Fretwurst Frostbite (Klaus Ungerer)
I’m writing this still completely exhausted. Never before have I gone out so far. Never before have I endangered my whole delicate physical shell to such an extent. But never before have the results been so hopeful, so rich. I will still fly a last feeble round across the darkness of an empty residential estate, across the far-shining white cross with its soup-can from which the word of Christ can be pulled out, across light-deserted, absently dozing backyards, across a street connecting a nowhere to another nowhere and then to my provisional base for the night.
I have located it there directly before the exit of the Living Dead Skins; nobody will disturb me here and a big full-body-size-compatible skewer is turning over the fire. This is where I’ll place myself and check out what has become of me. Bloody spots in my face, wild bloodshot eyes – and a large area of my skull is putrid. What archaeology can do to you!
But if you want to, lets start at the beginning. At the beginning of my reconnaissance flight which began as a routine assignment.
At Harrop Castle, a place never before visited, I pushed off from the ground and began floating in the search mode. Until I saw the hidden object in the air: A glass case as big as a full grown national gallery was floating quite close to me, meaningfully cubic containing no neurotic playfulness whatsoever.
The well-trained, alert and at the moment floating archeologist knew at once that this building must have been a shrine, a temple or at least a place of cultic activities. Transparency and inaccessibility interlaced quite poetically, and through the solid glass one could vaguely perceive trees inside. Only a cubic panel on the roof revealed what might have awaited the intruder, the believer and displaced person some time ago: “Zombies!” the polyphonic inscription blared at me, “Zombies!! Zombies! Oh my God, Zombies!” And it was as if this cube had been waiting for me – the unsuspecting caller – forever and so, after circling the building briefly as if in a dream, I was able to find an entrance almost instinctively.
I floated in. The way back closed with a snap. I was caught in the dark; walls of fog pervaded the cube, swallowed trees growing out of the black ground, freeing them again, meandered across a field of sunken gravestones and past two silent barracks; on a rusty playground an empty swing ceaselessly swayed back and forth. I concluded that no better place could have been found to stage and celebrate a belief in the living dead or in walking, rasping and squelching corpses. I knew that this was one of the moments, one of the places where an untrained, amateur explorer could have developed that emotion called fear.
Astounded by quite a bit of clattering and drifts of smoke passing by while I carefully explored the area, I decided to enter one of the bare wooden barracks. Crossing the threshold I was prepared for anything and quite curious but constantly with the one pressing thought in my head that had helped to decipher every building so far: Cui bono? Whom does it serve? What was quite clear about temples, churches, royal graves and bank skyscrapers was still veiled here: Who, I was asking myself, could have had an advantage from this building? And for a disturbing moment a thought crossed my mind as if it had been copied from the clipboard: “Zombies!” I thought, “Zombies! O my god, Zombies!”
But everything remained quiet. Every once in a while unexplained sound waves stirred from the Netherworld, but nothing followed: No corroded body arose. No door swung open revealing monsters; no carcass plummeted from the ceiling landing on me. Rather, I was left with posters and a decision of a fundamental nature: “Touch me to fight Zombies,” a voice said to me. And quite dialectically the second poster, adorned with the decaying, tooth-gapped grimace of a corpse advised: “Touch me to become a Zombie!”
Glittering clouds of questions scurried through my head, the flashiest being: Why would a place like this have been built – what motive could be behind visiting it? Standing here, the world out there, with its colorful signs for land-grabbing, with their squeaking ducks as big as houses endlessly circling in the splattering waters, with their always-empty, always-ready carrousels and their upside-down houses, that world was lost and gone.
I stood there for many minutes, intently staring at the zombie-grimace. Inspecting with interest its decayed skull, its loosely hanging muscle-strands and its empty eye-sockets, I found myself drifting into the reveries of side issues, basic questions of existence, simple and still so important questions that after a while, however, became less urgent and faded away; they were replaced by a pulsation, by a buzzing rhythm without words that was my own. And just when I was most deeply drifting an idea shot through the room: This space was not just another find, another curious piece of jewelry for the treasure chest of archaeological puzzles. Here, I had arrived – with the history of archaeology on my back, standing on the dusty shoulders of giants – at a turning point.
This was the moment to put a long nourished, revolutionary hypothesis to the test. Over the course of many years – more in the frontier realms of nocturnal dreams than in offices and at digs, more speculating unguardedly rather than in debating it at conferences – I had developed a new method of research for my own pleasure: I called it “empathic archaeology”.
How often in our practical experience are we facing erratic artifacts, how often do we enter places that have lost their meaning? How often are we trying for decades to read the soul of the past from crumbs and shards? In order to overcome this, I had developed the “empathic archaeology”: At the core of my considerations was the idea that if we could no longer observe or ask those beings who have created a place, have lived in it and who have long perished, we would have to – since also their phantoms would be ephemeral – ourselves become one of these beings. One would have to use what they used, would have to walk and stand where they walked and stood, would have to forget all theories, all preconceived ideas, would have to abandon oneself to a new and age-old self.
Before I had thought about it twice, my arm had shot forward. Before any foreboding could have come crashing down on me and before a safeguarding fear could paralyze me, it had already happened: I had touched one of the posters. And I had become a Zombie. Bloody spots in my face, wild bloodshot eyes – and a large area of my skull had become putrid.
I stepped out into the foggy night, I staggered between graves, I was stiff and dull, a panting and a bellowing escaped my throat and a desire for destruction flamed up. I kicked trees, I jumped onto rusty containers, and I chased fleeting fog. Oh, if I could have found something to kill here! One wanted to murder, to gurgle, to cut up, one could have…
One would have wanted to live dead and decayed. To finally live. One could have destroyed the carrousels, desecrating them with blood and gall, one could have tortured and drowned the monstrous squeaking ducks and knocked down all advertizing posters triumphally grunting. I paused for a moment. Did I feel a life? Had I had an inkling of another world? And, asking analytically: had not the inhabitants of Second Life, guarding their spiritual salvation, been virtually forced to create a place like this one? In this moment, it had become oppressively clear to me.
At this moment I was one of them; I had surrendered to the whirling, colorful madness surrounding them from synthetic morning to synthetic evening, filled with synthetic angst. I had looked deeply. A great despondency came over me and under no circumstance did I want to see the next fog wander over my velum. I lunged into a fire that meant exit. The cool evening received me. Hysterical pink disco balls were shining and rolling halfway skywards. Neon writing drifted by. Unused vehicles stood lopsidedly between bluish hills. I shivered asking myself whether I would ever again want to take off my zombie-skin.
Translated by Brigitte Pichon and Dorian Rudnytsky