Right: Shut it.
Do not speak a word, idle reader. Do not utter a sound; for this day, this wonderful day, doth mark my one year anniversary. My Berlinniversary, as it were.
Through scalding trials and ice-wrung tribulations, through sickly death’s door escapades and twenty thousand belly laughs, through weight loss and chub gain, through comeups and sundowns and sunups and comedowns, situps and cockups and pissups and fuckups, we have arrived here: I am one year old.
And like cat years and dog years and whatever else years, Berlin time runs differently. I have aged three hundred and sixty five days, and yet, and yet, my soul has been lobbed about and given a right good booting, and in truth, fair reader of my most wondrous and silly writingspace, I am ten years, no, a hundred, Nay, One Thousand Years Older! For once you have seen the things I have seen, once you have ingested equestrian medicine in the depraved depths of carnival orgies, once you have sat half naked sipping a gin with a little umbrella in it, idly watching a nude man being whipped on all fours, and found yourself staring into his arsehole with mild curiosity, musing on the groceries you must purchase the next morning, then, my child, you have truly seen into the depths of The Strangeness; and in all the world, you will not find any Strangeness stranger than Berlin.
This time last year I’d done feck all; I had just landed and was mooching around Schlesisches Tor with no idea of how to pronounce its name, wondering what in the name of all Fuck I had just done; leaving my job (gone now), leaving my girlfriend (gone now), leaving my dog (gone now, sigh, I love you Paddy), and friends and home (still there, I think) for a smoggy unknown with only a vague sense of hope and absolutely no direction.
I came here because I wanted to write, I wanted to grow, I wanted to meet strange new people and live freely – and, though I have failed miserably in myriad other respects, such as being a vaguely coherent adult human, in these pre-planned endeavors, these notions of what Berlin would give to me, I succeeded beyond all my expectations.
After three months here, I scribbled a general summary of the city. I would rather not revisit my previous discoveries, because presently, in the new dawn of acquired knowledge, they seem cursory and obvious and lame. So no, I will not once again describe the city to you. What I will do instead, is shove you down the helter-skelter of recent events that have been tragically overlooked in my diaries, for reasons including: I forgot to write about them, I did not have time, I was drunk as fuck, I couldn’t be arsed, I was dicking about with Dave and/or Annie, or I did not think them appropriate to share on a public forum which is frequently perused by my friends, family and colleagues. Shoutout to my mum! Shoutout to my Dave! NC, secret hero of these poems! Shoutout to Annie Kike Vic Michelle Leslie Stephanie Line Jojo Louis Jakob Kate And Every Body Else I Love You All God Dammit
So then: the ‘I remembers’
I remember floating in the sun with thirty degrees beating at my chest, drinking rum with Kike, drifting in lazy arcs on a shared paddleboard in the middle of the deep, cool waters of Schlachtensee. I’m usually scared of bottomless water, but I wasn’t that day. I suppose I was a bit drunk and a bit showing off. I finished a whole bottle of JD that afternoon, staggering happy back to the city as the sun dropped lower above us.
I remember Pornceptual with Rob, him in denim cut-offs and cap, me topless and glitter-clad, sitting in the midst of the unfolding orgiastic scenes, then holding Rob’s jacket when he entered boldly the broiling darkroom, I being eyeballed from across the room by naked smiling man with hairy chest. The best-looking people you ever saw, guys and girls and everyone else, naked together and free of shame, no – full of pride! My body and I have been best pals ever since that night. It stays with you.
I remember Berghain – two rejections in the first two weeks here, then eleven months of ‘nah mate I’m good’, then dragged once again reluctant to the queue by good ol’ Annie Kissiah (rhymes with Messiah) and then in, finally. Through the winding metal ratway, past the scowling selectors with thumbs up or down like Roman emperors, through the bag check, Masonic, histrionic, a wry fist bump inside then up into the yawning everdark maw, past nude rock statues up wide iron stairways – the loudest and the darkest, the air is thick, and I’m not telling you anymore.
I remember Artistania, the underground basement gallery and club that nobody knows except those who are told; there we spent nights dancing to salsa and samba and articulated vocals through robotic instruments; puppets staring over us blank and cold, brought to life by the strange Saba, stories told of weird dystopias and factory workers with no names.
I remember the Italians, way back in the winter, cooking for me and teaching me their language and their mannerisms, teaching me what it means when they pinch their forefinger and thumb and draw it forth from their mouths, giving context, emphasis, even threat to their bombastic words.
I remember Stephanie, and I miss her still – always dragging me by the hand to some new adventure, yanked free from my comfort zone like a limpet pried from a rock. She set me on a path of learning and curiosity, one I intend to follow my whole life. I knew you for a couple of months, but you changed me forever, Stephanie. We will party again – I promise.
I remember that one date I had by the canal where I drank a couple of beers beforehand for confidence, then shared a bottle of shite red wine I got from Lidl for a couple of quid, and I got slur-word wasted and I laughed and told her I was boring in an off-the-cuff way, and I suppose she must have trusted me, because she took my word for it and never called me again.
