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Armageddon. Have a nice one.

The joint that changed my life and made me foresee the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image for Armageddon. Have a nice one.
Photo by Lienhard Schulz (Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Lienhard Schulz (Wikimedia Commons). Robert Rigney on the African grass that shook him up.

So this corona pandemic, Berlin lockdown and in general End of Times Stimmung – am I the only one who felt it coming?

Subliminally, instinctively, I felt its approach already in 2001, right before 9.11, interestingly enough – a couple months before the attack on the WTC. Something was in the air. And it wasn’t love.

That we’d be laid low by a killer virus seemed too far-out. No one could have foretold that. But that something malignant, something terrible and earth-shaking was coming our way, and that we in Berlin would have our hard-fought civil liberties taken away from us – I felt it intuitively – an evil vibe – naked fear.

Yes, I had smoked some powerful grass. I scored it one night in Kreuzberg from a guy from Senegal, and it set off a psychosis of sorts. 

The upside was it altered my awareness, allowing me to change my personality over night.

Prior to this killer joint, I was quite a different person than I am today. I had just come back to Berlin, the city of my birth, after five years of sowing my oats in Prague, in order to work as Berlin correspondent for ArtNews magazine. I was an arch-conservative, devotee of the German classics – Deutsche Lieder, Schiller and Caspar David Friedrich – which I felt were given short-shrift in today’s Germany, in favor of some kind of vague multicultural ideal. 

Berlin, I felt was being overrun by Turks and Muslims, fast on its way to losing its identity and becoming a kind of islamised Berlinistan. I subscribed to Junge Freiheit, hung about on the fringes of neo-Nazi demos. I was in search of like-minded souls. Found none.

Well, some good African grass set me straight. Fucked me up and shook me up. Thank you, “haze”, as the kids say in Berlin. I now saw the world as one big family.

The next day I walked around Berlin in a kind of super-lucid daze, as though I hadn’t come down from my stoned trip of the previous night. The scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was now seeing things as they really were. Just like in Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle or in the film Matrix.

“Do you want the blue pill or the red pill?” Did I want to see the way reality really was? Or did I want to creep back into bed and remain coddled by false illusions.

The reality was that it was now Last Days and some apocalyptic battle was poised to be played out in Berlin. In my stoned and paranoid state I felt that Berlin had been shut off from the rest of the world like in Wall days, and the people of Berlin were being stirred up – black against white, Muslim against Christian, East against West – in some great clash of the cultures that would be televised live for American viewing pleasure on pay-per-view TV. 

Following me everywhere as I walked through Berlin were billboards with the sinisterly evocative slogan, “Wir gegen die Rest” – us against the rest – an add for a Nike-sponsored amateur football tournament pitching the various districts of Berlin against each other, an add campaign which in my altered state took on menacing overtones. 

I can laugh about it now – perhaps a little less now – but, I assure you, it was no joke. I was scared shitless! My first impulse was to escape Berlin. Cut out. Get the hell out of there. But how? The trains were no longer in operation, all flights canceled. Terrified, I put 600 Deutschmarks in my shoe, put on my camo-gear, packed a bag with a pen knife and a change of clothes and set off to walk out of Berlin, to Dresden, to visit my uncle, who had a big garden on the outskirts of the city, the perfect place to sit out the Apocalypse.

However somewhere around Grenzallee in Neukölln, I got turned around in a run-down garden colony, lost my way.

Suddenly it came to be like a voice from above: You can’t escape  it! Deal with it! Do your part to keep the people of Berlin from going at each others’ throats. To stave off the Apocalypse. Keep off Armageddon for a day. Walk through Berlin spreading one love and good vibes, to reconcile the Turk with the German, the Ossie with the Wessie,  black with white.

And so I set off in the direction of Kotti – the heart of West Berlin, as Alexanderplatz was the heart of the East.

Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as telepathy. It works! A look in the eye with passerby was enough to communicate my message.

“Don’t do it!” I mentally told the people coming my way, “The time is not yet ripe. Don’t panic. Take a step back from the abyss.”

A couple days later I was back to normal, and everything was Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen, as they say.

Now twenty years on, the fear is back. Its “Armageddon Time” as Joe Strummer sang, “the end of the world as we know it” – and this time, I am not stoned.

Robert Rigney is an American journalist from Berlin. He has also worked as a journalist in Prague and Istanbul, where he has written about music, art and immigration. He has been putting out  magazine Berlin Bazzar since January.