Hey, not written one of these in weeks. So, to get back into the swing, what’s the most pretentious and annoying way to begin this article? Like this!
A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
‘What the piss is that mess?’ I hear you cry.
Why, my friend, t’is but the last and first sentences of James Joyce’s impregnable novel Finnegan’s Wake, spliced together. The book actually begins from the word ‘riverrun’, and ends with the preceding ‘the’, and some bright spark realised that if you put them together, it makes a complete sentence, thereby looping the book back to the beginning and starting the whole maddening affair over again.
Why have I chosen such a perplexing and obnoxious quote to begin my latest Berlin diary? Because, old sport, I believe it has a spectacular flow to it when assembled into a full sentence, especially when read aloud. ‘A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun’ – by George, it’s a poem in and of itself!
And down here in grimy old Berlin, life flows something similar. I’ve been too busy living to pen many anecdotes of my time here, the adventures are coming thick and fast, but I’ve grown accustomed to the madness of it all now, and instead of gaping in awe as in my first months, after 7 months living here I am instead happily wallowing in the briny foams of debauchery. I’m hungover as I write this, can you tell? I feel I’m being somewhat indulgent in my writing style today, and I’d like to take this moment to solemnly apologise to you directly.
I am sorry.
So last night I finished work at 6.30 ish and rolled on through to the canteen area for Friday beers – you’ve gotta love start up culture, all ping pong tables and beer fridges when the company is young and idealistic, kind of like me now, come to think about it. Age is on its way, but not yet. Not just yet.
Friday beers always escalate fast, a few dozen people draining the packed beer fridge with haste, and none of us can hold our booze so we’re all pissed as newts within a couple of hours. Few games of table football here and there; Germans call it Kicker, I usually lose because I’m too drunk to see the little white ball whizzing around so fast it leaves a hovering trail in the air.
I always smoke a few bummed fags because despite believing that smoking is fucking stupid, once I’ve had three beers my will has all the power of a wind farm on the moon. We leave the canteen when we get kicked out at nine and usually find a bar. Last night we shacked up somewhere in Kreuzberg, somewhere called Commune or something, its a Socialist themed bar – nope, I don’t know what that really entails either, because they still charged 3.50 for a pint.
I made friends with an Irish girl from the office who used to work for Ryanair, and she spent a long time terrifying me by telling me which seats on the plane are the most doomed, should a crash occur (front row and tail are fucked – middle over the wing is safest guys). I made friends with another Irish guy who paints for a living, he showed me images of his work and I was genuinely staggered, it’s impressionistic abstract mayhem and I was frothing with praise for him. We got into a debate about the merits of art versus writing – he was humbly insisting that art has less of a cultural impact and that no real change has occurred in society from merely painting, but I disagree. Words and images are equally important, I think. They go together like fruit and ecstasy.
By now of course my head’s spinning and I’m thinking I really ought to slow down but then a new drink materialises before me, I might have put it there, or it might be someone else’s, can’t be sure but I drink it anyway and nobody hits me. I chat to a few more people, some are colleagues, some are add-ons we’ve picked up en route, bedraggled as we were across the cobbles in our many legged enclave.
I take my leave at 23:30 because I was supposed to meet Dave at 21:30 and I feel guilty but I know he won’t care. With the Irish girl I walk to the U Bahn because she’s got to run too, everyone does always, and we hug farewell. Grab a reheated old slice of pizza for dinner from the stand at Kottbusser Tor and dive below ground to the U8, the line that connects my little flat way out in the sticks of Pankstrasse to Berlin’s beating heart in Xberg and Neukolln.
I get on the line and zoom off to find my friends. Nod off drunk within a minute and when my eyes peel open again five minutes later I squint and wonder why I don’t recognise any of the U Bahn stops. Realise I’m off the wrong way, hop off and sprint to the train waiting adjacent, and fly back to Kottbusser and beyond, a nice 20 minutes wasted there being flung a-slumber across the city.
