"Four Horseman of the Apocalypse", 1497-98, by Albrecht Dürer
At the European premiere of the doomsday blockbuster 2012 - held in Berlin, somewhat ominously, on the 20th anniversary of the Mauerfall - its star John Cusack was questioned by a fawning fan: “What do you think about the future, John?” Although he plays one of the few survivors in celluloid’s latest Armageddon epic, the actor was circumspect. “I’m still waiting,” he replied with a sardonic-yet-cheekily-prophetic grin.
Cusack may be coy about the future, but the real 2012 - as divined in an ancient Mayan calendar - has come to embody the doomsday prophecy to end all doomsday prophecies. It’s a date that has been talked up by conspiracy buffs, astrologers, prophets and occultists for decades, giving grist to 600,000 websites and more than 60,000 books. Claudia Clemm, the owner of Moonlight Books in Oranienstraße, says that in recent years 2012-related titles have mushroomed from a handful into a whole, front-and-center table of end-time ephemera. But what, exactly, are we all waiting for?
In just over three years, at precisely 11:11 (GMT) on December 21, the final 5,126-year cycle of the Mesoamerican “Long Count” calendar will end; it predicts that humanity will then undergo a massive transformation. As to what shape this will take – well, interpretations are divided. Some say that fire and brimstone will engulf the planet: an earth-shattering series of cataclysms and catastrophes which few will survive. In a way, this one’s already happening: there seem to be ever more tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and extreme weather events, not to mention the proliferation of the War on Terror. Others believe a more positive transformation is at hand. Things will be tough for a time - a global financial collapse, civil wars etc - but a ‘global awakening’ will follow, after which we will live in peace and harmony as supra enlightened beings, evolved weldings of ET and Gandhi.
It’s an old story: sin and redemption, corruption and divine justice, the resolution of the karmic wheel. In the Book of Revelation, it’s the Battle of Armageddon, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Antichrist… Tales borrowed by David Koresh for his Waco doomsday cult. Or by the post-millenialist evangelicals in 1840s America who expected to be carried to heaven by the Great Awakening but met with the Great Disappointment instead. Or in 2000, when Y2K was code for the Second Coming. Indeed, the White House has long used ‘apocalyptic fundamentalism’ to justify foreign interventions in the Middle East, the ordained site of the Armageddon. But Christian millenarianism, which relies on the Gregorian calendar, has got it wrong too many times. So maybe the Mayans got it right?
The calendrical kudos ascribed to the lost Mayan civilization of what is now Mexico and Guatemala are based on giant temple pyramids that acted as time mapping machines. These employed complicated mathematical calculations involving the sun and the Milky Way to track the astrological significance of every day, past and future. But 2012 is even more compelling because any ancient culture and religion worth its cosmic salt has also predicted the coming rapture: the Incas, Aztecs, Egyptians, Hopi Indians and Hindus, among others, have all prophesized big things in the next few years. 2012 is the hottest brand in the battle for the new age, the apocalypse writ large - and everyone from followers of Nostradamus to environmental doomsdayers can exploit this next great countdown to the end.
But, like climate change deniers, some 2012 naysayers want to spell out the end of the end. Andreas Fuls, an archeoastronomist at Berlin’s Technical University, says the attempt to align the old Julian and Mayan calendars was about 200 years out, meaning we can now relax until 2212. But like the oil lobby in Copenhagen, are Fuls and his kin merely postponing the inevitable?
Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto was the first endtime drama to draw on Mesoamerican prophecies about the fall of civilization. 2012 became a big-screen concept when director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) stumbled across the Mayan prediction while plotting his next apocalyptic thriller (the film was initially going to be about the Ark). His underlying motivation was a concern about the future. “I hope we are not ruining our planet,” Emmerich has said. “We still have these wars going on, and all this energy could go into the environment or other peaceful activities… It’s like they don’t understand that the clock is ticking.” So was Cusack referring to his director when he stated that their blockbuster, with its cataclysmic denouement, was “alluding to, or exploiting, the zeitgeist of fear and paranoia in the world”?
It might not be coincidence that 2012’s European premiere was held in Berlin. As the frontline of the Cold War and its underlying threat of east-west atomic Armageddon, this city has long stood for imminent apocalypse. Leon Uris’ 1964 novel Armageddon is set here, and although it focuses on the aftermath of the Second World War, it was written at a time when the Mayan calendar theory was given play by some eminent archaeologists. Was Leon’s story an allegory for the coming millennium meltdown? Probably not - but some 2012 experts believe Berlin will be central to the coming global makeover.
John Calleman, the Swedish author of The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness, was in the city in 1989, soon after the wall came down on November 9. According to him, the Mayan calendar’s “cosmic time plan for the universe” will in fact be fulfilled on October 28, 2011. Close enough. “Berlin plays a significant role,” he says, “since it is located at the world tree line that separates the eastern and western hemispheres of the global brain.” That’s right: Berlin, positioned on the fault line of global consciousness identified by the Mayans, will be a prime venue for a harmonious melding of two long opposing spheres of thought. “The fall of the Wall was only a beginning,” Calleman stated in an interview under the Brandenburg Gate last August, “but the world is still polarized and the western hemisphere is still dominating… In a deeper sense, this wall is [also] going to come down.”
The German soothsayer Thomas Ritter, who gets his inspiration from 7,000-year-old Hindu prophecies inscribed on palm leaves, also trumpets “the transformation that will peak in 2012”. But he cautions: “In 2010 and 2011, there is some danger for Berlin, [including] a lot of social problems and probably a terrorist attack. But all these things may lead to the transformation and a new beginning.” Although Germany could be embroiled in civil wars that will spread across Europe, Ritter portends that “Berlin will be one of the centers of transformation, especially in the arts and the common sense of living together. In Berlin, there will be new possibilities to create a really human community.”
Master Tian Yin, a Chinese Qigong master who specializes in “karmic purification and soul ascension” at the local Tian Gong Institut, has taken much inspiration from the Mesoamerican calendar, travelling to Mexico to contact “Mayan beings of higher dimensions who sent us cosmic messages”. And? “The present civilization has reached its limit. We need to think about how to move forward and find a new way.” And will Berlin be part of a new way in 2012? It seems possible. “Berlin is an open city. There are many new currents of thought. It is also a city where many different cultures meet each other, a place of cultural exchange.”
With so much to look forward to, it is no wonder that the prospect of this Apocalypse 2.0 has attracted unprecedented interest. As Moira Timms, transformational healer and Egyptologist, notes in the documentary 2012: The Odyssey (one of countless related DVD titles available for order on the internet): “We’re now learning it’s not what we thought it was. Armageddon is not what it used to be.” What a relief.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be the end of the world,” John Cusack said in an interview about his film. “It’s more just like a shift in people’s consciousness.” So the 1960s will soon be back. But in Berlin, they might feel more like the early 1990s.