At the southeastern end of Ramla de Krim, opposite Parc del Fòrum in Barcelona, surrounded by luxury hotels, malls, and conference centers, stands the skeleton of a decaying, never-completed high-rise that dominates the square. Already six years ago, this building, in stark contrast to its chic neighborhood, captivated me. Back then, I walked past it. Too high, too dangerous, too visible. All excuses.
So, here I am again, standing in front of the building, pondering the sense and nonsense of climbing it. The inclined enthusiasts, in this case, Verena and I, are deterred from entering the premises by a seemingly insurmountable wall, which, like every such wall, is paired with an equally formidable iron gate, reinforced with a heavy chain and a massive lock. We stroll along the wall. In the backyard of the adjacent luxury hotel, someone before us undermined the very reason for the wall’s existence with a makeshift staircase. This ascent, improvised from pallets and trash, seems well-frequented, evidenced by a gap in the netting that’s otherwise present above the wall’s crest. A cautious glance over the wall reveals a parked security car. I cannot comment on the car’s contents due to the brief nature of my observation.
Wait a minute! The chain on that iron gate earlier was locked from the outside, right? There can’t be anyone in the car! This realization nips the budding frustration about the supposed nuisance in the bud. We climb the wall and jump onto the property. With the apparent absence of additional security, the car now completely loses its scarecrow-like effectiveness. It’s broad daylight. There’s a fair happening at the convention center opposite. I’ve never felt so watched before. The visibility of the premises triggers a mild panic, hastening our progress to our next destination: a concrete-encased staircase, access to which is barred by another iron gate. Overcoming it poses no significant challenge to our climbing skills, though the noise we make could be part of an industrial music performance. Note to self: Bring a recording device next time!
Quick, out of sight from the street! Did anyone see us? Disproportionate paranoia significantly speeds up our ascent. Totally exaggerated. Nobody cares about us and what we’re doing. The noise we make is drowned out by the city sounds, and people probably have more important things to do than admire our gymnastics.
No façade. To reach the roof, 25 floors must be climbed. With increasing height, my knees get weaker. Gaping holes stare at me. The nets, installed many years ago to prevent people from falling into the interiors, are only partially present now. The building’s vibrations become noticeable. I walk as close as possible to the inner walls upwards. Sweat drips from my forehead and hands. Cracks in the concrete become evident. The building leans. The floor gives way. I fall. Damn fear of heights! I force myself to keep going. Verena moves ahead purposefully, and I try not to show anything. What’s wrong? Are you scared? What? No. Nonsense! For professional roofers, as seen in numerous YouTube hits: child’s play. For me: scaling a five-thousander. People are different, as are their realities. As a child, I only dared cross bridges if I could walk in the middle of the road. In buildings, the third floor was my limit. Even in twelfth grade, I had to give up trying to climb to the top of Florence’s Duomo due to acrophobia and had to be escorted back down after a panic attack. For several years now, I’ve been actively fighting this primal fear. Where does it come from? No idea. Probably innate. I’m the only one in my family with it. I focus on photography. The fear is suppressed. The focus shifts. I function again and, upon reaching the top floors, enjoy a breathtaking view.
Impulse suppression. Having reached the roof, I cautiously approach the edge. The call of the void grows louder. Where does that come from? I stand at the edge and look down. The next step is imaginary. A few years ago, I saw a report on the development of machines that can be controlled by thought. Impulse suppression. That word keeps popping into my consciousness. Think of a command, and a machine executes it immediately. Fighter jets firing missiles through sheer thought. What must the safety systems look like? Can one reliably control a person’s reaction to their environment? What happens if one is distracted at the moment of firing and thinks of something else? I can suppress the impulse to walk on because it’s a matter of my life. Does the same apply to others’ lives? I feel queasy. Impulse suppression. For today, I’m satisfied. Jo vs. fear of heights: 1:0.
When we return to the hotel in the evening, I try to find out more about the building’s history. Despite a long search, I find nothing. Probably some investor’s speculation gone wrong. Likely a relic of the 2008 real estate crisis. Instead of valid facts, I find entertaining YouTube videos of people who’ve already frolicked on the skeleton before us. One was recorded the day before our visit and uploaded on the day we climbed. This makes our own ascent seem like child’s play.
For those interested, see the following. Cheers!