are questioning a number of builders, or are they painters? They look grave indeed. I’m told by the man running the kebab shop that no one has been shot but that a worker fell on his head from the scaffolding in the Hinterhof of the building next door. I believe they were restoring or painting the facades. His story was confirmed later when I looked at the accident report online. Look here and you can see the fire department’s pictures of the rescue.

I love Christoph 31 because there is no indication on the fire department report that the 50-year old man who fell was killed, but rather that Christoph carried him in time to the hospital. And I am encouraged that such a major operation––blocking of traffic, mass rally of police and fire officials, the emergency medical team, Christoph the helicopter––was activated for the sake of one precious life.

I call this civil society.

Thank you Christoph.


Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

2 thoughts on “Emergency Landing on Graefestraße

  • I love the narrative and emotion of this story. I kept thinking Christoph was a human.

  • I’d like to echo Sandy; another great story, Joseph.

    We live just around the corner from Graefestrasse and hadn’t heard anything about this. We need to get out more!

    Keep up the good words.

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