Isn’t it awesome when a moment in your life feels like a scene straight out of a movie? I had a very cool experience like this recently when riding my bike home from work. There is this scene from ‘Berlin Calling’ that I love. Well, it’s not even a scene more like a flicker of an image but its just something that resonated with me. It only goes for 3 or 4 seconds but is powerful in its simplicity.
It is a shot of the TV tower at twilight. An ominous sky frames the scene as a flock of birds that look like bats come in to view, flapping their way in circles around the dome. It is accompanied by a dark, repititious techno beat and the eerie sound of crows squawking in the night. It really feels like Berlin to me and perfectly captures the energy of the beginning of a night out in this gritty city. So one recent Friday eve I was on my bike, and rounded the corner at Alexanderplatz in to the concrete square that sits at the base of the TV tower. People were criss-crossing everywhere hurrying along, on their way in to the night. I looked up and saw a darkening sky and a group of crows flying above the city, circling the curve of the great dome which was glowing silver against the inky-grey sky. In my head, the familiar techno beat from Berlin Calling started up and suddenly I was there in the movie, standing at the foot of the TV tower feeling the cold, dark promise of a night out in Berlin. It was such a wierdcool moment and I smiled inside at the strange familiarity of it all.
Here is a link to the scene – which appears at about 00.14 or 00.15: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drdf8OeBUUM
One Friday eve during the last days of summer, I was walking Oppelner Strasse when I saw a group of people enjoying a dinner party on the street. They had literally moved their entire indoor dinner party setting outside and on to the street – tables, chairs, wine glasses, candles, music, friends and children playing at their heels. It was warm and lovely and all I could hear was laughter and the clinking of glasses. I watched them for a second, taking in the scene. Their table was glowing with happy energy, the sky above was black velvet, the air smelt like lavender and in that moment I really felt the spirit and love of this little group of friends.
It was the last of those balmy evenings where the streets are alive with people and icecream and smiles… and as you walk you can literally see the collective human spirit blossoming, flourishing in the warm night.
A few weeks back I had the best Monday of my life. It was a hazy August evening – the sun lay low over the city spilling it’s hot light in to every street corner. The heat wrapped Berlin like a blanket, heavy and oppressive. I went for a walk with my best friend along the Görlitzer canal – the light flickering as it found it’s way through the trees and across our faces. We stopped by a graffitied bridge and found a little iron gate with steps leading to the waters edge. We took a seat and named it our “secret spot”… it was private, off the main pathway and allowed us to take one step closer to nature. All the way down the canal you could see people tucked in to the trees, in their own “secret spots” reading, eating, resting their souls in the yellow afternoon haze. A moment later a tourist boat went by, I could see the great flag of Germany at it’s helm and people taking photos of all the life that breathed along the banks of the canal. After it had passed, in a sudden fit of summer energy we decided to strip down and go naked swimming in the (dirty / brown / inner city) canal! And so we did. Two crazy girls at 8pm on that 30 degree evening jumped in to the filthyrefreshing water. It was a magic moment, green weeping trees hanging low, the graffitied bridge above, a group of white swans floating by and our naked freedom in the dirty brown water! Oh Monday!
I have decided that Berlin is an adult’s playground.
As I was walking the Sunday streets I saw people weaving through the traffic on their bikes, dodging and swerving across the city – to meet a lover, have a coffee, read a book in the park, do their thing. I saw a dreadlocked rastafarian sitting outside a bakery with his feet on the table smoking a cigarette and tearing in to a croissant at the same time. I saw a group of party-goers sitting in an ominous circle outside a club, drinking stale beers and holding each other in the morning sun. The blank walls and apartment buildings were splattered with colourful graffiti. Each wall – somebody’s statement to the world. I saw two September lovers by the canal, lost in each others embrace. Looking up, there was a group of twenty something guys, drunk on life, sitting on the roof of a bus shelter, legs dangling over, singing sad morning anthems to the world. I heard whistles blowing and a voice through a loudspeaker and suddenly there was a procession of people, protesting, united in their passion & opinions.
It was then that I saw the city as a veritable playground –like a place where children go to play, a place that is fun and full of endless possibilities, where freedom rules and you can do as you please. Berlin is the playground except it’s adults that play there. You can do or be anything you want, see whoever you want, write all over the walls, climb the bus shelters, dance till dawn, everything is free and open and it’s up to you how you wanna play it…
I had just been on another trip – a two week ball-out around Eastern Europe and had arrived back yet again. I was walking over Ann Micheal Brücke – a bridge the crosses the river Spree, feeling dazed and weary when I stopped in the middle of the bridge to pause. You know how in life sometimes you just need to pause. I looked out and saw the great TV tower with its mirror ball dome and spiky antenna. The river was lined with warehouses and factories, crumbling industrial relics of another time. Green weeds, graffiti everywhere, the gentle brown river and the sound of techno music wafting up from an open air party on the shore. I could hear people laughing as they meandered along the water on a wooden raft, clinking beers, the sky grey and low above them. And there she was… Berlin. In all her dirty, twisted glory. And it made me smile.
Tucked away in quiet street corners are the parks and gardens, little flashes of greenery that make this city beautiful. There are grand, weeping trees, rusty old swingsets and daisies at your feet. In the summer, the parks make a perfect setting for open air parties and bbqs and peace time. Görlitzer Park is my favourite – people sit in that great sprawling park well in to the night, laid out in the grass breathing warm air and sharing secrets under the summer moon.
Görli is great because it has such a mass of life in it. There are the drug dealers who line the gates, lanky black men who whisper “marijuana” when you walk past. There are the Turkish families spread out on blankets the size of an apartment, prepared with all sorts of salad and drinks and cold meat. And the children run in circles and play until they fall in a heap on the ground, exhausted and giggling. Then there is the woman who dances topless in a stoned stupor. Or the man who pushes a shopping trolley packed with stereo equipment, computers and other junk. Or the 4 year old kid who uses a full adult size skateboard and rides the hill like a pro. Or the gypsys who run around frantic, collecting bottles for recycling payments. There are all manner of freaks in this park. The other day I watched a black man with dreadlocks dance interpretative style on his own in the corner of the park. Eyes closed, ipod in his ears, completely unaware of who was watching, he dipped and rolled and swayed and danced his heart out for more than an hour. Eventually sweating so much that he took his shirt… and his pants off. It was brilliant. I am so grateful for these parks.
I walked out of the station wide eyed and bedraggled. Taking dreamy cautious steps in to the mess that is life. Chaotic and colourful there were people swigging beer on the street and fairy lights and traffic and pizza slices on the staircase of my building. And it was beautiful and madness and home. It felt good to be home but I was missing a certain someone. And it had started raining – grey hot teardrops on the window of the taxi. Why does it always rain in the saddest of moments? Its as if the heavens open up and your tears pour out. I don’t know. Arriving back in Berlin after a week in the pristine Nordic countryside can really mess with your head.
Last week I was stepping on a plane bound for Denmark and I looked out across the tarmac and saw a brilliant sky – metallic orange and I smelt the air, it was warm and heavy and I could hear the whirr of engines and cars and planes and the breathless, exuberant madness that is this city. And in that moment I didn’t want to go, I was sad to leave her… beautiful Berlin with her sky of gold and heart of sin.