The Berlin Diaries – 16th October

So, after collapsing onto the sofa at 8.30am with Tommy and Tianna, I was absofuckinglutely out of it for the next few hours. It was the first time I’d been to sleep since I woke up two days before on Friday morning. At 11am, I was prodded awake by the guy on reception at the hostel. The reception desk is in plain view of the sofas, and he’d been watching us snore for almost three hours.

He asked us what was wrong with our beds. I was loath to tell him I hadn’t actually got a bed in the hostel. He booted Tommy out, and he went trudging to his bed. Tianna murmered “I’ll fight you,” and the guy on reception left her alone, while she rolled over and went back to sleep. I didn’t quite have the stones to just tell him to fuck off, so I had to pretend I was wide awake and all done with sleeping. Foiled again. No sleep, never.

After a couple of hours of sitting vacant and half lidded on the sofa staring at the wall, kindly Zach, a nomadic American who tracks bears and birds for a living (SO cool, right?!) offered me his bed, and I got a further 3 hours of blissful shuteye.

I woke in the afternoon and couldn’t stop shaking. I wasn’t sure why, until I realised I hadn’t eaten in, well, days. I got a kebab and actually got halfway through it before feeling sick. My stomach was groaning at me as if to say “Fuck off putting awful things in me you curly blonde headed twat”. The weekends here are heavy, man.

By the way, it’s not weird to get a kebab here for lunch or dinner. In Kreuzberg the Turkish community is massive, and there are three kebab shops to every other establishment. But they’re not the usual greasy mystery meat-piles of 2am English streets. Xberg Kebabs are gourmet. They’re stuffed with veg, the meat is delicious, and they come in a giant pitta bread. You can exist on them and not constantly feel like death. Huzzah!

I felt not a lot better post-kebab, but at 2pm I was able to check into my bed and by God, I slept. I woke up around 6pm and met Irish Tommy, German Max and Bear Hunter Zach. We’d heard there was a light show in Berlin that had been on all week, and wanted to catch the end of it. We got the U Bahn to the Brandenburg Gate and found it illuminated with a giant video of someone sculpting sand to represent the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. It sounds weird. Seeing it was weirder.

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There were apparently 70 venues across Berlin playing host to these light shows, and we set out to find them. The next we saw was the US embassy which was… shit. It was a static image of an American flag projected onto the embassy building, along with a website address and a hashtag. Huh. How very un-American. Or very, very American. We couldn’t decide, and we left after half a second.

Next we found a huge shopping mall with enormous imagery blasted across it, charting the complete history of Berlin, from early settlement to Nazi hub to Soviet prison to post-everything liberal dumping ground for weird art people. Giant faces of political leaders were projected onto the building, including Stalin, JFK, Hitler and, er, David Hasselhoff. Yeah, I don’t know either. At one point the entire building was decked out with glowing projections of Nazi flags and a maniacal, cackling Adolf. Then the building was blown apart, and the wall was erected while the US and Russia bickered. Then that was blown up too, and David Hasselhoff came shimmying out from behind the remnants of the wall and handjived all over the building to bizarre trumpet music.

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It was really weird, okay. It actually made me feel a bit nauseous. German silliness.

We went to the last bit of the light show that we could be bothered to find, which was at the TV tower. 9 different artists were competing in a competition to see who could create the most impressive light display on the tower. Huge projections were being cast from a booth 50 metres away, beamed above everyone’s heads into colossal form across the building. The night was foggy up high and the television tower stretched away into the gloom, hundreds of feet above, the orb at its pinnacle lost in the haze. On a clear night the light show may have been more crisp, but with the low smog it gained an ethereal magic.

Each display lasted about 30 seconds. Some were incredible. Some were landfill awful. The better light shows spanned the whole length of the tower, using the shape of the structure to create incredible illusions, massively aided by the fog. One display cast textures and colours across the tower, turning it into an old red-ringed lighthouse, with waves smashing against it. Another cast textures of crumbling brick onto the structure, peeling away gradually to reveal a winding staircase inside, stretching away into the gloom. One of the most impressive was a blinding streak of blue light that crackled down the length of the building, looking as though some unseen UFO, lost to the fog above, was casting down an abduction beam.

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So which display won?

The fucking shittest thing ever, of course. It went dark, and text appeared on the tower declaring the winner, then replayed the victorious design to a chorus of disappointment from the crane-necked crowd. The projection saw the tower take on the texture of leaves and grass, badly rendered and plastic-looking. Out of this mess flew a bee. A bumblebee wearing goggles. Right, okay. The bee began to fly up the tower, agonisingly slowly. Great. A couple of beetles wandered past it. A cartoon spider did something. Then, a terrible CGI Berlin skyline filled the scene, and the bee pulled out a mobile phone and TOOK A SELFIE. WHY. WHY BEE. This is not art. This is pre GCSE tomfoolery in an IT lesson. Why didn’t the flying saucer win!? Or the weather-blasted lighthouse?

Berlin you’re a badass city. Occasionally, however, I forget that I am in Germany. And Germany at large is categorically Not Cool. Socks and sandals and currywurst and bespectacled CGI bumblebees are Not Cool.

