Hey hey I had the most brilliant birthday and I’ve got to tell you about it while it’s fresh now and before a single blip of it is lost in the dank recesses of my memory because it was all so wonderful and I don’t wanna forget any of it. No time for mincing words, come on come on come on, let’s GO!
My birthday was Sunday, 24 years old (the age James Dean died, oh nooooo) but the festivities really began as always, at Friday beers in my office. As many free beers as you can handle until 9pm, when everyone gets booted out and we float to the nearest bar. It got to midnight and I was in some packed out pub with a crowd of Irish people from work that I didn’t know too well, people kept buying me these frothing red shots that tasted like Tabasco, everyone started singing and hugging each other, and at around 2am I crashed through the door of my flat clutching a box of noodles that I’d acquired somewhere on the way home.
Next morning I woke up at 7am and felt fine, for some reason, and decided I didn’t need any more sleep, so dicked about in my room for a few hours before showering and heading out to meet Stephanie, an American friend I met volunteering a few months back and have hung out with a few times since. She’s leaving for China in a few weeks, and so when she text me inviting me to an anti-rasism/anti-fascism workshop she was running over in Potsdam (next city over from Berlin) who was I to say no? At 10.30am I skipped off to the U Bahn.
Turns out that I had previously been in that lying stage of hangover where your body bats its eyelashes and promises that everything is just fine, then when you least expect it, your stomach devolves into a bubbling cauldron of toxins and poisons in their death throes and you sweat and pant like an old Labrador on a summer’s day and pray, pray for the cool blackness of oblivion.
As I sat on the train, shivering and perspiring at the same time, I noticed how pleasant the scenery was gradually becoming as we left Berlin. There were more green trees and country roads, and less howling crackheads and burning cars. It was very pleasant. Potsdam is apparently where all the old people who escaped Berlin live; there are few in the city, and fair enough, really. I’d rather not spend my golden retirement years surrounded by spangled glittering morons like Dave and I.
Potsdam has air that smells fresh and crisp; it’s that natural country breeze that somehow just feels more honest, not fake and unnaturally warm with a whiff of petroleum and arse. I arrived a half hour late to the anti-fascism workshop, listening to the Clash on the way and feeling so fucking punk.
The workshop was in the middle of some sort of hippy commune free space, where groups of young German girls were spray painting on whitewashed walls and everyone looked like extras from The Beach.
I awkwardly slipped into the seminar and watched in awe as Stephanie and her friend Adrienne taught us about the genocide that took place in Namibia and how it ties into current events, they held lively discussions, explained their daily struggles as black women, and slowly but surely I felt my whole cosy illusion of the world crack. White obliviousness, white privilege, it’s prevalent as fuck, in ways that I’d never even considered. ‘Skin colour’ plasters and bandages in the pharmacy, for example – what colour are they? White. If you skip the fare on the U Bahn you’re known as a ‘black rider’.
Something to take away from the seminar – being ‘good’ and being ‘oppressive’ are not mutually exclusive. You may not feel prejudice towards people of colour, but if you’re not actively learning, challenging and breaking down your own inbuilt prejudices, then you’re perpetuating the existing situation through sheer idleness.
Stephanie is a bloody genius, and I told her afterwards that I thought she could be president one day. “Hmm, nah, I don’t really want to be,” came the reply.
I laughed, but she didn’t. I think this girl genuinely just ruled out the presidency because she didn’t fancy it. After, we sat around the commune and ate a free meal with Adrienne and discussed the workshop. We were laughing at the surreal vibe of the place, the outdoor freestyle interpretive dance classes and the endless harem pants. Stephanie tried her hand at spray painting after, as some of the German girls donated their cans. She wrote ‘Black Lives Matter’ in huge letters.
We explored Potsdam a little after with its bright architecture and quiet cobbled streets, but my stomach was throwing a tantrum so we didn’t stay long, and instead bought ice cream on the way back to the train.
We parted ways with a hug as we reached Berlin once more. Stephanie is leaving Berlin soon, and I’ll be sad when she goes. That girl is vivacious. A couple of weeks back she was featured in Vice; some photos of her onstage speaking at an anti-Trump rally had made headlines. When she saw the news clipping, she answered with nonchalance, “Oh cool, I hadn’t seen that one.”
I’d been hoping for a nap back at my room as the sun went down, but Dave called me, and when Dave calls you, it doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter how long you’ve been awake, how skint you are, how close to death you feel, you’re going out. I’ve seen many strong willed people try and fail to deter him from his unflinching quest to find the perfect party.
So, sigh, I found myself sleep deprived and sickly on the U Bahn to his. Phone said it was 10pm, I was turning 24 in 2 hours, tired tired tired, oh man.
