Wandern in Gedanken

Voices Offstage: Rambling in the Mind

by Nora Sdun

“We might say that hysteria is a caricature of an artistic creation, a compulsion neurosis a caricature of religion and a paranoiac delusion a caricature of a philosophic system.” (Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, 1913)

I am preparing a walk with the communication app Discord for the “Not-JUZ”2 group established by Tilman Walther in March 2020 (I have always read “Not” as the English word for negative rather than the German word for emergency, in other words the “Not Youth Centre” rather than the “Emergency Youth Centre”, which it probably more likely is).

In any case, on Thursday each week some twenty people assemble in front of their respective computer screens and, using Google Street View or such like, take a walk together. To do this, one person shares their screen with all the others, thereby prescribing the route. In this way we have already been in England, Poland, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Benin, Somalia and in the Schenefeld shopping mall near Hamburg. Today I am guiding the group through the Swedish village Kåseberga and heading for the ancient stone ship called Ales stenar, Ale’s Stones. They say that once in their life each Swedish citizen has to visit this thing: huge boulders that in around 600 CE were stolen from older megalithic tombs dating back another 1,000 years and whose arrangement symbolises a boat.

In my preparations I become completely bogged down in detail. I would like to use, for me, seemingly murky metaphors such as “ferry”, “magic”, “connection” or “tourist hoax” to get from the speedboat ferry that runs between Ystad and Bornholm and makes a “swell” (more or less a large, indistinct wave, physically and psychologically) in the harbour of Kåseberga to the large stone ship up on the cliff coast. Its original function is likewise not fully clear.

After nervously clicking around on the Street View image I end up in Kåseberga spa where there are various swimming and sauna facilities. Instead of arriving at the shipshape arrangement of enormous stones I find myself coming to a mental standstill in front of strange perspex cubes in which one might perhaps bathe one’s legs – a phenomenon typical for the last few months: one mentally hurtles into very deep culde-sacs and is surprised at being surprised. In the spa there are Jacuzzis with swell as in the harbour, but for me the water-filled cubes remain just as puzzling as the cup-marked stones of the ancient stone ship that were misused (they were, after all, stolen from elsewhere) to delineate the shape of a ship. Apropos of the cup-marked stones, magical sites and one’s own hollow head – it is, as someone explains, “fish pedicure” they’re offering there. Fish nibble skin particles, but no idea whether they’re still allowed to offer that in these pandemic times. As decoration, an amphora and a few assorted stones have been placed at the bottom of each water cube. Maybe the fish live inside the amphora and maybe there are just the same number of pebbles as boulders in the ship arrangement, which would be fifty-nine.

The formation of stones on the Ales stenar site up on the steep cliffs on Sweden’s southern coast allegedly serves as a kind of Bronze Age solar calendar – a claim repeatedly denied by the experts, but which does not prevent the tourist office in Ystad from putting up information panels falsely calling it a solar calendar. Aligning a structural configuration in such a way that the bow and stern stones respectively mark the summer and the winter solstice still won’t give you a solar calendar. In churches the chancel is aligned eastwards, or “oriented”, that is: pointing to the Orient, or simply in the direction of the rising sun. That does not make every chapel a calendar, or even just a quarter component of a calendar… When the sun shines in through an east-facing window it is the morning of a new day. The question is: of which day, of which week, of which year?

Nora Sdun is co-editor of the magazine Kultur & Gespenster and co-owner of the Textem Verlag in Hamburg.

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