I remember sitting alone on the roof of the abandoned flats that squat beside Yaam, soon to be demolished now; Dave and Line couldn’t climb the fence and I was already over and inside with a bottle of wine we intended to share, and there was no way I was giving up and hopping back, so I scaled the broken stairway to the top floor and heaved open a rusting iron door and found, out on the flat roof with no rail and a straight drop down to a bloody mess on the pavement, a single chair. I sat in the middle and looked out with my wine and imagined the entire city was mine. Down by the canal I could see my friends waving to me, and I waved back, and felt the breeze for half an hour, then shot off back down before any late-working office clerk clocked me and called the police thinking I was a suicide-in-the-wings. Quite the opposite.
I remember European voyages, resets from the fantastical grime of this city; Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Riga, Amsterdam, Prague, and hopefully a handful more before this run is out.
I remember the desperation and the determination to Make. It. Work. I lost most of my muscle and all of my fat, I was nothing but sinew and bone by Christmas, 16 years old again in physique, with a mop of uncut hair for fear of entering a barbers without the prior knowledge of the language. Copper coins piled on my desk represented my worldly wealth, and I lived off potatoes and carrots and eggs and bread and salt and pepper and glasses of water. It was hard at the time but looking back with the safety of hindsight it makes me smile. There’s something quite cleansing about having so little – your concerns are at least real, not fabricated. No social anxiety and conjured stresses to momentarily illuminate the greyness. That said, I am glad I made it through. Perpetual hunger is grinding and dull.
I remember the cocks! O, so many cocks! Berlin may sit pretty in the daytime, but underground, close by, never more than a few metres away: cocks! A cock forest, a cock temple, orbiting bollocks and jiggling tits! Crusading vaginas and arses, wobbling bellies and backs, shoulders with freckles and ankles and thighs, all of it on show, unabashed and brilliant, human and healthy. You are you, old sport, so whatever jiggly bits you were allotted in the great fleshy celestial tombola, own it. Everybody loves you because you are unique and you are wonderful and nobody, nobody in all the world is normal – and sometimes, the only way to truly realise that is to stare down the assembled barrels of ten thousands cocks.
I remember countless hours spent beaming out smiles for the touristic assembly at Mauerpark, the Bearpit Karaoke, scorching sun and cold beers bought at ripoff prices from the thick-armed men who wade through the tiered coliseum crowds hawking booze, as hopeful voices croon and laugh and dance on the stone podium below. Go any day, you’ll never have a bad time. Free fun whenever you want it.
I remember sunsets at Tempelhof, wreathed in laurels and bushels of marijuana. The colours – bah. Those colours get me all hot and bothered.
I remember the outdoor cinema with wonderful Liv at Griessmühle; we watched Raving Iran under a warm pastel sky growing dark, in t-shirts for the duration with beers, craning our necks to see the subtitles on the screen, feeling so lucky and archaic, like a couple of drive-in greasers on a date night curfew in the balmy American 50’s – you can do anything you want here, you really, really can. Write what you desire on a piece of paper, tear it up and throw it in the air, and when it scatters on the breeze I promise you one of the pieces will lead you there.
I remember endless, endless summer nights outside Spatis, Sternis in hand, sat on the cobbles, pedestrians stepping over and around, surrounded by my joyful mutt family of beautiful people from all over the world, laughing and talking nonsense. So effortless, so in tune, so silly and kind and adventurous, spontaneous, so thoughtful for friends that they’ve none to spare with worries about popular opinion; no time wasted where fun is concerned, and believe me, fun is always concerned. Sunrise would catch us out – one moment you’re dancing in some mezzanine saloon, the next you’re sprawled on your back in the park watching clouds feeling giddy and lucky, then you’re stealing a kiss in a cosy corner of a riverside labyrinth, then the sun goes down, and before you know it you’re sitting around the table for a three course candlelit dinner – a communal effort, you grated the cheese – and you’ve not slept a wink since everything began.
I love it here, I really do. It’ll be time to move on before I know it, and I look forward to the future but presently I am enraptured by the possibilities that stream from every streetside window. Sometimes I am happy, sometimes I am sad, always I am confused and drifting. I am hard to shock, yet easily impressed, because being impressed is a conscious decision. I am older and I worry less than I once did, and things that once seemed very important now seem very silly, and things that once seemed laughable seem heartfelt and true; and somewhere within the vortex of that mental switcheroo, you’ll find the apex of everything I desired and everything I found here.
If Berlin has given me anything, it has shown me what life can resemble when looked at through the right lens. Contacts, sun, reading or magnifying; life, and our enjoyment of it, is distorted and warped through the lens we gaze at it through. Pessimism is the thin-wired bottoms of couple of milk bottles. And what is Berlin?
Why, Berlin is a glittering monocle, of course. ‘Neath a top hat, penguin suited, ideally. With a cane.
And assless chaps.