Well, I’ve found my happy place.
In May I visited Berlin. Flying into Tegel airport (which is shit), I bumbled my way into the city to meet my friend, Michelle, at Leinestraße. I’d not seen her in a year. She’s a little sassy French girl with delightfully tussled hair who parties harder than anyone I’ve met. Her appetite for dancing is never ending. She’s cool.
We were reunited as I got off the U-Bahn, and we walked back to Michelle’s place in the sticky Berlin heat. The city isn’t what I expected. The streets are green, tree lined and cobbled, and every surface within reach on the grand old apartment buildings is plastered in graffiti. The streets feel ramshackle; every building looks like it belongs in a run down, crime riddled neighbourhood, but instead of gun toting gangsters, the streets are alive with pretty young parents pushing babies in strollers and old men walking their dogs.
I couldn’t help but grin when I saw Michelle’s apartment, it’s so bohemian. I stepped over candles and scattered weed paraphernalia and slumped in a hammock. We caught up on everything over couple of Club Mates, Berlin-only iced tea energy drink things which tasted odd at first but soon had me hooked. Contains a shitload of caffeine. Started to feel very energetic, so we headed out.
First stop was a bar Michelle wanted to show me. I followed her, sweating, through crowds of shoppers in a generic looking mall, quietly wondering if we were going to wind up sitting in a German Wetherspoons. We passed all the gleaming discount stores and hopped in the lift, taking it up to the third floor. The doors opened onto a car park forecourt. Erm, Michelle? She bounced out and led me across the concrete car park, winding our way higher. On the top floor, the drab pillars and white lines give way to a hectic garden and music. The whole top floor of the car park had been converted in to a kind of hippy outdoor bar, with soaring views of the city.
We got a bratwurst (Germans do a fucking mean sausage) and beers (they’re good at beer, too) and sat in the sun surrounded by attractive people. This would be the first of many points over the weekend where I would be astonished at how damned gorgeous Berliners are. I don’t know what the correlation or causation is; whether Berlin attracts good looking people, or good looking people are attracted to cool bars, or whether only good looking people are allowed into cool bars, but, my god, hotties abound in Berlin.
Michelle and I shot the breeze for a few beers, enjoyed the views, and eventually sauntered away, now nicely lubricated. Next stop was an abandoned airfield in Michelle’s neighbourhood.
The field stretches off far into the distance, and the vast expanses of grass are peppered with lounging Berliners. A colossal runway straddles the entire airfield, and various cyclists, joggers and rollerbladers whiz up and down it. We found a little arty allotment thing with plants and trellises and recycled old furniture. We sat on a bench suspended a metre above the ground and had one of those conversations where it seems you cover every subject in the world in about 30 minutes.
A tall, blue eyed German man with a bedraggled blazer covering his bony shoulders floated over to us, and bid us good afternoon. Michelle whispered to me that she had seen this guy before. Apparently he sells ‘formulas’. I got excited thinking he was going to sell us some magical cocktail. Turns out his ‘formulas’ are poems. He spoke perfect English, completely grammatically correct, but without making one jot of sense. We bought a poem for 50 cents. Here is the poem, entitled ‘BUT’.
OUTSIDE OF THE ATTEMPTS!
BETWEEN THE HANDS AND FEET!
OF MY DAYS, WITHOUT ESSENCES!
I LAY DOWN, FOR A SURVIVAL-LENGTH, OUTSIDE
Nice. We smiled and nodded as he reeled off a lightning fast monologue which we couldn’t follow.
“So you see if you relay these poems in the street, when the people advance toward you, the attempts mount, and my mind is clear, then you take the formula and pass it one hundred and eighty degrees, now you see the white page from my own sight, and we see it together, now our day is improved….” and on and on, while Michelle and I offered him our vacant smiles. He eventually drifted away on the breeze, leaving us laughing, admiring our shiny new poem. I keep it in my wallet now.
We left the airfield late afternoon and at this point I’d been awake for around 15 hours already, having had to wake up at 3am for my flight. I was flagging a bit as we walked to the next surprise Michelle had in store, but a Club Mate and a couple of beers perked me up. We’d been casually drinking all day, and were enjoying that nice day-drinking haze.
After an arduous hike through the city, we reached Michelle’s next surprise: an abandoned swimming baths. We passed burnt-out cars approaching the building, a sprawling complex with smashed in windows and a multi-tiered, red tiled roof. We pulled ourselves in through a broken window, dodging shards of glass, and dropped down inside a ripped out kitchen. I turned on the crap torch on my phone and we carefully made our way inside, stepping over all kinds of debris in the dark. Old shoes, underwear, mattresses, and worse. Imagine the aftermath of a hobo orgy. Ahead, we found a grand staircase that lead us to the central area, where the swimming pools and slides used to be. Now, it looks more like a huge skate park, with empty pools, rubble, beer bottles, and graffiti on everything.
A few German wrong ‘uns were scampering around inside as well, carrying a boom box. The building was so huge we barely saw them. We found a tower with a concrete staircase, and wound our way up to the top, but we got freaked out as on the top floor the barriers were gone, meaning the stairs lead out into open air, fifty feet up. Nope. We headed back inside and found a ladder that took us onto the roof, and we ambled across the rickety tiles. We lay down in the sun and drank our beers watching the sun go down, occasionally booting a tile loose and watching it slide down the roof. We played around on the skeletal rafters of the building, and I climbed up a huge rusty cooling tower, clinging to the jangling metal ladder on the side. At the top I realised it was actually really, really high, and I froze for a little while before shakily descending.
We wandered back to Michelle’s through the streets. You can drink legally in the streets in Berlin, and it makes the city come alive. Rather than festering inside in front of TV sets, Berlin’s streets are heaving with Europeans hanging out in front of off licenses, bars, cafes and corner shops, catching up over a crate of beer. It’s a jarring sight, at first – in the UK, a group of men on a corner swigging larger are invariably up to no good.
We crashed down into hammocks and bean bags at Michelle’s flat, and her friends came round to hang out with us. They’re all the same as Michelle – free spirits seem to be drawn to Berlin. Everyone seemed to be a musician or a writer or graphic designer. We had some brilliant conversations. There are a lot of drugs, too, as you can probably imagine. I shared a joint with a couple of Michelle’s friends, and it hit me way too hard after a full days drinking and 24 hours without sleep. I ended the day throwing up in the kitchen sink. Michelle and her friends were in the next room, and I was trying to keep my heaves as quiet as possible so they didn’t hear my whitey-ing. Ah, I never learn.
Not my finest hour. Hey ho.