Essay: People at Wannsee

©Collage / Oriane Baud

Timon Kaleyta tells us about a special day at Wannsee

As often as possible my friend, the renowned furniture dealer and I go to the movie theater together. Many times – if our other obligations permit it – we like to schedule two consecutive screenings. Afterwards we leave the auditorium in a timely fashion and pelt across the city in a black Mercedes, in order to punctually arrive at the next venue for the second film.

Each and every time it is the best film of all times and at the end of the evening, once the work is done, we can go to bed peacefully. I suppose, we never saw a bad movie. Lucky us!

On the evening of the 12th of July, exactly one day before Nintendo would release their augmented reality game Pokémon Go in Germany, my friend and I yet again watched the best movie of all time – this time it was a silent picture from 1930, written by Billy Wilder and directed by Robert Siodmak, called “People on Sunday”.

It tells the most beautiful story. Brigitte (a sales assistant at a record shop, blonde) and Christl (an extra, brunette), two ravishingly beautiful girlfriends arrange to meet with the good-natured taxi driver Erwin and the noble “wine traveller” Wolfgang. They spend a marvellous day at Lake Wannsee together, where they go swimming and pedalo riding, play the vinyl records they brought along and even kiss. At the end they return to the city together, all awaiting a new working week. The “wine traveller” then moves on.

As it happens, the furniture dealer and I do not only enjoy going to the movies, but are also quite fond of sailing – preferably at Lake Wannsee, because that’s where his sailing yacht lies at anchor in the long summer months. Thus, shortly after the movie had ended, we decided to head to Wannsee again, this coming Sunday.

So whilst the rest of the world was far away looking for new adventures on their miniature smartphone screens, the both of us paid a visit to the place we had gazed at with childlike pleasure, just the day before. And we did so in the flesh, eager to become “People on Sunday” ourselves.

It had been raining heavily throughout the day, but we arrived at the yacht club just in time for the sunburst and set sails right away. For one magical hour we were all alone on Lake Wannsee, that was sparkling and glistening in the sun. Once more, we had been incredibly lucky.

We anchored at about a hundred meters line of sight in front of the lido and glanced at the shoreline in excitement. Here it must have been, the hills, the conifer forest, the reed – almost a century ago it looked just the same as now.

We had left our cell phones in the glove box of the automobile, were they were safe from us humans for the next few hours. Soon we decided to dip into the water and to swim the last stretch to dry land – the sun already burnt onto our fidgety bodies and the refreshment felt good, after the long ride. Because of the preceding rainfall, the elongated beach shore was deserted, although there should have been quite a bustle in light of this perfect Sunday weather.

Still on the boat, we could recognise with binoculars, that the restaurant was open, in spite of the lack of clientele. Driven by a big appetite and infinite curiosity we swam ashore, where we, as first customers, ordered pork knuckle with sauerkraut, which we devoured in front of the impressed waiters.

For hours we sat on a small wall, looked at the lake and assured one another that nothing substantial had changed in almost one hundred years. The most beautiful thing in the world, that is where the movie was spot-on, was still a Sunday trip to Wannsee. For good measure we carved our names in a nearby pine and for a few moments we lay on our backs beneath the tree, the ground still slightly damp from the rain.

As the afternoon approached we swam back to the yacht. In the galley kitchen my friend prepared some meat with green asparagus, which he roasted in a pan with some butter and a pinch of sugar – the discoveries and observations of this long day had made us hungry again. We had a few sips of port wine, straight out of the bottle.

While the sun began to set and we skimmed our sunday papers for unread articles, we noticed en passant, how on a sail yacht, not far from us, a dark-skinned beauty repeatedly jumped into the water, while screeching with joy. As we shockingly came to realise, she was completely naked. She did not even have a phone on her.  

Translation: Jessica Aimufua
© Mischa Lorenz

Timon Karl Kaleyta (born 1980, Lagos) is an author and musician. In 2011, he founded the Institut für Zeitgenossenschaft IFZ in Düsseldorf. Kaleyta attended the elite universities of Bochum, Madrid, and Düsseldorf where he successfully studied literature, sociology, international relations, politics, and media science. Together with his band Susanne Blech, he released three LPS which were slammed in numerous German newspapers’ art sections. He publishes regularly in the weekly newspaper Der Freitag and is, for the good of the his institute, almost as talented a networker as his idol Carsten Maschmeyer. Hatje Cantz published his monograph Die 100 wichtigsten Dinge, a collection of photographs and text, in 2016.

Portrait: Mischa Lorenz