Despite the endless possibilities we have in life based on our widely different social and cultural backgrounds our human existence is built on the same few fundamental principles. One of these principles is to have a continuous life trajectory where our decisions and actions, and our participation in different contexts can be aligned as pearls on a string with the goals and values we pursue, so we experience that there is a greater meaning with our life.
Nevertheless, when, once in a while, we experience great changes we suddenly feel very empty and fragile, and desperately begin to look after something that can give us back the feeling of meaning in our life. And even for an exceptional personality as the Great Dane this may not be an easy task.
Now that the Great Dane had ensured that the newborn was in good hands so a new generation of real Berliners could grow up and save this poor, but sexy city, his own purpose in Berlin had come to an end. Once again, he stood at a crossroads in life, and felt that he was being torn apart, as if there were not only one, but too many Great Danes inside him, all shouting, screaming and pulling in him to go in each their direction. He just wanted them to shut up, go away and leave him in peace so he could find out what he really wanted with his life.
This had been an ongoing struggle for existence as long he remembered, taking him from one place to another, from one goal to another, from one woman to another trying to live up to everyone’s expectations except his own. He was exhausted and sick of it all. It would be so nice if someone came, took his hand and showed him the way through life, insured him that everything would be all right.
The Night Walker
In the daytime, the Great Dane either slept or sat outside on his balcony near the clouds watching the city life far below him, while at night he walked around the streets from one späti to another to buy more cigarettes and cheap walk-along-beers. Now and then he passed a lonesome night walker like himself and they would exchange brief signs of understanding before they continued on each their troubled path in life.
One night when in his despair he drifted around on the Tempelhofer Feld after opening hours he heard someone sing in the distance. It sounded beautiful and strange at the same time. He looked beyond the field where the moon, high above, was shining extraordinarily bright and spotted in the moonlight a man, stripped to the waist, making gestures to the ground with a tool of some kind.
When he came closer he recognized the person as the Mysterious Jew Boy. He was digging a hole with a spade to the rhythm of some old forgotten folk song. After a while he stopped, looked cautiously down the hole, and with a smile on his face he slowly bent forward and sang in a deep voice as if to someone down there.
The Great Dane could not hold back his curiosity any longer. He stepped right up to the hole and asked what he was digging.
Mein Gott ist grüsser als Ihne, the Mysterious Jew Boy yelled frightened and hit the Great Dane with the spade so he tumbled to the ground, howling like a wounded hound.
Stop whining, the Mysterious Jew Boy sneered at ham. You’re scaring the meaning away so I can’t say if it fits me. He waved gently his hand above the hole, while singing a sweet lullaby as if trying to comfort a scared child.
This, however, made the Great Dane cry even more, sobbing all over that he could not stand it anymore, it hurt too much, his loneliness in a harsh and cruel world where no one thought about him, only themselves, and had so unrealistic expectations and demands to him. But what about his needs, his dreams and longings? He felt so confused, so helpless. His life was nothing more than a great nothingness, a failed imaginary life in someone’s sick mind. He needed to get out, get away, get his own life.
The Mysterious Jew Boy was astonished. He never expected to see the Great Dane, his great hero, this great example for mankind, so sad and fragile, so lost. It was as if something had possessed him, an evil spirit of some kind. He needed to help him, get him back on the right track before he got out of control. The consequences would be beyond comprehension, it would be devastating, not just for the Great Dane himself, but for the well-being of the whole world.
The Mysterious Jew Boy handed the Great Dane his spade and said it was time for him to stand up and dig after the greater meaning of his life.
Right now, in the dark, the Great Dane asked surprised with tears in his eyes. Can’t it wait till the sun comes up?
It must be done in the dark, away from the light and people’s lurking eyes, the Mysterious Jew Boy explained. He needed to understand, that if a freshly dug meaning too quickly was exposed to the light its stability would be disturbed and before the meaning even had begun, it would vanish like dew before the sun. And once frightened the meaning of life would go into hiding and then it would only be possible to get a small fraction of it out in the open again.
Where Could There Be a Meaning of Life?
The first step was to find a well-suited digging site. And as a start the Tempelhofer Feld would be a good practice ground. The former airport field was so enormous that the Mysterious Jew Boy trembled as he began to talk about the almost endless possibilities there were to find a meaning of life. Unfortunately, most people get anxious when they were in situations with more than just a few possibilities and the normal reaction was to attempt to narrow down the possible outcome through planning and control, or, in the worst cases, through repression.
This was by no means a practice that the Mysterious Jew Boy would recommend. The optimal condition, when searching for the meaning of life, was to let oneself be surprised and carried away. He should not think too much about what he wanted or expected, or try to force the meaning out of life, instead he should give way to it, let it come to him.
