Last week, on a quiet Sunday morning when Berlin was still asleep, I encountered a naked woman on top of a traffic pole. I wasn’t the first to see her. The streets around the pole were blocked as police officers tried to catch the woman on what seemed to be a plastic air cushion. Immediately my ethnographic curiosity was turned on. What was happening here? What was the woman doing on that traffic pole? What made her climb up there?
Off course I knew I would never find out. Northern European police officers may be framed as ‘your friend’, that doesn’t mean they are talkative. So I had to do with observing, unruly imagining, and ridicule thinking. What did I see?
The woman on the traffic pole was white, quite skinny, and had very short dark blond hair. Interestingly she held a hammer in her right hand. There were approximately five fire fighters installing the cushion that would catch her. And two others tried to get near to her in a crane. Every time the fire fighters, dressed in full gear with helmet and reflecting colours, would come near, the woman would swing her hammer frantically. She placed her feed on the crane basket to push it back. She clearly had no intention of coming down.
At a frightening point the woman fell, but landed on a lower traffic sign. Again she swung het hammer, the fire fighter circumvented a hit. I started to imagine, what would someone drive up there? The German elections were coming, was she afraid Angela Merkel’s CDU would forbid her double citizenship? In that case a bodily exposure on the street in central Berlin could reveal how the body cannot be controlled. Maybe she also read the article in Time magazine and wanted to show the hipsters who came home from a party in Kreuzberg that the ‘me me me generation’ should care about the fight for equal opportunities and women rights. Her struggling naked body could be meant as the embodiment of female oppressions she had encountered in her life. Her struggle could as well be much more personal, without any social significance. Maybe she simply wanted to slam the traffic pole a bit deeper into the ground.
But that lady up there on that traffic pole communicated none of her incentives, she performed without subtitles. So I should not allow my imaginations to run away with me. What is missing here is her story. Sociological imaginations can run wild, but what we need to interpret is her own narration.
Nevertheless, whatever drove her up that pole, her performance created a paradoxically painful and entertaining moment on a quiet Sunday morning in Berlin.
If you have any imaginations about this tale of town, please share them below…