Global stories, local voices

By Marc Cheb Sun

Lire en français (FR) - version originale

1987. Wolfgang was born in Munich, München. This is where he grew up. In a bourgeois, uneventful, passionless family. He moves to Berlin in search of the big thrill. He'll find it. At his expense.

The whistles scream, shrill. Silence = death. White letters on black rectangles. A string of bodies spread out on a December asphalt. These bodies, these bodies collapsed on the icy asphalt of a Berlin avenue say that they are irremovable. Nothing will make them go away. Absolutely nothing. They're the actual state of emergency.
Whistles again. No eardrum can ignore that sound, nobody can pass one's way nor get on with life after they've come across that — just like they did before, as if nothing had happened. The whistles haunt, voices arise from the Beyond. They are present, terribly present. The whistles haunt. The space, the entire space is theirs. They impose this: not being able to turn a deaf ear.
Or to look away.
A dark-haired girl with white triangles on her back is screaming as loud as she can in a strange wind instrument from prehistoric times. A bagpipe, in fact, and her breath tears the instrument apart. Her look is terrible. It cries out for vengeance. The siren announces the worst, an era of fear; it freezes the blood. The sound flies over the alignment of bodies, it floats in the air. Terrible too. It's the end of a world we're talking about here. An apocalypse. Both a radical anger and a terror.  

And yet, him.
He moves forward, staggering between bodies invisible to his sight. Nothing touches him, nothing affects him, nothing challenges him. Sick people evicted = sick people murdered.
He's sneaking around. Absent, absent to pain, rage, violence. Absent, just absent. The screams, the upright fists, the whistles glide over his skin. His skin is like an oil, nothing clings to it, nothing adheres to it.
He wanders on the pavement between those human wrappings, magnetic to the asphalt. Neither dead nor alive.
He's wandering around. One step, another. Glowing figure.
Still here and already elsewhere. He's no longer a man, he's a wraith.


1987. Wolfgang was born in Munich, München. This is where he grew up. In a bourgeois, uneventful, passionless family.
Industrial dad, stay-at-home mama, a depressed Schwester (sister), a Bruder  (brother) as daft as a brush - and the guy wasn't even sweeping up after himself !
First outbreak of pimples to the sound of the beautiful blue Danubefirst allergy attack the day after his first Beer Festival.
It was here, in this dull town where young men would put on their Versace shirts and Hugo Boss jeans and drink at the local pub and talk nonsense, that Wolfgang as a child, and then Wolfgang as a teenager, would desperately wonder whether the whole world breathed in such filthy boredom, such a banality as the atmosphere distilled by the Bavarian capital.
This question haunted his brain until his first trip, the year he turned seventeen. Modest, the guy dared the adventure as far as Ardèche before attempting the big jump the following summer via Thailand. Every day on his way home - a cozy little house that breathed boredom and the bullshit of the garden gnomes on the pavilion lawn - Wolfgang drove through much of this rich city. Rich, yes, clean of course, with a shimmering, bleached shine. Here, even the vans that served their Curry Wurst to passersby seemed to be coming out of a disinfected cold room.
It was also there, in Munich München, that Wolfgang listened to Kraftwerk, locked in his room as soon as he came home from school. There he would let himself slightly go to the sound of Radio Activity 3, all wrapped up in its timeless coldness... Those voices tampered with by various filters, electronic things that kept him away from humans.


Is in the air for you and me
Discovered by Madame Curie
Radioaktivität Fur dich und mich in All entsteht

When Wolfgang was haughty, sullen and lonely, when he put a No Future slogan on his torn T-shirt, it was not a style effect or even a fashion trend. The words came from deep in his gut, where his bitterness, fuelled by an endless grudge, was growing at breakneck speed. This city, this world, was definitely not for him. So...


Then one day... Precisely on his nineteenth birthday, Wolfgang took his backpack, a large bag that he used to roam the roads of the world, from the Ardèche gorges to Thai beaches.
When his mother asked him, "Why?" Wolfgang came up with the first thought that crossed his mind: "I don't want to join the army. When you move to Berlin, you're exempt." That's true. He'd read about it in a yellowed magazine. A newspaper that hung in the waiting room of a dentist of little talent - of course, the guy dreamed of being a cellist.

