— Cultural Sources of Newness

The aesthetic experience of starting my work day at the WZB

The bus ride to work encapsulates me in a book, I see nothing else, hear nothing else, smell nothing else. The moment I get off the bus, my face is hit by the cold air and I remove my reading glasses so that the world can come into focus. The ritual walk begins, crossing the  bridge that spans the Landwehrkanal, looking to the left to see the small red bridge in the distance, looking up at the buildings and now naked trees ahead of me on the other side, down at the water flowing below, dark today for lack of sun.

The wind quickens me, reminding me each time of the wind that blew when my family released the ashes of my mother on an Irish hillside in 1992. She never visited us in Berlin during her lifetime but I feel her presence in the air that sweeps over the water every morning, stimulating me to reflect on what she, a gifted artist and teacher, would think about my work, encouraging me to aspire to channelling my energy into something meaningful.

Approaching the WZB this morning, a discarded cup thrown over the fence catches my eye. White garbage on the lawn in front of the “Herkules” sculpture on loan from the Neue Nationalgalerie.

I dig out my keys to open the gate, push against the lock that resists me, and step onto the freshly replenished gravel, thick on the ground.

Crunching sounds under my feet compete for attention with the traffic passing the WZB. I find myself moving backwards and forwards in time with the feeling of the gravel giving way as I step: back to elegant entrances to homes in France, back to walks on stony beaches, and forward to the snow that will soon crunch under my feet on this very path between the aromatic evergreen hedges.

Instead of going up the steps as usual, I turn right today, past the sapling we planted a year ago, across the unseasonally green grass dotted by little daisies, to retrieve the cup that bothers me, then return to the building, crunching again.

The cup disposed of, I turn the key in the lock and leave the fresh air behind. Inside, I make my way across the lively purple-flecked orange floor and allow myself to be enclosed in the elevator whose huge mirror brings me face to face with myself. The doors slide open with a familiar grinding sound, delivering me to the bright fourth floor. The large photocopier hums loudly behind me as I walk down the hall past my colleagues’ offices, the clicking from a computer keyboard signalling human hands at work.

Winter coat laid aside, work bag unpacked, the clean desk that had greeted me a moment ago is now cluttered with papers. I put on the reading glasses once again and my view of the world shrinks to the computer screen in front of me. The ideas swirling in my head call urgently to be released through my fingers.