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.
Recently it was May Day in Berlin – a day that marks an ancient pagan ritual for warding off evil spirits but today is used for workers protests and demonstrations and… partying. So off we went. My group set upon the Kreuzberg neighbourhood nervous for the potential riot but amped by the scene. It was heat and sweat and mayhem, thousands of people, open air parties in every park and great giant speakers just out there on the street pumping techno and reggae and jazz and all kinds of music. There were live bands set up on milk crates, and people dancing on rooftops and eating bbqs lying on the road. The polizei stood around smoking and taking it all in. Lots of jumping and swaying and laughing, arms flailing around in the afternoon sun.
You could literally smell spring, and feel everybody throwing off the shackles of a long winter. Fried food and beer in the air, the energy buzzing, it was the street of life. And the epitome of the great Berlin spirit with it’s mix of progression and madness and that famous burn for freedom, oh and youth, it was the very essence of youth. Chaotic, messy, loose, don’t give a shit, we’re here to HAVE FUN.
Second instalment in my series of stories from the u-bahn
7pm on the U1 and it had been a warm day. Stepping in to the train car I was met with joyous screams and looked up to see a crazed man pacing the carriage, squealing ‘WOOOO!’ and ‘HEE HEHEHE! HEEEE!’ as he ran back and forth, wild eyed and frantic. Everybody in the carriage sat engrossed in their business as if nothing was happening. It was extremely loud and distracting – I searched for a seat. I found one opposite a beautiful black boy, who had killer eyelashes and that enviable clear, toned skin only dark people seem to have. I thought he might have been famous, but he never looked at me once. Nearby stood a young Spanish girl who did look at me with hot eyes and an ass the size of a watermelon. No, two watermelons. It was the biggest ass in the world but she wore it with punk and grace and that famous Spanish sass. Next to her was a Japanese German rich brat who wore Gucci loafers and carried a Louis Vuitton tote. He ran fingers through spiky black hair and talked loudly in to a fully sequined iphone decorated with a ruby studded kitten face. At the next station the crazed man leaped off the train, I could hear him hooting outside the carriage. Then he screamed one final gut curling scream and I turned to see he had pressed the emergency button on the platform and now some sort of siren was going off and I was sure the cops or security were going to come soon.
The train rattled on and Senorita with her hot eyes kept staring and the black boy ignored me and the Japanese German kept talking loudly in to his sequined phone and the older man next to me was taking photos of the floor with his blackberry and it was just the usual chaos & weirdness of an evening trip on the Berlin underground.
It’s strange how Berlin just creeps up on you sometimes. You could be walking along perfectly normal and then suddenly you turn a corner and there are neat little buildings lining the street, the sun is shining brilliantly through bright green leaves, pink blossoms glow at your feet, the road is cobblestoned, glossy and dark and the whole scene is flashy and gorgeous like a diamond in the new spring air.