Holy FUCK I’ve been here a month. There’s a Green Day song called Welcome to Paradise (from Dookie) that pretty much sums it up:
Can you hear me whining?
It’s been three whole weeks
Since I have left your home
This sudden fear has left me trembling
Cause now it seems that I am out here on my own
And I’m feeling so alone
Pay attention to the cracked streets and the broken homes
Some call it slums
Some call it nice
I want to take you through a wasteland I like to call my home
Welcome to paradise
A gunshot rings out at the station
Another urchin snaps and left dead on his own
It makes me wonder why I’m still here
For some strange reason it’s now
Feeling like my home
And I’m never gonna go
Well said Billy Joe Armstrong, you total dude, you. In fact, he’s basically said everything that I was going to include in this blog post so, er, I dunno. The end, I suppose. You can close this tab now. Article finito. Nothing else to add.
You’re still here?
Fiiiiiiiine I’ll write something.
With it being the one month anniversary of my arrival in this city, I’m going to mark the occasion by trying to explain what living here feels like, rather than reeling off more stories of The Strange.
The city is intense. The first time you see Kreuzberg, you will assume you are walking through some inner city ghetto. Graffiti adorns every visible surface. Every shop sells beer or takeaway or vintage clothing or all three. Everything is a nightclub. Posters for gigs and obscure DJ sets are wrapped thick around every lamppost, with so many layers of them piling up essentially doubling their circumference. They’re permanently a bit damp and are spongy to lean on, which I soon discovered, much to my revulsion.
The green man is king here, and no one crosses the road without his say-so. Cross at the wrong place and feel icy Germanic stares boring into you. They are rather fond of the law, over here. Well, apart from when it comes to drugs and sex and whatnot. Cross the road at the wrong time though, and you’re going to fucking jail.
Okay not jail. I said that for Comedic Effect.
Seemingly all of Berlin has a huge Turkish community, which means that I’ve eaten about a thousand kebabs, falafels and shawarmas since moving here. I didn’t even know what a shawarma was before I came here. I still don’t, really. They definitely have meat in them, and some potato, but the rest of the ingredients seem to change every time I buy one.
My diet was never great, but it’s gone to shit since moving here. My weight is wildly flailing all over. Through the week I eat shit and notice my stomach grow. I panic and spend three days working out, and start to feel stronger and healthier. Then I forget to eat for 72 hours over the weekend and become a wee scrawny wretch. Repeat ad infinitum. Or until my heart implodes.
There is one topic that manages to worm its way into every single conversation, and that is: Berlin. The city is so perplexing and brilliant that even people who have lived here for years still talk excitedly about it. I have heard the phrase ‘that’s so Berlin’ used on several occasions. What is ‘so Berlin’? Well, if something makes you confused, nauseous, and a little bit horny, it’s so Berlin.
People also talk about sex, drugs and politics. People do not talk about television, because nobody can afford one. The Second World War gets a fair few mentions. You can’t really escape it when Hitler lived and died a few blocks away. Berliners are also constantly asking what each other are up to, because there is something going on every second and nobody wants to miss out. Event invitations zip around cyberspace like, er, I can’t think of a simile. There are a lot of event invitations.
BLACK ONLY AND FOREVER.
I don’t know why everyone wears black all the bloody time, but they do. I don’t like it. Everyone looks artsy and cool in this very copy and paste way. Pack a hundred painfully individual hipsters into a nightclub and it’s like staring at a pack of zebras – you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.
The infamous nightclub housed in an East Berlin power station, Berghain, can certainly claim some responsibility for this trend. The door policy is famous for being baffling and incredibly tough – although, to be fair, no doorman in the city will give you a free pass inside without a little scrutiny and questioning about your intentions. I went to a gig just last night, and the bouncer asked me if I knew who was playing. Theories about Berghain’s door policy generally go like this: wear black jeans a t shirt, black New Balance trainers, black cap, black backpack, don’t be drunk or rowdy, be German. It seems like the black has overflowed into daily life.
