Daily Prompt: Transformation
I am a monkey with an olive lost in the
circus sand of your laughter
-note to a lady who expected rupert brooke, charles bukowski
Out of all the cities I visited, Berlin would have the most impact. It even led to applying for a job here (it didn’t work out in the end. At the time I was a little relieved given the circumstances, but a year on since it happened, I can honestly say I am truly fucking glad. It led me somewhere better, but more on that later).
Berlin swept me up, to say the least. I arrived in the city initially feeling a little deflated. It was the first instance I was alone on this trip, in a hostel room inside an Altbau, six beds in all. I wouldn’t be meeting anyone until the next evening. Hoping that my visit to Berlin this time won’t end up as uneventful as the first time I went in 2011, I chugged half a carton of Chocomel, took a short walk around the neighbourhood and went to bed.
Having only visited essentially the Brandenburger Tor and Hauptbahnhof before, I discovered this time around that the charm of Berlin is in its neighbourhoods. I would not claim I know a great deal about the history of Berlin or in fact, much about the city at all – nevermind the many times I have watched Das Leben der Anderen or how closely I read In the Garden of Beasts. I feel like there are so many facets of Berlin it would be near impossible to experience much more than a sampler platter of the city in the five or six days I was there.
Remembering I had forgotten my itinerary and I hadn’t bothered to get any Internet connectivity on my phone, I relied only on screenshots of Google maps I had taken the nights before and let myself just potter around beyond that. I poked around an alley with a big Anne Frank graffiti on one of the walls in Hackescher Markt, climbed some stairs and pored over design books in a bookshop tucked in the far end. Topographie des Terrors had me sticking around for a couple of hours studying both the outdoor and indoor exhibitions. I fueled most of my walks with gel-filled Haribo in my pockets, and there was no particular pressure to be anything or anywhere.
Until now, I remember the sticky heat of the dance floor at the Balkan music party, and the empty space at the back where Lilith and I returned to swing around with all of the zest we could muster to Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing, and the lethargic walk home (did we want doner kebabs? Maybe. No, actually, not really), the gentle conversation before nodding off at 6am. Some of my favourite moments in Berlin were those spent waiting for the yellow trains at 3am.
I would say Berlin was transformative in the sense that I got to have a taste of how I’d like to spend my days, not just as a trip, but everyday. And the kind of people I love to be around. Some sense of belonging, and something that genuinely made me feel alive, for want of a better phrase. It was just this particular state of mind I was in at that point. The next time I visit Berlin will be different again, I’m sure.
It’s taken me this long to document this trip because when I first came back I wanted to savour it, rather than patching together a quick post on Facebook. I wanted to make a nice record of it that does the trip justice and something I can look back on.
THREE PICKS: BERLIN
Topographie des Terrors
Previously used as the headquarters of the SS, this site on Niederkirchnerstrasse right next to the wall was a great free museum to visit. The outdoor and indoor exhibition detail the years leading up to and during the second World War, both from the events going on at the time as well as its impact on daily life. The Westberlin is a pretty neat cafe nearby with good coffee and cakes.
Stocking a selection of magazines and design books from all over, this well-curated bookstore will definitely be one of the first shops I visit the next time I’m in the city. I went to a couple of others (Oculus was one of them, and another nearby) in 2015 but didn’t hear about Do You Read Me until last year through their Instagram.
Good spot for bumbling around, particularly in the courtyard/lane I mentioned earlier (This page goes into a bit more detail on that).