Just then a tall dark hat came tumbling in the wind.
The Great Dane looked curiously at the hat. Then he picked it up and tried it on. It was way too big for him, but maybe if he found a meaning of life that was great enough the hat would fit him. The question was, however, where he should do his first digging. There were so overwhelmingly many places he could choose from that he had no clue whatsoever. And the Mysterious Jew Boy was not to much help. The more he explained to him, the emptier he felt inside, so he could easily have been carried away with the most meaningless meaning. He just wanted to begin digging and get some meaning going with his miserable life. Not all this talking and explaining.
Therefore he simply closed his eyes and threw the hat up high in the air to let the wind decide.
That night on the Tempelhofer Feld the Great Dane went digging many different places.
First the hat landed between some trees where he dug through layer by layer of insistent roots until he got a bit tender in his back and the Mysterious Jew Boy had to correct his digging technique. Then the hat landed in the fields’ urban garden where he dug up someone’s carrots, potatoes, onions and artichoke, tasted some strawberries before he also dug these up, while he could not bear to take away the beautiful sunflower, and the Mysterious Jew Boy advised him to stop digging in other people’s meanings since it was difficult to truly adapt the meaning of others to one’s own life. Thereafter he dug in front of the ice cream booth, but it turned out that he was too late, so the meaning had melted and was long gone, and when he tried to dig under a bench he soon became restless of waiting for the meaning to show up in time, and in the bird’s nest he was too rough and crushed one of the eggs so that the meaning of life ran out between his fingers and made him cry inside over the destructive human nature, and when he tried to dig through the asphalt on the runway the spade broke, and while the Mysterious Jew Boy went to his secret tool shed to pick up another spade, the Great Dane used his fingers to dig deep into the pockets of someone sleeping it off in the bushes. Gradually the Great Dane improved his digging and began to get really into it. He even managed to find some sort of unidentified meaning behind a public toilet, but he could not get used to the smell of it, and threw it back in the hole.
Then he got bored and wanted to dig in the real life out in the city.
The Mysterious Jew Boy did not think it was such a good idea to leave his practice ground where he could go on, safe and undisturbed. In the beginning it was important to keep the meaning as far away from real life as possible until it was fully digested and had become one’s own personal meaning of life.
Following the One in Charge
A gust of wind took the hat out of the Great Dane’s hand and carried it away high up in the night air and over the fence around the field. The Great Dane burst out with a loud: Follow that hat. The last one on the other side is a scaredy-cat. And before the Mysterious Jew Boy could stop him, the Great Dane had climbed up a tree and jumped the fence.
The hat went with the wind into the nearby cemetery where it landed on someone’s grave. This made the Great Dane’s guts turn around: He was trying to find the meaning of life, not the meaning of death. Even though the one followed the other he did not feel ready yet to face the definitive meaning of life.
He quickly threw the hat out of the cemetery and back into life where it felt down on Hermannstrasse, busy even at night. But before he managed to reach the hat a suspiciously looking man in a colourful suit took it on his head, and went down in the U-Bahn. The Great Dane stood, paralysed. Every hope to find his greater meaning of life had just disappeared into the underground.
Short of breath the Mysterious Jew Boy caught up with him, and he encouraged him to follow the hat, even if someone else now had it. For sometimes, he explained, it was the path in itself that was not suited for the right meaning, and then you had to follow someone else’s path until you found one that could carry your own meaning along. These wise words seemed meaningful to the Great Dane.
The man in the colourful suit and now in charge of the hat, sat down in a U-Train and fell asleep. Each station they passed seemed as empty and meaningless as the Great Dane’s own life had been so far, going from one station in life to the other without having any clear goal to follow or knowing when to change the path. Where was he going and why go any further? the Great Dane wondered.
Every once in awhile, the man now in charge of the hat woke up and went up on the ground. Every time the Great Dane was very excited about what great meaning he would lead him to.
First he went to the Drug Heaven in Görlitzer Park. Perhaps, the Great Dane thought, it would be possible to find the greater meaning of life through drugs. He asked a guy called the Edge and his tiny friend Charlie Brown. The Edge answered: Life is either too difficult or too simple, which is that as long as the drugs keep flowing through my veins, I prefer to have no meaning at all. Whereas his friend Charlie Brown carefully considered the matter, and then passed out on the floor. The Great Dane did not want to have a meaning that was dependent on what he had in his veins, and hurried down into the underground after the man in charge of the hat.
Then they went up to eat some delicious food. The Great Dane was getting really hungry, but before he could put anything in his mouth, he had to know if eating was the greater meaning of life. The chef at the restaurant answered: Eating either keep people alive or make them believe that they are more than just alive. In other words, you become what you eat. The Great Dane looked suspiciously at the food that the chef served him. He did not want to eat anything whose meaning was that he should become something else than he wanted to be.
