Holger asked me to give him a tour of “my” Berlin. This is a tiny peek into how I find the city.
This is a bench, under a tree, in the northeast corner of Volkspark. It is rather nondescript as far as benches in parks go: it is made from weathered wooden slats, chipped and split, with the occasional graffiti tag along the brim. But to me it is a dais in the mind, a stationary raft in an ocean of thought.
I sit here, on the bench overlooking the volleyball pit below. Each time that I’ve come to the city it has been winter, and the park mostly empty, save for an unleashed dog that goes wandering through the sand while his owner strolls along the outer rim. There is traffic in the distance on Danziger Strauss, though I don’t mind it. What I do focus on is the sound of winter, the muffled sound caught in snow with pockets of ice footprints. My mind takes me to the era of the GDR, of Eastern Germany under Communist rule, a city built by Turkish labourers, and the endless rows of humble unadorned concrete apartment blocks which still fill the borough of Friedrichshain. I think about the beleaguered Spree, and great brick bridge Oberbaum that spans it, once so proud and now just humbly tolerating the fate of a city who still hasn’t seen enough gentrification to purge an ecosystem of patchwork industry and sodden club flyers.
When I first came to Berlin in 2009 I bought a copy of Faust. In between the hours I spent wandering the graveyards and remnants of The Wall, I drank charmingly minor Bavarian lagers and got lost in the tale of a man dissatisfied with life and tragically seeking something more.
From a cold bench overlooking a bowl of ragged turf in the People’s Park I read novels and write my thoughts about an equally tragic city. The withered leaves from the eternally barren tree fall silently, and I stare into a grey city obligated to eternally apologise for its past.