I bought a 2 euro bottle of wine from a Spati and rang Dave’s doorbell, and when I mumbled my name into the buzzer there was a giddy cheer from the other side. Inside, I was embraced by the beaming faces of Dave and Jojo, Dave’s newest flatmate and now one of our best friends. It turned out that the pair of sly bastards had decked out the entire flat for me with candles and drinks and little presents for me, and they’d recruited Kike to surprise me (another new friend who produces a grime radio show aaah!). Kike had actually left a nightclub to come over, bless her, and together the four of us had shots and played music.
Jojo told me that the night was all mine, and they were game for anything. We dressed up in most ridiculous finery, all fur coats and shell suits and sunglasses, made an old children’s book with animal pictures into a series of oversized necklaces we each wore, and got high. By the time we left the flat 90 minutes later I was reeling.
We headed out to a bar where Dave knew someone who was playing a set. We parted ways with Kike who went back to the club, bless her, and the three of us got the bus north into Neukolln. However, it was 4 minutes to midnight, and we didn’t want my birthday to meet us on the backseat of a smelly old bus. After Dave had persuaded a drunk German man to sing happy birthday for me, we jumped off and stood on the pavement, where Jojo produced a candle and a cold bottle of prosecco.
By some miracle we had stopped by a shop window with an electric clock face with a second timer, so we counted to midnight and sprayed the prosecco and jumped around. Dave and Jojo gave me the candle to blow out, and the daft pair of them began recruiting passersby to sing happy birthday to me, until I had my own little choir of assembled and slightly bewildered strangers.
I hugged my assembled choir and we continued on, calling in briefly at Dave’s friend Susanna’s house for a reason I don’t recall, but she’d been partying all day and we didn’t stay long. Next up we decided to head to the club to get our stamps, then to the bar. At Loftus Hall in Neukolln we got in for free because Dave’s girlfriend Caroline works there, and we distributed my birthday cake to the entire club. Bouncers got a slice, barmen and DJ’s, and the rest was passed around on the dancefloor.
We had a quick dance, and left the club to find some other bar, I forget the name. We passed a shopping trolley discarded on the pavement, and of course I was put inside it and whizzed down the street by Dave at a hundred miles an hour, flung round and round in circles and bumped from kerb to kerb. We rolled right up to the bar, at which point I was unceremoniously tipped out and flung through the front door.
Lo and behold, somehow, the bar was packed with familiar faces. This whole city is connected, I can’t get my head around it. Savannah and Byron (new friends, of course) were there, as well as Australian Oli with the dangly earrings who I last saw in Heidegluhen back in January. So many people in one night, so much in one day, Berlin always provides. You can’t make sense of it, you just have to roll with it.
I talked to a girl from Paris who wrote poetry, and she read me a few verses, yelling it over the music but I couldn’t hear, so we went outside and she sat in the shopping trolley and finished it for me. An English guy shook my hand and wished me a happy birthday, and offered me a line of something or other in the toilets. We went in together, but I managed to fumble it and drop it everywhere, eternal whirlwind of embarrassment that I am. He was cool about it.
Five minutes later and I’m racing down the street with Jojo, with Dave rumbling the trolley, suddenly all apologetic for how fast he pushed me when it was my go earlier.
Back in the club, the night was messy and wonderful, in and out of each room, making so many weird friends, dashing out on quests for cigarettes and kebabs at 6am. We stumbled upon an unlocked high school 4oom race track as the dewy dawn chorus kicked in, and Dave and I sprinted the 100 metres and I won, somehow.
At 7am, Dave, Jojo, Caroline and I sauntered home along the riverside, and the sun was rising, turning the world golden as it was diffracted over the waters. We sat on the banks together and shared an apple, watching mild morning mists swirl above the river’s surface, the sun already hot. Swans passed us by, a heron, a dozen little sparrows flitted past.
On the way home, we found a box of vinyls somebody had discarded in the street, and carried them home so Jojo could use them to decorate. Bus took 20 minutes to arrive and ferry us home, in which time we all crashed, and we were all bundled up and asleep by 8am… for three hours. We were up at 11am, joined by Michelle, Louis, Petra, Byron and Stephanie once more for a surprise brunch for me (at which I felt too ill to eat a thing). After we spent the morning down by the river, and the evening… partying in Sisyphos.
I love these fucking guys. They’re all mad, and weird, and everything is crazy hectic and I’m well aware I can’t do this forever, but I really, truly feel like these people care about me, in fact I’m absolutely sure of it because I care about them too, and for the first time since moving here I’ve got a circle of friends that feels like a family, and man, it feels so good.