The skies are strangely empty

A silent power station on the Teltow Canal

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in Berlin, but it doesn’t feel like spring is in the air.

The biergarten are shuttered. The parks are roped off. And many of the ice cream parlours are closed.

With nothing else to do but work, I decided to stretch my desk bound legs with a 20km bike ride towards the outskirts of town.

My target was a section of open ground near Lichterfelde Süd, where the Berlin Wall used to separate this enclave of the West from the surrounding DDR.

Today it houses a 2km long stretch of cherry trees, donated by Japan to commemorate German reunification. Boozing beneath the blossoms while reciting bad haiku is an annual rite of Spring in Japan, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend a very warm day.

Unfortunately, the trees weren’t yet in full bloom. Robbed of this symbol of the ephemeral nature of human life, we detoured back along the Teltow Canal, and stopped to drink a bottle of beer on a grassy bank.

I was looking across the water at a silent power station, letting my eyes climb smokestacks and cooling towers that looked so abandoned without human activity, when I saw the contrail of a jet high above.

It’s normally impossible to look up without seeing three or four jets crossing Europe in different directions. But this jet was alone.

I hadn’t realized how strangely empty the skies are. I guess because I’ve spent so much of this pandemic working at my desk.

But seeing that plane making its lonely journey above this corner of Europe made me feel strangely isolated and trapped.

It felt as though we were survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, and we’d just caught our first sign that there were other survivors out there, too. That life went on in the wider world.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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