Berlin. This damned city, nicknamed in Munich the dustbin of Germany, needed above all to repopulate its almost deserted main arteries, an atmosphere bordering on ghostly. Hence this attractive offer to young people wishing to escape the unenviable fate of a life as a soldier. An alternative to all those who didn't feel like singing:

You’re in the army now
Oh oh oh you’re in the army…
Now !

Berlin. A huge area “designed” to survive in the shadow of the wall that divided the city in two. Not to mention the French, English and American districts, you could only enter with a passport and the required nationality.
A lake, parks, a forest you would visit at your own risk: the probability of hitting THE wall hard at the end of a bucolic walk with picnic and all was not negligible.
On the other side, the eastern shadow, the gray city. Forbidden.  

On the Kudamm, a large avenue bordered with a few movie theaters and somewhat silly fashion boutiques, the legendary department store KaDeWe set the tone just for its shop sign alone: Kaufhaus des Westens, Department Store of the West..
Its mission was clear.
Now, we liked to pretend as if it was nothing. For a few meters at least... because Berlin was still a ghost town.

A neon light with uncertain flickering... Decomposed silhouettes wandering from one bar to another in the opacity of this Berlin night. Opacity yes, because the lighting of streets, avenues, arteries was not supposed to weigh much in the municipal budget.
Saturated guitars, movement of bodies in electrified penumbra. Veiled laughter, masked in the no man's land of the Potsdamer platz haunted by its gloomy past, surrounded by symbols of the ex-Gestapo. Far from the tasteless sweetness of Lake Wannsee, it was impossible to resist: just follow the call of this insomniac tempo.


By that time, in the west of the city, on this side of the wall, Wolfgang was working in a record shop. A weird weird place invaded by fluorescent sculptures, a place from which a raw, non-negotiable fury was escaping: Nina Hagen's punk opera, Blixa Bargeld 5's jackhammers, Nick Cave's dark blues.

Settled in a rather clean and orderly squat - there lived young men from fine families, very polite under their Iroquois crest - Wolfgang had fun on full moon nights, and the others too, in boys' or girls' beds, depending on the mood, depending on the moment, and he loved it.

On his twentieth birthday, he made a phone call to Nihat, a handsome dark haired boy- lightning bolts sprang unexpectedly from the depth of his eyes. He offered him a few sexy frolics with shrudel and Bengal fires to celebrate his birthday.
The young Turk lived in the Turkish quarter, as it could be expected, two blocks from Wolfgang’s squat. But it was his sister who answered his call, and in a rather creepy voice.
"Nihat is sick. We can't see him anymore. "
The intonation was closed, definitive. Irrevocable.
Yet the sister liked Wolfgang. Usually he made her laugh, smile or even shiver. Especially when he sang in her ear:

In Berlin, by the wall
It was very nice
Candlelight and Dubonnet on ice /
We were in a small cafe
You could hear the guitars play
It was very nice
Oh honey, it was paradise.  

That day, no laughing, no smiling. A chill maybe, but not the kind that would make him want to go on.

Yet an hour later, Wolfgang decided to find out more. He crossed Potsdamer Platz and then the exotic Oranienstrasse, before rushing down the alley that led straight to the building where Nihat and his family lived.

There are streets that stink of death. Surely this was one of them.


Two weeks. The time he needed to decide whether to take the test. Or not.
Thinking about it, thinking about it again and again, especially alone: the idea of sharing this "thing" with someone didn’t cross his mind once. Alone, yes.
And then taking action. Appointment, choosing a day: what day, what time?
Take some blood. Finally the last round: waiting for the result.