The next time they went up on the ground was at the fashionable shopping street Kurfürstendamm. Here the man in charge of the hat visited some exclusive shops where he tried on different clothes, and eventually chose a simple dark suit. It went well with the hat, the Great Dane thought. Much more confident than with the colourful one. Maybe the greater meaning of life was to be properly dressed. When he asked the sales clerk in the shop she answered: Fine feathers make fine birds. What is under the plumage is not that important. As long as the bird doesn’t spoil its fine feathers, but stay safe in its cage, everything will be just fine. The Great Dane did not want to be caught within the meaning of all these fine feathers, if it meant that he would not be free to fly.
The Reality of Life
The man in charge of the hat and now in a dark suit went up on the ground at the Reichstag building for the German parliament. The historical building rose up high and mighty above the sleeping city with it enormous dome glowing in the night. The Great Dane was truly impressed. It represented to him the greatest meaning of them all: The power to shape the very foundation of life. The Mysterious Jew Boy turned his face away. The meaning of the Reichstag was too harsh and penetrating to him. They should go immediately before it managed to attract their sensitive nature and began to fiddle with it.
But the Great Dane was already on the move again. He followed the man in charge with the hat inside the Reichstag and towards the very centre of the building. Here the hat suddenly felt down on the floor when the man in the dark suit disappeared up in the thin air.
High above them they could through the dome of the Reichstag see the night sky with all its infinite stars. The Great Dane leaned to his spade. The point of finding his own meaning of life seemed compared with the universe so insignificant, so trivial. He did not feel great at all. He felt very small.
No digging inside the Reichstag, ordered a public servant while he approached them with great caution. It will just disturb the political process and undermine the great German nation.
We are no such troublemakers, said the Mysterious Jew Boy.
In fact, we are the opposite, said the Great Dane proudly. We are digging to find the greater meaning of life. Like the politicians that works in here we also want to live in the best of possible worlds.
Don’t think I’m a fool, simply because I’m a public servant. I know what your real intentions are, and I’ll not fall into one of your holes and have my life’s happiness be destroyed by some naked truth of yours. As a public servant of the German people it is my task to uphold the political illusion and protect the common good from people like you that for some egoistic and self-indulgent reason want to reveal the true state of the world. We don’t want that, our lives are what’s being done with them, and as they are now makes good sense for us.
The Great Dane wanted to explain him the importance of finding one’s own greater meaning of life. There was however no meaning in continuing the discussion, because as in most places in life, someone else had already been entrusted the power to decide what gave meaning or not. And the public servant decided that the meaning in here was to show them out the way they came. That was the hard reality of life which the Great Dane had been so eager to dig in.
The Darkest Corner in the World
After being banished from the Reichstag neither of them felt that they were up for any more digging tonight. They were dirty and tired, and just wanted to get home.
Soon they dragged themselves along the pavement with their heads resting on each other’s shoulders. The way home seemed to have no end.
Suddenly the Mysterious Jew Boy stopped and faced the Great Dane.
Is it just me, or did we already once pass this place?
Not just once, but twice, groaned the Great Dane. But I’m following you and thought you had found a meaning by walking in circles.
The Mysterious Jew Boy looked confused at the Great Dane.
No, home we go, you know.
But neither of them moved an inch.
On the opposite side of the street they could see the lurking light from a bar, and a sign saying: Heimwekrank. Without any considerations, they crossed the street and went straight inside.
The place was really crowded, so they ended down in the basement at a small table in the darkest corner. Around them the atmosphere was a once heartfelt and intense with lonely souls trying to cheer each other up while drinking and listening to German schlager, song about what had been but now was gone, about good times and bad times, times at home, times alone, times holding hand with your loved one, times where your love was gone, times walking with the family in the mountains, times pruning roses in the garden, times for a better world, and just ordinary better times.
The Great Dane stared silently out in the room. He felt disappointed. Even though he had been digging many holes this long night, none of them had given him quite the right feeling of meaning in his life. On the contrary, he now felt an even greater meaninglessness that when he begun.
The Mysterious Jew Boy tried to comfort him, saying that this was normal when you left your know path and began to dig new places after the meaning of life. At some point your life would then seem much more empty and meaningless than before, and you just wanted to dig a deep hole and bury yourself. It would be so much easier.
The Great Dane only understood him too well. He felt hopelessly lost.
