The Berlin Diaries – Gonzo Part II

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Some more nefarious deeds have been done down in the gloomy frozen backalleys of Berlin, and I’m going to let you in on them. Walk with me a while, let’s talk. But, just like last time around, my cast of characters are real people with real lives who don’t necessarily want me to bounce their stories around the stratosphere. So we’re going to need disguises. We all know who they are really, but let’s play make believe for a few minutes. So, meet Jack and Sal. This time I think the narrator will be, oh I don’t know, Levi. Yeah, Levi is good.

So, as a warning to the reader, I would like to paraphrase and bastardise the title of the Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis film: There Will Be Drugs.

Further to this, I would like to evoke a young Eazy E: Don’t quote me boy, cause I ain’t said shit.

I, Levi, am a drug sponge. People give me things, because that is drug etiquette, it is polite to share. However, I started to feel guilty about this a couple of weeks ago. I’d not really paid for anything since coming here four months ago, I’d always been keep afloat by the kindness of strangers, odd men at house parties who invite me into the bathroom and happily sit down and piss in front of me before offering me something or other. I’m shooting for this whole ‘be a better person’ thing this year; I’ve given up meat and fish, so why not start paying for gear, too?

I don’t know any dealers in Berlin, mostly because I’ve not tried to find any, mostly because I hate meeting them. It’s awkward and it still feels seedy even though everyone knows drugs are basically fine now. Obama wearing a beret and boxing out a Chevy with his Choom Gang. Osborne, Johnson, Cameron and the rest of the Bullingdon boys hurling around huge sacks of yeyo, chortling in their ruffs as they take turns putting their dicks in pigs. Putin snorting meth off a hunting knife and furiously masturbating to a video of Pussy Riot getting ragged about by the police. Jeremy Corbyn absolutely smashing the camomile tea and getting mellow as fuck tending to his prize winning marrows and writing a haiku about the wind.

Jack (wink) knows a couple of people. I called him and made my order but the signal was choppy and wild and shit, Jack’s voice coming through like Darth Vader yodelling through a fan. I asked for a couple of pills, nothing particularly exciting. It’d just mean I didn’t have to keep bumming off my friends and feeling guilty. I met Jack a couple of days later, and he handed me my party mix.

“Yo Levi,” he said, for that is my name, “I got you half a gram of MD, two pills of 2CB, and a tab of acid. That’s what you wanted, right? It came to 38 euros or something.”

Hoookay.

To any non-drug people reading this, this is like ordering a Carlsberg in your local, turning your back, and when you turn around again the barman has poured you 18 shots of absinth and set the bar on fire. I have never tried 2CB, and I have never tried acid. A couple of years ago in Sheffield, my flatmate took both substances (among others things) at a house party, and when he headed home at 8am the next morning, he couldn’t find the front door; the same front door he had been walking in and out of several times a day for months. He gave up trying to find it and instead sat slumped in the driveway, snoozing in the sun, waiting for the rest of us to get home from work.

Two or three weeks prior to our tale, Jack invited me to come see a band with him at an art space in the depths of Neukölln. Unfortunately, I never showed, because one post-work beer had turned into three, and when I called in at home to charge my phone before heading out I was waylaid by six Italians who cooked for me and fed me wine until I was bulging and purple. I did try to find Jack, but his directions were whimsical and useless. I found Michelle, Harry, Heleen and Vic in a bar instead, and all thoughts of Jack and the hidden art gallery floated away.

Therefore, when Jack invited me a second time to this gallery space, to see an artist perform who he simply described as ‘the cyborg’, I was determined not to fuck it up. I met Jack at his flat, which itself is a converted factory-cum-nonsense-laboratory complete with 15 foot African mural, a plethora of bongos and a genuine full size church organ, and we set off together to the gallery. There’s no wonder I struggled to locate it when I was roaming the freezing streets steaming out of my ears a couple of weeks prior. The entrance is a huge rusting iron gate that looks like the lorry’s entrance into an industrial compound, studded with several peep holes. I took note of this and mentally updated my zombie apocalypse survival plan accordingly.

Jack made a phone call, and the door was heaved open by one of his flatmates, Saba. I like Saba a lot. Every time I meet him, I’m reminded of a Kerouac quote, where he describes his favourite people as ones who ‘never say a commonplace thing’. After three or four times meeting him, Saba has certainly never uttered one ordinary thing. Every sentence comes from a different place, his mind seems unfettered by the boring habits we fall into when expressing ourselves, recycled turns of phrase. I get the feeling that he just really, truly doesn’t care what people think, and that’s rare. Certain people have auras about that them that you can sense the second you meet them. Jack has one, Michelle has one, Saba definitely has one.

We followed Saba across a courtyard littered with white van junk, and down rickety steps into a thick subterranean darkness. “No light,” Saba instructed Jack as we entered the basement. Jack and I clunked heads in the black as we wrestled through a heavy velvet curtain. Beyond was a huge, low ceiling room, rolling away into the gloom. Huge amounts of empty space, white roof, white walls, white floor, and in the middle of it all, mannequins. Puppets in the black.

