poorbutsexy

arm, aber sexy. this is my ode to berlin.

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What do you think about this picture? Do you look at it and feel something? It’s unlikely you will say yes. This picture doesn’t seem to represent much. A scrubby looking pink plant growing out of dirt and green leaves… it is simple, unremarkable. But to me, this picture means a lot. 

To explain, I must take you back to a summery Sunday evening in August. I was sitting by the edge of the canal, bare legs dangling, enjoying a moment to myself. The breeze tickled my arms as I watched people walk along the other side of the water, sharing stories and holding hands. The canal snaked in to the distance, the veins of the city, glassy brown and picture perfect. It was that lovely time of day, when the sunlight begins to soften and you can see the afternoon gradually dissolve in front of your eyes. I was in a state of complete-calm, almost meditative - just absorbing the serenity of that moment.

When suddenly, behind me, a woman appeared out of the bushes speaking thick and fast in a German accent I could barely understand. She would have been in her fifties, with silvery hair cut short like a boy. She was petite but athletic looking with strong arms that carried a big, wicker basket. She asked me to move out of the way. I was taken aback - why did I have to move? Of all the space along the banks of the canal, why did she insist on sitting here, in my spot?!

Not in the mood for an argument, I made room and she set down her basket and rolled up her jeans. I turned away and tried to get back in to the moment. After fussing around in the dirt for a while, I noticed she became silent - completely still and quiet as a stone. It made me curious and eventually we struck up a conversation.

Her name was Lena, and she was the sweetest German woman I have ever met. She was a struggling art teacher, a free spirit who called Kreuzberg home for the last 20 years. Pottery was her thing and apparently her house was filled with all kinds of pots and ornaments that she had made with passionate hands. Every week she came to this exact spot on the canal to pay respects to her dearly departed father, who died a year ago. It is not common for Germans to give away so much so soon, but she seemed comfortable with our random connection and spoke freely with me. Her father had been her rock and mentor, and she felt his death had come too quickly. As a tribute to him, she placed a small flowering plant in the earth next to the canal, right at the spot where they had once sat. She explained how she came down every week to water and care for the plant. She said as long as the plant was there, it made her feel like a little piece of him was still alive. 

I was moved by her dedication, and asked how she tended it in winter. She did what she could but of course when the snow came it was impossible to maintain. During the colder months she would still make her weekly pilgrimage to the spot, but instead of caring for the plant she would sit in silence and remember. And when Spring finally dawned and the earth began to warm again, she would pick up her gardening duties and continue the ritual, her little way of keeping her fathers memory alive.

How admirable this woman was, her intention so pure.

She was fascinated to hear I was from Australia. Her dream was to go to New Zealand, but she never seemed to have the money or the time. I suggested she move there - go for a year or something. She nodded excitedly and told me it was on her to-do list. I told her about some of the things I wanted to achieve in Berlin and after listening carefully she proposed we give ourselves one years deadline to achieve our dreams. She said that life could take unexpected turns and was “too short to waste”.

Upon parting, I told her I truly hoped she would make it to New Zealand within the year. She smiled gratefully, wished me luck on my journey and went on her way.

After she left, I looked at that sad, sweet little plant for a long time. I had just been reminded of the fleeting beauty of life and for that moment the world seemed like a richer place. 

I took this photo to record the memory, and hold on to the little lesson that the plant represents.

THIS GUY’S GOT THE RIGHT IDEA…

Summertime, 30 degrees, Tuesday afternoon - work to do? Take it outdoors.

Sometimes I just marvel at the miracle of life.
Rose bush, Bergmannstrasse, Kreuzberg

Sometimes I just marvel at the miracle of life.