Dear god, I miss music with words. At the risk of being cyber-lynched, I’m going to put it out there and say that minimal techno is crap unless you’re cooked, and even then I’d rather be listening to something with a bit of soul. It’s easy to get caught up in the dancing when you’re packed onto a dancefloor at 5am that looks like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, all black cackling madness and grotesque things happening in the shadows. However, on occasion reality wins out, and I can’t shake the realisation that I have spent hours dancing to literally just a looped ‘womp’ noise and a snare. Every half hour or so the DJ adds in a hi-hat or something and the crowd goes fucking mental.
I have left many a club early because I feel daft skanking to a soundscape that is about as interesting as listening to the ticking clock in a doctor’s waiting room. Yeah, I went there. I live in Berlin and I think minimal techno is wank. I’ll fight you.
Everyone is free, everyone is beautiful, everyone is lost. It’s not exactly the kind of place you come if you have a five year plan. I can’t crack the vibe of the people in the city. I have found some long-term Berliners a little cool for school, but Michelle assures me it’s not the case. She tells me that it’s an incredibly inclusive place, because everyone has one thing in common: they came here, and don’t really know why. I don’t even know myself.
I found myself wandering through Tiergarten park a few days prior, watching the leaves falling and wincing in the teeth chattering cold, and I realised what a monumental tit I am for moving here in the winter. Why didn’t I move somewhere warm? I could be in Melbourne now, another hipster city, but one with surfing and beaches, not addicts and kebab shops and biting -12 degree winds. In the months of planning before moving here, you’d have thought it’d occur to me at least once that I could just go somewhere sunny. But no. I am good for naught but a punch bag.
There’s a Blur lyric I love, from the song The Universal.
‘When the days, they seem to fall through you, just let them go.’
The days are falling through me, and I’m letting them go. I’m just existing quietly here, following people and witnessing things and writing about them. I’m perfectly happy to do that.
My average day starts around 9am. It’s tempting to sleep longer, but I don’t want to get on that slippery slope. I climb down from my mezzanine bed, which is about three metres high and I will literally die if I fall out of, and make breakfast. Poached eggs on toast every day, because it’s nutritious, delicious and cheap. I spend hours writing these diary entries and applying for jobs until my eyes glaze over. I exercise, shower, and check for events that day. Depending on how frugal I’m feeling I will either make pasta or head out and grab a shawarma.
I buy a beer from the späti, which is what the cool kids (and, er, Germans) call cornershops. The shops sell half litre bottles for about 80 cents, and they have an opener next to the till, so you can crack it in the store. I walk with my beer down to the U Bahn, and depending on the time of day either buy a ticket or risk it. I’ve had my ticket checked once in a month, which is frustrating when you actually buy one.
I get the U1 a few stops, either to Schlesisches Tor or Kotbusser Tor or over the river and past the Wall to Warschauer Straße. The few friends I have here all live around Kreuzberg or north of the river in Friedrichshain, and I’ll meet up with them in some bar or cafe. We might head to an event or a house party. Last night I walked miles across the city to a flat owned by a young German guy called Christian. Five of us sat talking and listening to his bizarre vinyl collection, and headed out to a bar on the roof of a multistory car park. The entrance is through a huge shopping centre. Every night I discover some new gloomy saloon or light-strung bustling cantina.
After a few hours of hanging out, its time to decide if anyone’s going to make a night of it. Last night I left the others to go to a DJ set by Mike Skinner. I went alone, but met a friend inside. Skinner played for 6 hours and finished at 4am, which is fairly early for Berlin. I got home around 5am and collapsed into bed… once I’d climbed the huge ladder.
This is every night, if you want it to be. An older Syrian guy I met in a gay bar summed it up best. He told me Berlin presents you with a banquet of dishes, every kind of delicious treat you can imagine. It’s down to you to pick and choose what you want, but be careful – you can make yourself sick all too easily.
I feel like I know this city now, much better than 31 days ago. The inner city claustrophobia and flashes of rising panic have subsided slightly. I’ve gotten used to witnessing streetside oddities on a daily basis, and my horizons have been broadened to such an extent that I don’t really know if I could be shocked anymore (I definitely could). I honestly believe you can achieve anything you want in Berlin, providing you can resist the pull of the party wormhole and stay true to yourself. Which is exactly what I intend to do.