My brain seizes on a line from Broks, the story-telling neuropsychologist that my German students struggled with: “Great music cancels the distinction between the external world and our inner life.” And nothing in evolutionary biology can explain why it does this to us. “Experience is a first-person business,” Broks says. “Science operates in the third person.” Music is — what? A surprise counterpoint between the two. I’m sorry, but in Berlin, pretty Berlin, in the spring, as we stand there listening to the Russian busker play Bach, when nothing in me is strong enough to survive the annihilating past, this music makes me want to know what happens next.
A train from Ruhleben thunders in to the platform and disgorges its content. People walk past this one-man band at varying speeds, each making complex real-time cost-benefit analyses, calculating the trade-offs between net present enjoyment and future arrival. The accordionist lays into the bass of Bach’s tremendous final pedal point, herding the profusion back towards tonic. My wife and I stand transfixed. For as long as it takes this man to reach the final cadence, we are here, anyhow, going nowhere, present to the endless unlikelihood of existing at all.