It was getting cold and the previous three day’s lack of sleep was creeping up on me again, making me moody and quiet, so we headed back to the hostel. Bear-fighter Zach and German Max didn’t have quite the same levels of love for the sesh that Tommy and I harboured, and so headed to bed. Tommy and I slumped on the sofas with a quiet beer each and talked about not a lot, both dying and exhausted. Over on the tables to our right there was a rowdy foursome, clinking bottles and being frivolous. My bloodshot eyes swivelled towards their table. Maybe I could join them… for just… one beer?

Three hours later the table is heavy with empty beer bottles and I’m sat with Irish Tommy, lanky Stephen Merchant-esque American, Curt, and a small girl from the Faroe Islands called Bjørt; while a French guy called Alexandre and another Faroe Islander named Døgg (as in Snoop) have slipped off to hump in the bathroom. Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering: what in the name of fuck are the Faroe Islands?

The Faroe Islands are a wee blip of rock and earth a few hundred miles off Scotland’s north coast, owned by Denmark. They speak Danish as well as their own language and largely self-govern. There are under fifty thousand Faroe Islanders in the world, and so I have now met 0.004% of the country’s population. Fifty thousand people is a football stadium. Not even a very big one. They get a lot of shit for killing whales. Apparently they’re quite keen on whale-shooting over on the Faroe Islands.

Alex and Døgg emerged from the bathrooms, Alex with a cigarette already in his mouth, and re-joined our table. Døgg (whose name I couldn’t say with a straight face – it feels very weird yelling ‘dog’ at a girl and her answering sweetly) was blind stinkin’ drunk, and was that rowdy kind of drunk where you think you are absolutely the best and everyone else quietly disagrees. She was funny though; I liked her weird nonsense bravado humour. Alex and Døgg decided it was time for bed, as did Tommy. Curt and Bjørt fancied a few more drinks and roped me along, silly eager Englishman that I am.

We left the hostel at 2am Monday morning and roamed the streets looking for bars. Everywhere was shut, and the few open bars we found were mid lock-in and ignored our desperate Mary-and-Joseph style hammering on the doors. We finally found an open place – the packed out gay bar from the week before with the red leather ceiling and pink fluffy walls. We chatted in there for a while, and were discussing Donald Trump or something when this older guy passed by us and said it sounded like a serious conversation. He was smiling this easy going, paternal smile. He had thin wisps of black curly hair, dark stubble, and a Middle Eastern complexion. He could have been anywhere between early forties and late fifties.

We got talking to him, and he told us his name was Jean. When we asked where he was from, he said to guess. I guessed Iran, Isreal, Lebanon, all wrong. He was Syrian, he’d been living in Berlin for 3 years, and he seemed to know everyone. We talked until 4am about Syria and what the country had done for the world – and the state it was in now. He had a hell of a lot to teach us. At 4 it was closing time and we were booted out into the street, still with our beers. Bjørt wanted to hit a club. I didn’t, particularly, but I went anyway because I don’t know.

Got the tube to KaterBlau, were I’d been once before in summer. It’s a cool place, all wooden carvings and log structures and indoor swings and bunting and fairground vibes. It’s situated between a river and a viaduct, with the bright yellow U Bahn flashing across periodically. In the same club you can watch boats idly drift by on the river, skank in a tiki room to reggae, or honk some powder and throw horrendous shapes to pounding techno in the cavernous black and red main room, like the inside of a volcano. Jean was party king, greeting everyone on the way in, dishing out sage advice to clubbers and generally being impressive, if slightly confusing.

Curt was hitting on Bjørt for all he was worth, and getting nowhere. He was okay, but he had this bizarre sense of entitlement, girl-wise. He was moaning to me earlier that night about how he had spent all night talking to Døgg only for her to get with the French guy, who he dubbed ‘a total asshole’. I pondered aloud to Curt the possibility that Døgg chose French Alex because Alex was not in the habit of loudly complaining when girls were not attracted to him. Curt had soon gotten over Døgg at any rate, as he was now pursuing Bjørt around the club like a lingering fart.

Bjørt was well up for a party and took a pill that Jean offered, but only had half as he said it was strong. Fast forward fifteen minutes and she’s zonked out on a bench with Curt clutching her in rising panic. I told Curt not to freak out, and just to stroke her hair and give her some water. Instead, Curt accused Jean of being a rapist or something and wanted to call an ambulance. Jean calmly prescribed a few slices of orange, free from the bar, and said the Vitamin C would sort her right out. I was kind of floating in and out of this ordeal, dancing a little, wandering around the club, drinking, and occasionally checking back in to be sure that Bjørt hadn’t gone full on Uma Thurman to Curt’s gangly, lecherous John Travolta.

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It got to about 7am and Curt was cradling the wasted Faroe Islander with one hand while palming the fatherly Syrian away with the other. I was just drifting around, reluctant to get involved. I tapped Bjørt on the cheek, and her eyes opened slowly. I asked her how she was getting on, and she smiled and nodded that she was okay. I gave her some water, and maybe 15 minutes later she was back on the dancefloor. I told her I was tired and heading home and she was shocked, saying we’d only just arrived. I corrected her it had been about 90 minutes looking after her. She was suddenly raring to party after her nap. I was raring to nap after the party, so I left her to it, saying goodbye to Curt and Jean and leaving them all to run around being hectic and awake and looking after each other and whatever.

I got the U Bahn home and got in at 9am, for the third night in a row. Blegh.

john

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