Rose bush, Bergmannstrasse, Kreuzberg

ALLES IN ORDNUNG

As most people are aware the Germans are known for things like efficiency, having a sense of order and paperwork. Oh, they love paperwork. Mostly you can live here unaffected by the famously rigid “alles in ordnung” (all in order) sensibility but from time to time you need to play the game. In particular, one thing that absolutely must be done is register your address at the Citizens Registration Office or Bürgeramt. Every time you move house you must register your new address within 14 days. I still don’t know the purpose of this, why every single person needs to register their address with the civil authorities - but I just know you have to do it. To me, it seems like a leftover relic from the East German system, a hangover from the days of Communism when everybody and everything was accounted for. 
What adds to this feeling is the process - how you actually register. It is totally archaic and involves having to queue at the crack of dawn outside a building so you can meet with an official and get the relevant paperwork. They don’t have an online registration system. I repeat - it is 2014 and they don’t have an online registration system. 
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Recently I had to visit the Bürgeramt (my 6th time - I am now a professional) and fortunately I live just around the corner meaning I get an extra 20 minutes  sleep. So I arrive at 7.15am - the place opens at 8 - and there are already 6 people in front! With 45 minutes to wait I busied myself people-watching the growing queue. Most interesting was the family in front - there was a mother, father and girl about my age holding a stack of papers. They were so well-dressed, I thought they might be from Hamburg. The mothers lipstick matched the colour of her shoes and her silvery hair did not have a strand out of place. Her daughter had a big leather tote bag which she carried on her forearm, the way celebrities do and I noticed her nails were a summery pastel pink. They looked out of place on the gritty corner of Wildenbruchstraße and Sonnenallee. I wondered why the daughter had brought her parents along to such a dull ritual as visiting the Bürgeramt, but then I saw she took out her iPhone and snapped a photo of her parents in the queue. Perhaps she had bought a house and was registering her address… what else would warrant parents and photos in the queue for the Bürgeramt?!  The father seemed utterly amused by the situation, particularly the ever-growing queue which he kept eyeing with a smile. Even his stylish black plastic glasses couldn’t hide that giggle in his eye. 
Admittedly the queue was getting long, over 30 people at 7.45am (standard!). Such a mixed bag of people too - everybody bored and impatient. There was a pretty girl in a floral dress, whose boyfriend had the icy jaw of a Russian. He looked like he might kill anybody who would come near her. There was a Turkish man who stood nervously, looking over his shoulder constantly until another man arrived, kissed him twice on the cheek and exchanged a cup of coffee for a stack of papers. Then the nervous man left and the other man stayed in the queue with the papers. And then there was a group of 4 or 5 very tall black guys who stood closely together and spoke quietly in an African dialect. 
Soon the doors opened and everyone plodded inside, up a flight of stone stairs in single file. At this moment, the word Communism came again to mind. Whilst waiting on the stairs I noticed the mother and daughter in the Hamburg family had the exact same eye colour - a greenish-hazel. It was identical - they could swap eyeballs and nobody could tell. I suppose you notice these things when you wait a long time on a boring set of stairs with lots of other people.
After waiting some time I arrived at the desk, stated my case and was given a number and instructed to wait down the hall. After another hour or so I met with the official, reassured her that I had an appropriate visa and viable rental contract and was eventually given that elusive piece of paper with the Bezirksamt stamp on it. Finally!
You experience a kind of joy when you leave the amt with that piece of paper. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s 9am and the world hasnt woken yet but you already achieved something. Or maybe it’s that it feels so damn good to get some paperwork done, signed, done. Or maybe it’s that you walk past all the bored, fidgety people on your way out and realise you are totally free and don’t have to wait anymore! 
Until next time, that is…
PARK LIFE
Berlin, summertime. The city’s famous green spaces burst with people and life - children falling off swings, ice-cream dribbling down legs, dogs rolling on their backs. The parks are the place to be.  There are impromptu techno parties and Turkish families hosting elaborate picnics that run late in to the night. And there are people sunbathing all day long, in their swimmers, just roasting in the grass. As an Australian, my summertimes were always spent by the water. But in Northern Europe, the action happens in the parks. 