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This is Saba’s world. He is the founding member of a group of artists young and old who have collaborated to create their own non-profit art space, a haven called Artistania. I’ve no idea how they manage and afford such a huge project, but the cavernous basement contains an expansive gallery; a workshop filled with half-formed puppets and drying paintings; and a bar, dancefloor and stage constructed from recycled wooden pallets. Jack and I bought beers and explored, while Saba went back to setting up the bar.

It took us half a second to decide that this would be a very fun place to take the 2CB. We had a half each in the toilets, and went to stare at the statues while we waiting for it to kick in. The thing with trying a new drug is that no matter what, you’ll never really understand what it’s like until you actually do it. People describing it to you is no good – it’s like trying to describe the colour red to someone who has been blind from birth. Only time would tell, and I was giddy with nerves.

“Come on,” said Jack, “let’s go look at the art and get all existential”. We stood together in front of a piece, a flower made from straws and tubes and gilded tin foil. The roots were visible beneath, crafted from cogs and machinery. Jack asked how it made me feel. Sad, I told him. It seems everything is either sad or happy, as interpreted by this odd infinite between my ears. I only really have two moods; despairing and heart wrenchingly pained, or bursting with an unstoppable optimism. I don’t know if everyone feels this way, or just me. I go between these two extremes several times a day. It can get tiring, and a little difficult sometimes, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s me.

Sal (wink) was two hours late, because we’d forgotten to text her the address and she doesn’t have a SIM card, meaning she’d turned up at the U Bahn and simply been stranded there until it occurred to us to go and find her. She was a little cold towards us initially, which is probably understandable.

It was now time for the main attraction of the evening: the Cyborg. The artist in question was a black guy with a dyed dreadlock mohican. He stood on the stage alone, with his arms and torso clad in a plastic body armour exoskeleton, glowing neon, with wires running across his chest and back. Through smoke, lights beamed psychedelic patterns over him and the wall behind, odd mathematical patterns and pulsating static fuzz. In the silence, the Cyborg began to dance, and the room shuddered with rumbling bass.

He moved with jerkiness, seemingly at random, and strange music ebbed and flowed with him. As we watched him move, we realised the exoskeleton was an instrument. He had sculpted and soldered the suit himself, and his every slight movement generated alien sounds. He rattled his fingers as though playing an invisible piano, and a fizzling arpeggio shook our ribcages. Jack, Sal and I sat cross legged watching him. I had no idea if the drugs had kicked in or not. Maybe they had, and I was actually sat watching a jazz pianist under a dim lamp. No way of knowing, I was too deep into all the weirdness.

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People began to dance to the Cyborg’s strange booms and shrills, and coupled with the throbbing light show it all got a bit much. I went for a piss. I passed the puppets and found the toilets in the back, and stood staring at the faded mural above the urinal while I went. Something in the corner of my eye seemed to glint suddenly, and my head snapped to catch it. Nothing there. Just the paintings staring back at me. Huh. Okay.

Jack and Sal had also left the Cyborg to his apocalypse dance and we wandered the exhibits together. We bumped into Saba as we floated around, and he gave us a tour. It turns out the puppets were all part of a show he used to perform. The show was about a man with no name living in a future totalitarian dystopia, where CCTV is absolute and individuality is not allowed.

“Oh, like 1984?” Sal asked.

“No, not really,” came the quietly indignant response.

Saba demonstrated the puppets for us, and brought them to life with extraordinary dexterity. It was uncanny. One moment, a jumble of wood and levers; the next, a human being, with tenderness and mannerisms and heart. It was intense, and reflecting back now, I’m fairly sure I was tripping my balls off. Suddenly, it was all a little too much to cope with. I began to feel overwhelmed. Then, my saviour. Saba was explaining the story behind another piece to Jack and I could feel my brain frothing and frying trying to comprehend what the hell was going on, when a small person nudged my elbow. Sal dragged me away to get a beer, and we sat on the floor. Sometimes all you need is the smallest change, and everything becomes okay.

Sal hadn’t taken the 2CB, so I sat and described it to her. I felt totally lucid and healthy, completely with it, but the walls were breathing. Everything had this seaweed effect, and the giant painted faces of a mural that took up one wall were gently twirling and blooming. Everything took on that delightful texture of a field of long grass with a summer breeze blowing through it, when it all looks like velvet. I was sat in the middle of this strangeness, the world gently expanding and contracting around me, and described everything at great length to a patient Sal. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mural, with its faces looming out in three dimensions, watching me with smiling eyes.

Jack joined us, and said he thought the peak of his inebriation had passed. I pointed out the mural to him, and for the first time he properly took it in. “Whoa, actually it turns out I’m still tripping out mega.” We laughed about it, and the three of us sat in the middle of the gallery with our beers, talking about nothing. We slipped into that old cliché of discussing the meaning of life at one point, and I solved it all, although I can’t remember what the answer was. We all agreed at the time, however, that I had definitely just found The Answer.

So in the gloom of the basement the night wore on, and our little odd trio sat on the floor surrounded by puppets and musical cyborgs, and the walls were at high tide, and we realised that we didn’t feel quite so lost as we did a few months before, and that actually we felt right at home, in the best company, and we were happy together.

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