Get off at Rosenthaler Platz and realise I’m miles from where I need to be, but I don’t mind because I’ve my headphones, crank the music until it almost hurts and swig a Mate that’s been in my bag for weeks for just such an emergency. I sing to myself as I walk along, fully aware of how stupid I look but at this point I’ve realised that every bugger in this city is completely loopy and if you sing to yourself as you walk along you’re still in the lowest insanity percentile.
So I sing, because I enjoy it. Dance a little too as I walk along with Ian Dury in my ear telling me all about Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and Jamie T asks if I’ve Got The Money (and I actually do for once – yesterday was payday). I make it to the bar where Dave apparently resides and start to enter but it’s five euros in, nae fucken chance pal.
I call Leslie and she tells me the gig’s over anyway and they’ll be out in a sec. I hop up and sit on a wall and sing quietly along to Catfish and the Bottlemen, swinging my legs as the bouncer gives me odd looks. Think about asking someone for a cigarette but I’d only embarrass myself mit mein schlecht Deutsch.
The doors open and all my friends pile out, I hug them all, it’s been ages. There’s Grant and Leslie and Dave, Davida swings by but doesn’t stop to chat, it was his band playing and he looks like he’s still in the zone, and there’s a few new faces, too. Leslie tells me they’re heading to Artistania to catch some other live act, so we all scurry off together to find the U8 again in a new direction.
Leslie and I catch up, she’s been absent for weeks, she tells me she just needed some alone time after constantly being busy for so long. I know how she feels – everyone here does. It’s a bloody hard city to live in, for many reasons. I’m a little more sober now and the Mate’s got me wired. Nobody has U Bahn passes but me so they all have to jump it, bikes and all, so if they get caught they’ll get fined twice for the bike as well.
On the train we bump into a couple of girls we know from weeks back, we met them in Sisyphos and spent the afternoon there blowing bubbles in the sun like kids – or idiots, depending on how bitter you are. We chat a bit but they get off a stop or two before us. Dave and Grant jump off the train in Neukolln as they want to cycle the rest of the way, so Leslie and I and the new people ride to the end.
We head into Artistania, finding its giant gate pulled open by some smiling new face, and duck down the uneven wooden stairs into the basement art gallery-cum-party space. I always think of my friends back home when I come here. I’d love for them to see it all, it’s all so strange when you take a moment to stop and look at what the hell you’re doing. I’ve been all over the city tonight, I reflect.
Right as we get inside the band finishes, to wild applause. Everyone has been going crazy dancing, you can tell because its a hundred degrees, the air is damp and smells like sweat. I don’t want to drink anymore, or spend needless money, so I hang out with Leslie and we bump into Saba, who owns the place – I’ve not seen him in months, hug him, he’s shaved the sides of his head and now looks like some hillbilly Elvis with a face-length, twisting black fringe and a mullet. Amir is there too, now with an afro, it’s great to see everyone. We hug too and chat a little, he’s taking his German language exam this weekend.
I leave Amir and Leslie to catch up and find that Johanna is here as well – it seems everyone has coincidentally converged in this artspace bunker for a sweatbox Friday dance (that I’ve missed entirely). Johanna is wearing a red Japanese cheongsam, because of course she is, I’ve never seen her wear anything remotely average. Dave and Grant are nowhere to be seen – next day I learn they sacked us off and went to a refugee gay club together. Didn’t know such a thing existed. Guess refugees have to get their kicks too. Dave’s been coy about what transpired within, but I imagine I’ll learn in due course.
In any normal social circle I’d be concerned or annoyed at the sudden disappearance of a friend or two, but here, that’s just the way it is. Nobody minds.
I left Artistania before long as I was becoming the waking hungover which is always a delight, plugged headphones in and blared some King Blues and drifted away, hugs goodbye, back to my trusty ally U8, beer for the road, kebab when I get back to my street, sit up in bed and eat it watching Brass Eye clips on Youtube, my new love. Fall asleep with that special feeling we all strive for, all that any of us can ask for in the world, all you really, truly need to be: content.
Do you see why I love it here, now?