PARK LIFE

Berlin, summertime. The city’s famous green spaces burst with people and life - children falling off swings, ice-cream dribbling down legs, dogs rolling on their backs. The parks are the place to be.  There are impromptu techno parties and Turkish families hosting elaborate picnics that run late in to the night. And there are people sunbathing all day long, in their swimmers, just roasting in the grass. As an Australian, my summertimes were always spent by the water. But in Northern Europe, the action happens in the parks. 

oh sweet summer sun, don’t stop shining your light on me…

oh sweet summer sun, don’t stop shining your light on me…

KIEZ LIFE (PART 1)

OK so I live south-side, borderline ghetto, Neukölln deep. Most of the time it’s fine and I don’t really notice the trashed up streets, overwhelming Turkish population or boarded windows. Thankfully I don’t live on the main drags Sonnenallee or Karl-Marx Straße with their bustling pedestrians, honking cars and screaming shisha bars. Those streets drive me mad, too many people, too much going on. My place, my little corner of the world is tucked away, parallel to the action in a neat little “kiez” or neighbourhood - close enough to the Neukölln buzz but still surprisingly quiet. Plus it’s cheaper down here, on the southern part of Weserstr. But really the coolest thing about this hood is the local characters. There are several, each with their own particular charisma and strangeness. They bring a certain life to the streets, a sort-of subliminal life that you don’t notice at first. It bubbles away in the corner of your eye until one day you start to catch the routine, see the local people and all the mad little intricacies of their lives…

The action happens on the corner of my block - Finowstraße ecke Weserstraße. There is a spätkauf (späti culture discussed earlier in my blog: http://odetoberlin.tumblr.com/post/29425979706/spatkauf-culture-you-wouldnt-think-of-it-as-a) right on the corner, with a table and chairs for it’s patrons. This is where they gather, some alone and pensive as they sip coffee on rainy Sundays and others who come together as a group. The main gang is headed by a friendly man in his sixties. I say friendly because a couple of times he has said “Schön Tag” or “Guten Abend” to me as I pass by. This is more friendly than a lot of Germans I have met. He has the face of a retired actor - a smart looking man whom I can just imagine playing a cop or doctor on a 1970’s TV sitcom. With knowing brown eyes, he peers over the top of silver-rim glasses with a look that is somewhere between stern and amused. I believe him to be very wise. He wears a series of faded polo shirts, each the same cut and style just different colours, brown, white, pale blue and so on.  I always notice how his bushy moustache adds a dash of comic appeal to his look. Sometimes when older men have moustaches I cant tell whats going on there, whether they are smiling or frowning or even growling. Well I am fairly sure this man - lets call him Hans - has a permanent half smile going on there beneath the bush.
Anyway Hans is the ring-leader and for a time I was convinced he was some sort of drug dealer. Mostly because he has this merry band of junkie-type followers who are never far from his side. One time I even saw them opening the car door for him, like local royalty. I also thought I saw money exchange hands but it could have been keys. Hans sits at that table every morning and evening during the summertime. When I leave for work at 8.30am he is there tall and sturdy, seated in the middle, with the Tagesspiegel newspaper laid out before him and a paper cup of hot coffee. A couple of the junkie types are usually there too, looking tired and defeated - heads in their hands. Actually junkie might be too harsh, they look relatively harmless - perhaps they are just drunks. Anyway this is why I think he is the ringleader. He always has his shit together, looks clean and somewhat in control as his merry band of junkie-drunks seem to fall around him. And when I pull up on my bicycle after work, around 7.30pm, he is always there - as if he never left. I make eye contact as I pass by and he peers over his glasses, giving a little secret nod of the head. Like “yes. oh yes it’s you. you’re ok”.  It is strangely comforting to see him in the mornings and evenings, I trust him like some sort of guardian of our block. Dear Hans, the local king, the wise old gate-keeper…
(Learn more about the kiez characters of Finowstraße - to be continued in KIEZ LIFE - PART 2)
GENAU.

GENAU.

