I am ill. The whole hostel is ill. Berlin is ill. I’ve never lived in a city this big before, and if you’ve not experienced it let me tell you: if one person is sick, everyone is. Every Berliner has a cold, from seemingly nowhere. Maybe I was patient zero. Maybe this is the start of the zombie apocalypse. Exciting!
It seems I have been so busy giddily penning tales of my nights out that I forgot to mention a fairly crucial fact: I found a flat! Jubilations! It’s only for six weeks, but to be honest that’s perfect. It takes me right up to Christmas, at which time I can evaluate whether I want to keep living here. The flat is gorgeous, in a decent area (a little quieter than Kreuzberg but not too far away to be boring), and the two girls and guy that live there are friendly and seem refreshingly grounded and normal. Get in y’bastard!
So, a couple of days ago I got the U Bahn over to my new place to sort paperwork and pay the deposit etc. I sat sniffling in the kitchen talking to Lisa, the girl whose bedroom I’m taking over while she goes to visit a friend in America. I was meant to go round the previous day, but I was dying in bed and so was she after respective heavy Friday nights, and so we rearranged. I get the feeling that happens a lot in this city. Everyone is hungover, always.
Back at the hostel later, I sat writing for a bit, but I can only write for maybe 4 hours max before I get restless. Applying for jobs isn’t going fantastically – each day I wake up excited to write, and tell myself that I will channel the morning’s inspiration into these diary entries, and then after treating myself to these enjoyable sessions of silly free form writing, I will knuckle down and apply for jobs and whatnot. Only problem is, I end up writing silly nonsense free form goodness for half the day, and then go to get lunch, then make a new friend, then the glittering desert cave of mysteries that is Berlin opens its jaws once more and I furtively step inside, beer in hand, looking wistfully over my shoulder at all the life admin I could/should be doing, before the yawning maw of the cave snaps shut and I lose another night to mayhem.
This should bother me, but it doesn’t. I’m living, I’m making so many memories that they can’t all fit in my head. Hence this diary. I was reading the first few entries of my diary last night, and laughing. My first days here were bleak and stressful, and I remembered feeling scornful towards Michelle when she waved away my concerns and told me everyone finds a way to make it work. She was right. I’m living here, despite everything. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I have a little money, I have a flat. It’s coming together slowly. And it’s coming together from getting out there and living, meeting people and opening up new avenues of opportunity, not from quivering before a pile of paperwork.
Debauchery and bureaucracy go hand in hand in Berlin.
I finished my day’s writing, checked my bank balance, winced, then threw my laptop in my locker and jumped on the U Bahn with some slack directions saved in my phone. I was heading to some graffiti competition I’d heard of taking place somewhere called ‘Mellow Park’. I checked the map and it turns out this park was way out of Berlin, and it’d take me a fair few trains to get there. I grabbed a road beer and a bratwurst from a stall and set out on the day’s quest.
Four trains and forty minutes later I arrived at the stop. It was cold, about 4.30pm. The competition was running from 1 until 7pm, so I figured I would catch a good couple of hours of whatever would be transpiring there. My phone had around 8% battery left, which wasn’t ideal. I’m bad at keeping it charged here. I fired up the maps app and tried to locate where the hell I was. The tube stop was surrounded by forest. Auburn trees in every direction. My phone had no clue. Once again, my reluctance to upgrade from my iPhone 4 is my downfall. Bah.
A hooting sound gave me a heart attack. Over on another platform was a curious mini steam train, spewing smoke, packed with kids. Okay. The happy little train hooted again, and chugged away down a winding, leafy path. It seemed to be the only direction that might lead somewhere. I knew the competition was vaguely south east, so I shrugged and ambled after the slow rolling steam train.
I soon found myself in the midst of a dense autumnal wood, following a path thick with fallen leaves, soggy and shiny in the afternoon gloom. Couples walked past me arm in arm, enjoying a nice day out in – wherever I was. There were little hooting trains everywhere, parents and kids hanging out of the windows as they were slowly ferried to and fro across the park, being outpaced by growing moss. It was surreal and bizarre and comical, and I was still feeling rough. I crossed a little train track and got honked at by a distant micro-locomotive, its flat-capped driver looking massive crammed into the cabin.
I checked my phone and guessed I was heading in the right direction. I saw a building on the map that was directly ahead. It was marked ‘Fez Berlin’. When I lived in Sheffield, there was a club called Fez. It was a decrepit end-of-the-night affair, where everyone flocked at 5am because they were still absolutely off their tits and wanted to skank to some drum n bass for a few more hours. I figured Fez Berlin might be more of the same, if not even more depraved. Maybe this was where the competition was being held. I set off to find Fez.
I wandered lonely as a cloud. That floats on high o’er vales and hills. When all at once I saw a crowd. A host, of fucking kids.
At the end of this leafy forest path, it opened up into a giant playground, carved out of the forest. It was a cold Sunday afternoon and apparently every child in Berlin was hanging out at this park. My eyes widened with horror. These aren’t my people. I don’t understand kids. I don’t like them. There is one infant in the world that I like, and that’s my little sister. She is gorgeous and sweet and smiley and perfect. The kids in this park were not.
