Another Sunny Day
In The Midst Of This Quietness, The War Seems To Be Infinitely Far Away.
As a child I liked to play war.
Not being aware of it, the feeling of power and control intrigued me. My friends and I were hiding behind trees and jumping into the ditch when a car approached that we immagined was a tank.
A wooden branch, pointed at the car, was my gun. Hungry and exhausted we later went home to have dinner.
I was a child and war was a fantasy.
Years later I am lying in the car next to bulky waste in a narrow unlit street in a small village in eastern Poland. On the opposite there is a house wall painted with palm trees.
It is the lowest and highest point of my naivety.
I wanted to get as close as possible to the Polish border with Ukraine and Belarus. A place where, as I am now told by a soldier, I should rather not be.
Suddenly a headlight appears in the distance.
My heart beats clearly uncomfortably. The light comes closer and stops at me. I hear a Hello Sir and quickly put on my shoes to look at least somewhat respectably. It is the Border Patrol. They say I am not allowed here and have just broken the law.
He would have to pass this on to the government
and I would now have to pay a fine. This is the
No-Go-Area. Two hundred meters further there is Belarus. The border is a narrow river, easily crossed. I could be killed at night by war experienced people with a gun. Or a knife. And thrown into the forest. They do not care about me, I am told in a friendly manner.
War was my fantasy and it fell apart. Obviously a long time ago. But still there was this longing. I am not sure why I am doing this, going as close as possible to the war. Maybe for a strange feeling of excitement. But being too afraid I don’t want to cross this border. The border from fiction to reality. I want war to remain a game. But this is a real war. And real people get killed. It is something I can not comprehend.
I‘m asked what I do here. Whether I bring refugees across the border, whether I carry weapons with me. Only the knife which I cut my bread with, I say. None of this adds up. Why I don‘t take a hotel and sleep here at the border, where it gets minus ten degrees at night by the river and danger lurks.
I say because I don‘t have money, I like sleeping outside and I want to take pictures here. The landscape, the sky, they all tell something about the war. And also somehow not. The sky is always there, no matter what. I find that exciting, I explain with a shaky voice.
The border guard opens his arms, looks around him and tells me, this here is his scene, his practice. He observes things, links them together. Always on the lookout. Then he sees me, in the dark, far from civilization, while next to us a war is going on. That doesn‘t make sense. That‘s why I look suspicious.
He says it‘s amazing what I‘m doing.
But unfortunately he can‘t allow me to do it here.
Very inspiring for a border guard, I think. Nevertheless, I notice how my whole plan is breaking down and surely I have to go home tomorrow. I think of all the shaking heads being disappointed in me. I think, I will never tell anyone about this.
The dawn is peaceful. No clouds, blue-red-purple sky, bar signs, plastic palm trees, amusement huts, torn posters, upturned boats, idyllic lakeside seating. Plastic cups and a lonely Jack Daniels can share their space on the round. The lake is frozen and the dark ice speckled with white bubbles, like a rather dense starry sky in the early morning. It is going to be another sunny day.
Everything is quiet.
Except for an owl, a crow and three stray dogs which are calmly and purposefully biting into trash bags. Now and then military vehicles are humming.
And the boxing machine. That casually alarms with warning sirens into the silence.
The Legionów square is empty now. It may have been the first
thing millions of refugees saw when they left the main station
Probably they didn't care about it. I think about Eva Leitholf
and her approach to photographs being empty of people after
a tragic event was happening there.
I think, when the war started, the diner was full of journalists and therefor out of food. Tragic.
Only a few Schnitzel were left.
I look at the ground where just a few weeks ago a confused missile struck a farm and killed two men. Surrounded by an eerie quietness, vast flat korn fields and a beautiful evening light I am invited for a Schnaps by a colleague of the dead. Saying thank you but I have to drive the car now I am laughed at while I get to drink a second one.
It is flattering how nice and inviting the people here are. Getting sentimental to the tension, that is always present, and also somehow not, I am wondering how my perception is being filtered here. What does a landscape mean anymore? Is it getting more beautiful in the event of a dreadful conflict? How can I even think about beauty. Trying not to think, feeling the booze, I am confused.
At night I dream that Putin and his soldiers are surrounding us. For the first time in my life I have to take up a gun and kill a man. Then, three kills with one shot, because they were standing in a favourable parallel position. A sense of achievement overcomes me.
Suddenly I am all alone. All my comrades are gone. I walk out of our base to where the enemy was just a moment ago. No one is there. A shadow appears in the corner. I grab a small kitchen knife, prepare to stab. An old woman appears. We both look at each other for a moment, baffled, and then as if nothing had happened, pass each other without saying a word like in big city traffic.
In February Russian missiles were sited flying above Moldova. It is Valentines Day. The night before the flight to Kishinev, I imagine the missiles grimly saying hello to us next to the plane. My stomach aches and I can hardly sleep. On the way to the airport I want to cry, thinking I could never go to war.
When I got picked up at the airport the first thing I am told is to take out my earring. The driver is cool but old school and might think I'm gay and that wouldn't be good here. Russian radio is playing as we drive over bumpy roads and the driver bangs his fist hard on the air conditioner several times because it is broken.
Crossing the border into unknown territory, he hits the accelerator and passes other cars on the right side of the road. Then on the left. And again on the right. Here you don’t have to use a safety belt. And people drive as fast as they want.
It feels like freedom.