The night before the test, because now there would be a night "before", he dreamt of Nihat, and his sister too, staggering back and forth in a dark and deserted bar, yellowish light, to the distorted sound of Lou Reed's Berlin . Lost in an echo. Nihat avoided his gaze, trying as he could to hide his face with a trembling hand. Berlin disappeared from the dream’s soundtrack and Nihat's voice, cold, distant, sang: Berlin Nihat avoided his gaze, trying as he could to hide his face with a trembling hand. Berlin disappeared from the dream’s soundtrack and Nihat's voice, cold, distant, sang: Berlin disparut de la BO du dream et la voix de Nihat, froide, distante, chantonna :

It’s so cold in Alaska
So cold in Alaska
It’s so cold… 

Two weeks. Two weeks of worrying oneself sick. Going around in circles like a tiger in a cage or any animal species caught in the trap of human folly.
Up to this day, life was carefree, carelessness that flirted with a certain amount of morbidity, but still carelessness. The kind you recognize the day you walk out the door. Before that? You didn't feel it, you didn't think about it. It was there, light, and that was it. And that's already something.
Two weeks!
On D-Day, the day he waited for and feared, the alarm clock rang at 8:30, and the least you could say is that it was not routine around here.
From the room next door, a pink-crested punk jumped on his rotten mattress and exclaimed, "What the hell is that?”
No sooner had he tried to draw the curtain than the light flowed freely through. Wolfgang immediately closed it all. Light was not welcome.
In the deserted kitchen of this sleepy house, he swallowed a bowl of coffee without sugar or milk, without toast, without anything.
Then he lingered in the bathroom, toothbrush in his left hand, toothpaste in his right hand. Staring aimlessly into the bottom of the sink.
The faucet ran on and on without the wasted water shocking his green conscience, so finely tuned through a multitude of daily habits.

An hour later, he took the ticket with only a number written upon it, to go to the doctor's office. He crossed the city from Kreuzberg to the U Bahn Adenauer Platz, a place he was not used to, out of his reality. On a street corner, he was startled by his reflection in a shop window. He didn't recognize himself, looking like a sleepwalker.

Arriving on the right street, at the right number, he checked the brass plate at the foot of the building and only thought: "This is the right place". So he rang the right intercom. He was asked for his number, an “open sesame” that he could have done without, but it worked: the front door opened without delay. He crossed a first courtyard, then another. The doctor's office was on the ground floor at the end of the second courtyard. A little hidden, a little otherworldly.

He waited in a waiting room, logically, the shared medical clinic was specialized in answering his question, his result. On the table, information leaflets, all of them alarming. On the wall a few posters to convey the message. Everyone was looking at them out of the corner of their eye, at an angle, never directly: Kein problem, I won't need that. There were about ten of them there, all waiting in their chairs: seven men, three women. Each holding a little piece of paper with their number. Alone or accompanied, eyes lost in the void or fixed, magnetized towards the ground. An air of Russian roulette that dared not speak its name.

A door opened, his number was called. Dr. Angermüller, a redheaded woman in her fifties, let him in. She was wearing a flowery blouse with daisies and forget-me-nots, a print that was rather out of context. Dr. Angermüller gestured for him to sit, took his ticket and drew a simple sheet of paper from an envelope with the same number on it. Then she read it. She needed only a few seconds to raise her head and to say one sentence, just one, a few words ad vita aeternam tattooed on his brain: "This is a result that you would not wish to your worst enemy". Wolfgang got up suddenly, turned around to avoid the doctor's gaze. A few seconds as if Dr. Angermüller didn't exist, no, nein, as if Dr. Angermüller had never existed.

Air, air, air. He rushed to the window which he tried in vain to open, again and again. The fucking window resisted his attempts for surprisingly long while. Stuck. But it was without counting on this incredible strength, something from elsewhere that Wolfgang discovered at that strange moment in the power of his arms. An unknown force. The thing, the window, finally gave in and opened onto an inner courtyard. Then time took on another color, another dimension. Another space. In fact, time stopped.

Opposite him, a woman was shaking a small ochre prayer mat out of another window, the one in the stairwell, to air it out. A fuchsia scarf covered her hair. She crossed his eyes, addressed him with a shy, puzzled smile. Haggard, Wolfgang observed this incongruous image, just like that, without turning away, without taking his eyes off it.

A prayer mat. After all, why not? From now on, anything would worth it.  

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About the author

Marc Cheb Sun
More stories

Marc Cheb Sun is self-taught. Founder of the media Dailleursetdici.news, creator of theatrical performances, he lives in Paris where he leads writing workshops with young people. His first novel Et je veux le monde ("And I Want the World") was published by JC Lattès in March 2020.

Photo credit : homardpayette

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