There were swings and slides, bicycles and scooters and sand pits, ball pools, rickety bridges and monkey bars, and as I stalked with dark eyes through the centre of it all, these giggling gurgling screaming brats were criss-crossing my path, running over my toes on their scooters and bumping into my kneecaps on metal pedal cars. Low stooped parents were doing that run that you can only do once you have a kid; that arms-wide crouched run, ready to dive flat on your face in a heartbeat to protect young Hans from a grazed knee. I watched ball pool brats roaring with childhood furore, kicking each other discretely behind their parents’ backs. I had discovered my own personal hell. A huge building loomed ahead of me, and in big, happy, goofy font: FEZ BERLIN! Europe’s largest non-profit children, youth and family centre!
No. No. God, no. Surely not… NOOOOOOOOO! I was Charlton Heston, flailing in the surf before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty.
The happy hooting trains ferried wagon-loads of thrashing children to the various playgrounds and mini race tracks and tennis courts. In the midst of this autumn happy fun-fun shit show I saw a clown, sitting alone, on his phone. I liked him. A sad clown. Maybe he hates children too. I took a discrete photo of him, and it might be my favourite photo I’ve ever taken. He was sat next to a bin, under a golden tree. His shoes were knackered, his hat was pulled low. No children were anywhere near him. Perhaps I only imagined him; conjured him up from the depths of my consciousness as a result of the nausea induced by the hordes of depraved rapscallions running around my ankles and through my legs screaming bloody murder. Perhaps this sad clown is me. My spirit guide. A sad clown. I like it. I’d be cool with him being my spirit guide. We could go to parties together and just sit in the corner and not speak to anyone.
Here’s to you, sad clown. You cheered me up.
I continued on. I left my spirit guide behind; my sad 21st century clown glumly flicking through Facebook on his iPhone while orange leaves drift down around him. At this point, I’ll clarify something: I don’t really hate kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’m uncomfortable around them and they irritate me, but I just realised that I seem like a bit of a bastard from the previous few paragraphs, so I’ll have it be known that some of them can be charming, and sweet. I just don’t like them en masse. The phrase ‘everything in moderation’ goes double for children.
I left the shrieking park behind and delved deeper into the woods. I heard distant music, and my spirits lifted. It must be near! I left the path and leapt straight into thick of the woods, aiming to simply walk directly towards the music. Unfortunately, the trees and bracken were nigh impenetrable. Plus I found a massive human shit, avec toilet roll. Who are these people?! It was about 200 metres from the Fez building. Jesus.
My mystical forest journey continued, and I wandered through a sparse concrete plain in a clearing. The music floated over me on the breeze, just the occasional bass note. I eventually emerged from the trees and found a busy main road, which I followed. The light was starting to fade. I’d been wandering a good hour. A little old lady emerged from a path off to one side, walking a small trotting sausage dog. I headed down the path she had come from, back into the trees and the silence. About a hundred metres in, I heard the music again and realised I was heading the wrong way.
Another half kilometre down the road, fucking hell, I found it. ‘Mellowpark’ was painted on a giant skate ramp positioned by the roadside, and a gateway led into the area. So this was Mellowpark. So where the hell had I just been?! Did all that actually just happen or did I smack my head getting off the U Bahn and hallucinate it all? I felt like a male Alice in Wonderland. Allan in Wonderland. Allan in Wonderland, the gruff painter decorator who doesn’t quite know how he got there and who just walks through Wonderland sipping a Red Stripe, booting over daffodils and playing Angry Birds on his phone.
I entered Mellowpark and found it was some expansive concrete skate park, ramps everywhere and ghetto kids hurling their bones over gaping expanses of air, skater dudes and bikers hanging out on half pipes. A boom box was throwing out Euro hip hop. The sky was grey, the ground was wet, and I walked on, past heavily graffitied old buildings with smashed in windows and doors.
At the far end of the skate park I saw a signpost – the first bloody one, I might add – for the competition. Fan-fucking-finally. I rounded the corner and, dear god, my quest was over. I’d made it. A hundred or so scruffy buggers stood around sipping beers. A hasty bar had been erected and was serving plastic cups of booze. I bought one and had a browse of the place. I didn’t know the time, as my phone had died, but it must have been near seven as the damned competition was long done. A dozen canvasses were stretched all around, fresh spray paint gleaming on their surfaces. The whole place smelled of dizzying paint fumes.
I sat on a bench and drank it in. I watched people periodically step up to the canvasses and spray something new, usually their name, or tag, or whatever cool people say. A big black pickup truck was parked nearby, and a decks and speakers were mounted on the back. A smiling DJ stood plucking vinyls out of a box and spinning them. He played some bouncing rap song with German lyrics that were catchy, something about being from Germany. I didn’t really know what to do with myself, as the main attraction was done. It looked set to slowly turn into just a big piss-up.
Then, the music stopped, and the DJ started packing his shit up. Oh. Okay. People slowly began filing out of Mellowpark, and I drifted out with them. It seems I’d spent so long lost in the Magical Forest of Sad Clowns and Hooting Trains and Human Turds that I had missed the whole thing.
Whelp, nothing else for it. I sipped my beer and moseyed back into my forest. I got home about two hours later. You win some, you lose some, you get lost in a forest. So it goes.