But he shouldn’t give up, not now, the Mysterious Jew Boy continued. It often took a long time and much hard work to find just the meaning of life that felt right for you, until one night when you at least expected it, then you would suddenly know your way. He would be surprised which strange places the meaning of life would be waiting for him. As an old digger’s saying went:
The easier it is to leave behind
The harder it is to keep out of your mind-set
The Mysterious Jew Boy went up to get them some drinks from the bar and left the Great Dane alone in this dark corner of the world. He listened to the music, but began to feel restless. For the first time since returning to Berlin he felt homesick, longing after the welfare womb in the north, relieved from all life’s burdens deep in the safe and unspoiled Scandinavian social democratic nature. At the same time the very thought scared him, it filled him with anxiety. He was too weak, too fragile to withstand the all-embracing force from the Great Mother of the Welfare Womb. He was afraid that he would disappear, lose himself and his individuality to her.
No, he had to continue outwards in the world, prove that he could manage on his own, learn what was going on, or fail to do so, and then try to do it better the next time. He just needed to find something to put his heart into so the world would seem a little simpler and sorted out.
Something slipped through his mind. It startled him, then it was gone. He looked down at his hands and discovered that his hat had fallen under the table. Everything seemed obviously to go wrong for him tonight.
He bent down to pick it up. There were a gleam of light coming from under the table, or rather from under the floor. Although he did not understand how this was possible or why there in the first place should be a light below the floor, he felt that someone was trying to get his attention, get through his thick skull, putting words inside his head, saying: Dig … you must dig … the meaning is to dig … it is the only meaning, the meaning has always been to dig … right here, right now … for the sake of your life, DIG!
He trembled, tried to withhold his desire to dig. Then he pushed the table aside, grabbed his hat, forced it on his head so it almost covered his eyes and began to hit the spade hard against the stone floor while moaning with great pleasure. The only thing that was in his mind was to dig a hole in the floor right where he had seen the light. Nothing else mattered. It was the great meaning with everything, it was the only meaning in life.
It was also hard work he had put himself up to. The hole got deeper and deeper, and only darker. And the light seemed out of sight. He felt as he had been digging for hours, when the darkness exploded in the glint of a pair of deep blue eyes and the sweetest smile, and he saw this girl dancing up towards him in a glorious spinning disco light.
At last a guy who dare to dig his own hole to rescue me, she smiled exalted. It is so boring to dance alone down there, you know. Whom may I thank? Uh, there is music, let’s dance.
That sound terrible, said the Great Dane. How do you feel?
She laughed astonished.
How do I feel? My hair is ruffled, my skin is dead pale and my feet are numb … how do I feel, you ask? I feel like dancing.
It’s not what I meant. It was how you really feel … deep down inside.
She thought some while what to answer, then she leaned forward.
Nobody has ever asked me that question before. But let me enlighten you, she whispered in his ear. Even that I don’t know you, I feel that I never have met anyone like you.
The Great Dane was as hypnotized.
Does it give any meaning to you, she smiled.
Greater meaning than you think. I feel exactly the same about you. But I also have the feeling that I somehow have meet you before. Who are you?
Who I am, you ask … I’m the Illuminating Girl. I have no real personality, but light up the way for lost people through life. So, who would you like me to be?
The Great Dane looked at her suspiciously. Behind her smile there seemed to be an great paradox: A seducing woman with a confused thirteen-year-old-soul. She resembled him of someone, or was it something. And she needed the Great Danes help.
Why don’t you try to be yourself, he suggested.
She grabbed his hat and put it on her head. It suited her perfectly.
Why don’t you try to follow me down in the hole, she said.
Then she turned around and began to walk.
Just Keep on Digging
When the Mysterious Jew Boy came back with their drinks the Great Dane was gone. He looked worried down in the hole next to the table. At first sight it seemed as a safe and easy hole to find just the meaning that suited your life, but for the experienced digger it was a very dark and unstable hole where there was a great risk of finding a meaning that only would bring you disappointment and pain in life.
Maybe he should have warned the Great Dane that some holes lacked any lasting and stable meaning, they only contained distractions which would lead you even further away from your path in life. Behind the superficial and dazzling light of such meanings there was nothing more than the emptiness of life, an endless darkness that would suck away all independent life and leave you even more helpless, lost and alone than before in the dark. Hopefully the Great Dane had not taken anything from this hole, but had gone home alone safe and sound.
The Mysterious Jew Boy sat down at the table and began to drink. It had been a good long night’s hard digging. He was sure that a huge change was coming. Whether it would be for better or worse, he did not know. But he was certain that all things in life had a meaning. If you held onto your life and kept on digging you would sooner or later find the meaning that was just the right meaning for you.
Just Another Alter Ego is a series of articles about a bumpy road trip into an urban utopia: not one still to come, not one that someday may be, but one that already is the hard, thrilling and colourful hyper reality of life in our cities.
Story © The Great Dane
Illustration © Sally Wilde