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Berlin in Scenes

Berlin, Germany.  Me, James (brother), Costas (brother’s friend). 

Saturday 24th to Tuesday 27th February 2018.  

1.  The Young Singers

On the B128 bus from Berlin Tegel Airport to central Berlin.  A small boy is singing a German song with his sister at the back of the bus.  They walk past us and sit with their grandmother.  The boy is wearing a hoody and coat and looks like a miniature adult from behind.  I want to sing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.  Might be sent back to the airport if someone hears.  Decide against it.  

2.  The Strong Woman

DDR Museum.  What life was like in the former East Germany.  Metal sculpture of Ami Paaz, a fish factory worker and activist.  Broad, pitted, battle-hardened.  One hand in an overcoat pocket.  Strong stance.  Friendly, but definitely not to be crossed.  By Wolfgang Eckardt, 1971. 

3.  The Burger

Burgermeister, Kreuzberg.  Formerly a toilet.  Now making millions.  Berliners in woolly hats.  Cramped.  A polite shuffle for burgers.  Warmth gained through cow and potato.  And beer/bier.  James and Costas are talking about infrared radiation. 

4.  The Good Sleep

Circus Hostel.  Ten-bed dorm.  Cold left outside.  Less boozy night than expected.  Sober enough to read a book and sleep as well as anyone can in a room full of strangers.  Tomorrow: base layers.  Cold will attempt an impossible maze to my bones. 

5.  The Girl and the Middle Distance 

Yes - a base layer saved my life.  Warmth is the best currency.  Or in the very least, stronger than the pound at the moment.  Waiting for the walking tour.  James getting coffee.  A young blonde girl with round, thin-rimmed glasses writing diary in the corner.  Watch as she stares into the middle distance. 

6.  The Great-Grandparents

Holocaust Memorial.  A busy skyline.  Represents what was taken and what could have been. Find records of Leo and Lilly, our maternal great-grandparents.  Sought exile in Berlin, taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto on 15th December 1942, transferred to Auschwitz and murdered on 23rd January 1943. 

7.  The Bad Photographer

Back at the hostel.  James and Costas laughing at a picture we asked a passerby to take of the three of us stood in front of The Brandenburg Gate.  In one picture, us and just the columns.  No top bit.   The architrave, frieze and cornice cut off through bad framing or hatred of the English. 

8.  The Single Ticket

Third day.  Breakfast.  Page 210 of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.  A U-Bahn ticket serves as a bookmark.  2.80 Euros for a single ticket.  Eizelfahrausweis.  We made up our own rules for what constitutes a single journey.  As long as it’s in the same direction, it can be 100 miles long.  No conductors or inspectors to tell us otherwise.  Very bad tourists.  Will buy day pass tomorrow to make amends.     

9.  The Colour Purple 

U-Bahn.  U8.  Towards Hermanstrasse.  Busy carriage.  A woman is knitting with purple wool next to James.  He’s reading The Power of Now. The woman is wearing an orange scarf and purple trousers.  A clear fondness for purple.  On the way to The Jewish Museum.  

10.  The Five O’Clock Tea

James found a Tajikistan tea room.  Cushions and low tables.  Green walls and ornately carved wooden columns.  Glimpse another way of life – softer light, softer life?  More relaxed.  Perfect for storytelling.  I have the Five O’Clock Tea approximately 40 minutes after five o’clock.  James thinks his tastes like PG Tips.   

11.  The Man with the Extraordinarily Long Penis

‘It’s even longer from this angle’, James said, showing me the picture he’d taken of the man with the extraordinarily long penis.   He’s on the side of a building in Kreuzberg.  Were walking back from The Jewish Museum.  Burst out laughing when I saw it.  His proud erection extends a whopping five floors.  Jaw-dropping, traffic stopping.  A modern-day Priapus. In England, it would either be banned or considered a place of pilgrimage. 

12.   The Cool Berliners

Schlot Jazz Club.  A German jazz trio called Nosedive are on stage.  Named after an episode of Black Mirror.  Drummer is currently going full Whiplash.  As a newcomer to German jazz, and jazz in general, I'm paying close attention to how this music makes me feel.  Probably shouldn't be writing during the drum solo.  Lots of impossibly young Berliners here.  So good-looking, so well-adjusted.  Wonder whether they’ve ever given themselves the opportunity to be uncool. 

13.  The East-West Walk Once Impossible

Just finished breakfast in the hostel.  James has gone up for a shower.  Devendra Banhart is playing on the speakers.  This is our final day in Berlin.  Will take a stroll along The Berlin Wall today.  A privilege after so many years of division.  They have Germans posing as American soldiers posing for pictures at Checkpoint Charlie.  A Disneyfication of history was how our tour guide described it.

14.  The Baby and the Missile

At Nano Falafel near The Wall Musuem.  Cheap and yummy.  Highly recommended. Walked three miles down Karl-Marx-Allee from the hostel.  Me and James spoke about habits, rituals.  He said he always has to look in prams and pushchairs to see whether it’s a baby or a missile.  The habit has origins in a piece of graffiti he read once.   

15.  The Handstand

Walked along The Wall.  Street art, possibly for miles.  Gazillions of photo opportunities.  James takes my picture at a certain angle.  Gives the illusion that I’m nose to nose with a painting of an old man with his eyes closed.  Should really find out who he is.  James did a handstand next to one that read MANY SMALL PEOPLE WHO IN MANY SMALL PLACES DO MANY SMALL THINGS THAT CAN ALTER THE FACE OF THE WORLD.  Internet watch out.  Handstand pic in front of the wall better than kittens breakdancing under a quadruple rainbow.   

15.  The Girl Buys the Banana

At the boarding gate.  Just watched a little girl buy a banana with a handful of change.  Leftover euros perhaps.  She skipped back to her family.  ‘It sucks that I’m having two cold holidays in a row.’ James says.  Thinks about it, then adds, ‘But it’s a very first-world suck.’ A few minutes later, opens the coke bottle he forgot he dropped.  Spray goes everywhere.

16.  The Descent

Descent into Birmingham Airport.  Me and James discussing enlightenment.  ‘From the limited perspective of the manifested universe, the sausages will be ready in five minutes, Turkish.’  Makes me laugh.  A spiritual take on a Snatch quote.  Smooth landing. 


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