BERLIN NOIR

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(and yes, that’s a full moon above the rooftops)

The moon followed me home last night…

I was riding my bike down leafy night-time streets when I caught him peeking at me from in between the buildings. Huge, silver, incandescent - oozing light in to every street corner.
I crossed Pannierstrasse… in to the kiez. I particularly love this cross-section, as you go over Pannier and make your way down Weser. It feels like you are crossing over to the wrong side of the tracks. Which for some reason, I find kinda comforting. As you leave the glamour of the Reuterkiez street life behind, it feels like you can throw off the shackles, let your hair down… it feels like you are free. I like whizzing down there on my bike, black cobblestones stretching before me, junk all over the streets, dark bars, loud Turkish music wafting out from the spaeti’s. Even the graffiti gets messier, more scribbles than art. I like the energy of this area, and that feeling of crossing over to the dark side. I somehow feel safe in the unsafe zone.
And then, finally when I get home I throw open my windows, looking up. And there HE is - always there no matter which side of the tracks you’re on. That glorious gift of the night skies, smiling at every chance, my unruly moon! 
Oh yes, im back by the way. It’s been over a year but let’s not mention that. ;)
THE ANSWER TO 80% OF LIFE’S PROBLEMS.


(Ritter Sport Kokos & Apfel Waldbeere Schorle available from your friendly, neighbourhood spaeti!)

THE ANSWER TO 80% OF LIFE’S PROBLEMS.

(Ritter Sport Kokos & Apfel Waldbeere Schorle available from your friendly, neighbourhood spaeti!)

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When a friend is leaving Berlin the appropriate way to farewell them is to graffiti a wall.

ICH LIEBE DICH ANNA

ICE CREAM CULTURE

As soon as the temperature creeps over 8 degrees the ice-cream parlours of the city sweep the floor, mix fresh batches and throw open their doors for ICE CREAM SEASON. I thought ice cream was big in Australia what with the hot weather and beaches and all. Berliners take it to another level. Any day the air is tinged with a hint of warmth you will find queues down the street with people spilling on to the pavement, pockets jangling with coins and mouths watering for a tasty eis kugel. There are countless shops, from your friendly neighbourhood Mr Whippy style van-version at Tempelhof to the more upmarket café-style ice-creamery Fräulein Frost in Kreuzkölln. Flavours range from peanut butter to rhubarb to honeycomb to peppermint. You name it, somewhere in Berlin will have it.

Ice cream culture is what marks the warmer months here. Add an open-air party, picnic by the canal and beers in the park and you have a Berlin summer right there. Although 2013-sommer hasn’t quite kicked off yet, the eiscafes are open and ready for business. Already it has become a daily habit of mine… it’s dangerous, delicious and it means summer is on it’s way!

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Even dogs get their own ice cream (seriously – this was taken at Eispiraten in Friedricshain)

MYCRAZYLIFE

Dancing with friends during a heavy rain storm, singing Edith Piaf’s ‘Je ne regrette rien’ at the top of our voices. Hair lying in messy, wet strands on our forehead as our clothes are soaked to transparency. Nearby a group cheers on the spectacular lightening show with beers and laughter. Having pizza with the owner of a successful start-up company on the rooftop of hyper-exclusive Soho House Berlin. A new moon hanging above us and the TV tower twinkling in the background. Chasing the little boy I babysit around a Dahlem park, until we fall in a heap, laughing and covered in mud. That evening attending a fancy wine tasting event held at the Hotel De Rome on Bebelplatz. Standing on the terrace and looking out over the site of the infamous Nazi Book Burnings while rubbing shoulders with an elite crowd of diplomats and ambassadors. Partying on Gneisenaustrasse during Carneval de Kulturen and being approached by a stranger who liked my freckles and wanted to take portraits of me. Turns out he is a successful art photographer with exhibitions throughout Europe and Russia. Singing with a friend in loud, operatic voices as we ride our bikes through Kreuzberg. Working as a waitress at Yohji Yamamoto’s vernissage during Berlin Art Week. Offering Yohji himself some sushi and watching the uber-stylish art-fashion crowd as they wander about, their outfits sharp and fabulous against the cavernous white exhibition space. Drinking a beer with a stranger who passed by as I was graffitiing a wall! Spending the night dancing up a sweat at an old swimming pool complex that was badly bombed during the war but is now home to hardcore, underground techno nights. 

… and on it goes. Sometimes I spin about how seriously bizarre life can be here in Berlin. You can never anticipate what is around the corner. I don’t know if it is me, or just the general madness of the place but each day has a new story to tell…