Sunday, July 15, 2007

The sound of silence

Last night Torsten and I went to bed early, around midnight, because we were both exhausted. At 2:30, Torsten shot up in bed, suddenly wide awake and waking me up in the process. I am not one of those people who can go from deep sleep to sharp alertness instantaneously, so I groggily told him that I was sure the really loud, incessant ringing sound that had woken him up was nothing to do with us and we could go back to sleep.

Luckily, he's a bit quicker than me sometimes and he figured out that it was the fire alarm, which has never once gone off in the 14 months that I've lived in this building. Part of why I didn't recognize it as a fire alarm, to be fair, is that the building was built in 1953 and its fire alarm does not appear to have been updated since then. There were no flashing lights, there were no fancy recordings saying, "A fire has been reported in the building," there were no heinously high-pitched noises designed to drive all living creatures outside as quickly as possible like a herd of rats. There was just really, really loud ringing.

Torsten intelligently looked through the peephole in our door to make sure there was no roaring fire on the other side of it (you always read about how you're supposed to do that, fire safety, etc., but have I ever once done such a thing? No. Apparently in Germany false fire alarms are a lot rarer and therefore they are taken much more seriously). In the hallway the ringing was so loud as to be completely unbearable and we were extremely thankful that we only live on the second floor and therefore did not have to endure the painful sound for ten flights of stairs like some residents.

Then we stood outside behind the building with all of our exhausted neighbours (some of whom had brought their laptops with them and were grumpy about the fact that they could not get a wireless signal from the back lawn) for 45 minutes while the firemen did I'm not quite sure what. Luckily the weather was nice; I still remember some heinous burnt popcorn incidents in college where we all wound up outside in the snow, barefoot. We had a nice chat with our next-door neighbour about cockroaches (I'm surprised I didn't have nightmares afterward) and marveled at how many people talk on their cell phones at three in the morning.

Finally, the ringing stopped. It was a beautiful, beautiful sound: nothing. Peace. Amazing. The building's security guard came out to tell us that someone on the third floor had pulled the fire alarm, but they had no idea who it was or why they did it. After we had all charitably been thinking that somebody must have burned something in their microwave.

Here I thought I was a grownup now, living in a lovely adult building where nobody would do such a thing. But actually? It turns out we're all fourteen and pulling the fire alarm to get out of going to class.

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