Context

Fauna and Flora at Haus der Kunst

Written by Christine Wunnicke,

To her own surprise the nocturnal walks during the weeks of the pandemic lockdown led the author Christine Wunnicke to Haus der Kunst. She wrote down her experiences from those walks in a short story for our blog.

In spring 2020, during the weeks of the pandemic lockdown, I spent an inexplicable amount of time in the spaces surrounding the Haus der Kunst, mostly between 2 and 4 am, in a state of decelerated dread. I cannot remember why my nocturnal walks led me there again and again, and my memory of these hours is not in any way reliable.

Blackbirds were singing incessantly, obnoxiously, invisible; in the deepest night. The street was covered in bunnies. (European rabbits. Oryctolagi cuniculi. Synanthropes. They do live in cities. That's normal.) They were romping about the sidewalk and the roadway, they came up to the stairs and were scampering over the terrace and took interest in the entrance of the Goldene Bar. Not in me. I walked among them like a ghost. I remember an army of bunnies taking over the terrace of Haus der Kunst, ignoring me, every single pandemic night. It might be a disturbance of memory.

I remember, exactly and reliably, a couple of Mallard ducks sleeping under the projections of the Franz Erhard Walther installation on the western façade. Shifting Perspectives.
I remember, with some emotional distortion, a big hedgehog that came from the Englischer Garten onto the parking lot behind the museum and sat there motionless for quite some time. I watched it from the stairs. Not much happened. The hedgehog was there. Then, it left.
I vaguely remember a 'funny duck'. I identified it later as bar-headed goose. It came out of the dark, saw me on the stairs, got scared and fled. I vividly remember my relief.
The blackbirds were too loud and too early.

In summer 2020, when the lockdown was over, I came back for new observations with less blur. This time I brought my phone, a flashlight, a notebook, binoculars, and spent three academic hours in three different nights, between 2 and 4 am, in all the spaces around the Haus der Kunst I could reach without risking injury.

There was nothing.
The noise of the Eisbach, distant traffic. No bird, no bunny, no hedgehog, nothing. In the first night, I circled the building for 45 minutes. Spider webs with spiders, in the bright spots, where the most prey is. Pill bugs in the cracks in the walls. One big cockroach. One dead, withered slug. On the illuminated billboards east, fruit flies, fungus gnats, green lacewings and a single small fan-footed wave, idaea biselata.
In a window over the terrace there was a bunny mock-up. A little silhouette, ears perked up. Why? Baffled, I took fifteen photos, with flash and without. In the last minute, a bat (Daubenton's, not Pipistrelle) came zigzagging between Ai Weiwei's splayed out pots for a moment.

In the second night even the spider webs were deserted, so I studied the vegetation. Ivy, grape ivy, ground ivy. Too many young ash trees. Lots of quickweed. Lots of celandine, too much nitrogen in the soil. Coltsfoot. Nettle and deadnettle. Grass and some other grass. Moss in the cracks in the walls. Dandelion. Hazelwort. Plantain. Impatiens. Fern and more fern, dishevelled. Goutweed. Bittercress. Thistles, dead and alive. Bindweed in bloom. Faded cranesbill.
Someone had decorated a low latticed window with succulents and an artificial rose.

Succulents, Photo: Christine Wunnicke
Succulents, Photo: Christine Wunnicke

In the third night I sampled water from a puddle in the parking lot, carried it home and put in under my microscope. There was not much in it. Plant fibres, sand, some very nice mould. No bacterium, no paramecium. Perhaps some yeast or starch from beer or fries. The sidewalk was covered in E-scooters. Cars were on the roadway. Homo sapiens, homo sapiens. The bar-headed geese were calmly floating on the pond next to the Japanese teahouse. The bunnies were back at the Staatskanzlei, where they belong.
It felt as if something was waiting.

Christine Wunnicke is an author and was nominated three times for „Deutscher Buchpreis“. For Haus der Kunst, she frequently works as a freelance translator.