while i was waiting in the foyer of the town hall for two hours after waiting in line at the alien’s office – after being told earlier on at the town hall that i had to go to the alien’s office before i could get by tax number, where i was told that i didn’t need to go to the alien’s office and that i should go back to the town halland insist on being issued a tax number – i got to learn the tonal sequence of the chime that meant next please (or nächste bitte or whatever). three equidistant descending tones followed by two, slightly discordant, almost simultaneous tones. the mac tone is the theme to the miraculous irridescent birth of white computer life, those tones are the theme of disempowered waiting. train stations often have a very similar tone before announcing what the next train (i.e. the train that is not yet there, and may never be, the subjunctive mood train).
i was angry in part because i had to be made to wait for several hours longer than was necessary, catch about four trains and walk for half an hour, but on a more personal level, i felt let down by germany. as with most let-downs, i’m sure it spoke more of my uneducated preconceptions than of an actual crisis in the relationship, but somehow i had expected better of germany. now i don’t want to crassly equate germany with militarism and fascism, because obviously that was a very specific story among many stories here, but somewhere amongst textbook images of human formations in the 36 berlin olympics, braun shaving products, that book about how ibm helped the nazis to carry out the holocaust and a vague knowledge of tha autobahn system, i expected a smooth, efficient bureaucracy.
but on my way home i was singing the waiting tune, approximating the last overlapping tones in a diy tibetan monk throat singing technique, and i thought that perhaps the efficient management of masses of people requires a kind of slickness of dismissal, and a ground level incomptetence, that keeps things moving slow enough down here, for things to move quickly enough up there. at first i thought the bureaucratic incompetence was a kind of collective, disculpatory hand-wringing a couple of generations on from mass genocide – uh oh, i know i’m getting into the crass territory, but just because k-rudd said sorry, it doesn’t mean we’re past the hand-wringing stage, in fact, i think we’ve got a while to go before we get there – as if they were saying as the blood rushed to their easily ruddied cheeks, “who us? meticulous, shrewd and well organised? we couldn’t organise a pool party let alone another holocaust”. i thought maybe uselessness was their answer to the past. but then when i thought about standing in line at the alien’s office, the line of us pushing along like built up starch, it seemed clear that the key to an efficient and lethal bureaucracy is an inefficient and bumbling bureaucracy.