Places in Berlin

Strange Animals Over Alexanderplatz

They come every year from the East.

A black cloud swoops around the television tower, or Fernsehturm, at Alexanderplatz, at night.

The beasts’ flight is coordinated, impressively so. They are unified in their fall, as if propelled only by gravity. But then they swoop up, all together and all at once, like some greater hand has lifted a flag. They dramatise the mists around the lit globe of the TV tower,  then roost, one perched after another––one thousand of them––on the cranes hovering over the construction of the U5 extension. Later, they will sleep all together, with the best view that exists of Berlin.

They come because they think it’s warm here in winter.

Stupid animals. No one thinks it’s warm in Berlin. Even I don’t, and I’m Canadian.

Are they bats? They at first seem threatening. I never thought rodents were meant to fly, their talent seems supernatural.  I imagine a superhero joining them on a futuristic craft above the S-bahn station.

But I’m the ill-informed one. They are not bats, but the most intelligent of birds. They have memory, they can recognise human faces and they mourn their dead. Every year they come to this same place. For Berlin’s fabulous nightlife, of course, dancing in flight around its great disco ball.

Where do they come from?

We have an answer: from Moscow, arriving in November and returning in February. I wonder about their summer lives in the Russian capital, the white nights, perhaps perched on the church towers of the Kremlin and shitting on the oligarchs. Why do they come here? When did they first come? Did Stalin send them? Where did they come to before the TV tower was built in the sixties? Did they consider perching farther West when the wall came down?

I wonder about their long Winterreise over Belorussia and Poland. I imagine a sad poet guiding the crows all the way to Berlin: Krähe, wunderliches Tier / Willst mich nicht verlassen? (‘Crow, strange animal, why won’t you leave me?’)

I emerge from my tram and look up to the animated air. It is spectacular. A presence. It sends shivers through me: they are like the night itself, come alive, and descending on us.

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.

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