The Berlin Wall
John Donne couldn’t have predicted an iPhone. Nor could he have foreseen ITB Berlin, an enormous trade show that annually attracts more than 10,000 exhibitors from around the globe — including a team of Oregon tourism representatives — bent on wooing German travelers.
But nobody could have summed up my ITB experience — a head-spinning confluence of history and happenstance, literature and technology, hard truths and heartbreaking news — any better than Donne, who famously wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself.”
It began with breakfast on March 11, when I stumbled across writer David Simon’s eloquent but dispiriting analysis of “two Americas, politically and economically distinct.” Afterwards, I spent my free morning exploring another line of demarcation: the Berlin Wall, a section of which still stands just a few blocks from Checkpoint Charlie, which served as one of the crossings between East and West Berlin.
Portland Center Stage's production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Photo: Owen Carey.
The vitality of the scene — the still-fresh history, the looming metaphor — was amazing, and my inner English major immediately raced to Frost (“something there is that does not love a wall”) and Kesey, whose “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which I was re-reading on the plane, is filled with its own fault lines: inside vs. outside, McMurphy vs. Big Nurse, free-spirited individualism vs. the conforming, lobotomizing power of The Combine.
Sadly, the fault lines — Simon’s, Berlin’s, Kesey’s — were not merely symbolic that day. News of the massive earthquake and tsunami kept my boothmates and I tethered to our smart phones for updates from Japan and the Oregon Coast.
This technology — which delivered the harrowing news, helped me navigate a new city, brought me to Simon’s piercing essay and allowed me to talk to my wife half a world away — thus shed, however temporarily, its dehumanizing and vapid qualitites in favor of meaningful, real-time connections that affirmed Donne’s assertion from a pre-digital age: “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.”