My camera is not so good. Well, it is my phone actually, so rather good for what it was three or so years ago, and better than my old digital which is something from an archaeological dig now at five years old and I never packed it for travel. I have to then, play around with my photos a bit to get them looking as I see them and as the sense of how I see them is.
I had the windows open, a cold damp mist but not so soul-killing as to want to seal the apartment and turn the heaters to five, just enough to be reminded this still despite all is winter. My phone makes grey days blue. Neither in a melancholy sense, or contrary to that summery, just… a revolting blue cast that is hard to remove without everything turning horrible. So this is how today feels, perhaps slightly less grainy and more muted. I think I haven’t photographed the Brauerei much on days like today.
Quite often I look out my window, across the warm brick expanse of… I wonder what it is, a vast I want to say Victorian, factory… I must also then find the word for this, late-Prussian, early Imperial. I can sit here in bed examining the steep tiled roof and if i tilt my head so slightly the tapered vertical column of the chimney with its black iron rungs peeks into sight. I do this and find quickly it is called Bötzow-Brauerei, built in 1864. Then, there were two chimneys, also quite splendid gardens on Prenzlauer Allee, fountains and pagodas. Now it is mostly empty, open yet inviting trespass to enter. It is a comfort for me, this abandonment, that it exists as itself and not – yet – made the same, bland, restored, finished. Now it is still alive.
I’ve been thinking for a while of photographing the Brauerei in the varying light and weather. Maybe this is a start.
Moving again, nearby, a hobo attic suspended above Berlin. Daniel, Gala and Vanessa for Silverster dinner, Suisse cheese fondue, roast vegetables, much bread and chocolate and wine, also Berliners to eat, like donuts but without the hole and much extra chocolate. And later to wander to Volkspark Friedrichshain, the city dark, cloudless and freezing, the park dim and eerie, a nocturnal fest, paths full with people drinking and setting off colourful destruction, vanishing into gloom and smoke. And from the top, looking in a full circle around the city, Berlin exploded, an endless roaring deluge and to the all horizons glowing, the end of the year the beginning of the year.
In the opposite direction to my original intent, Alex Platz, down Alte Jacobstr, often an unmemorable street, at one intersection looking down I noticed a double row of cobblestones running off-centre along the length of the otherwise asphalted road, and turning into where I’d just come from. A metal plate worn smooth and rustless by endless passing traffic bore the inscription in a plain raised typeface, “Berlin Mauer 1961-1989”.
I was looking for the Haus Amerika Gedenkbibliothek, a rather highly recommended borrowing library in Blücherstr. Crossing the Kanal, turning left cycling and finding nothing where there should be books, I continued thinking of Walter Benjamin and his remarks on getting lost in a city, rather than finding your way around. I found my way to Geneisenaustr and along, past Volksgarten Hasenheide, floating on my bicycle, now with in intent and use of map to steer myself past cobbled streets, tree lined, ascending gently and not quite square with Karl Marx Allee deeper into Neuköln, turning into a small wind of side streets and looking for number 2…
The bread from Mehlwurm is quite my favourite, and not just for partisan reasons. And they sell the best natural peanut butter – and the cheapest – I’ve so far unearthed in Berlin. I drooled also at croissants and other pastries, but thought of the ‘currency realignment’ now so named instead of ‘global depression’, as though it were some astrological shifting of Alan Greenspan into the house of Mercury descendant, has made me anxious.
It was an assignment for German class, to wander from the Goethe Institut to Hackescher Markt and then across the bridge to Museuminsel and so to arrive at the Lustgarten. I thought it had a better name than appearance. I mean to say, for a garden of lust I expected somehow a walled palace enclosure with paths and almost forests, maybe like Schloss Belvedere in Vienna. Here was bounded on the north by the neo-classical Altes Museum, pretending towards height but actually it’s rows of vertical columns, like a curtain demonstrate both more its width and solid foundation.
We were standing under the entrance to the Berliner Dom, all peppermint green copper roofing and baroque ostentation. Hard to say much of an edifice when it is within you stand, and not in any within that a spectacle is designed to be seen from and awed by. The grass of the Lustgarten was sublimely green, as if sprayed, or perhaps from the memory of the park’s imperial past, more regal than ordinary lawn grass.
And to the south, occluded by the pillars, columns, plinths and so on of the Dom, the last remainders of the Palast der Republic. The first building I truly noticed in Berlin, my first week here, walking to Kreuzberg with no idea of how to get there and the beauty of it, concrete and steel girders, a monster of its own imperial design, I couldn’t be sure if it was being assembled or pulled apart. I think maybe even in its demolition it resisted being reduced.
And I never saw it complete except for in pictures, and a video of artists and performers, autonom, occupying it a few years ago and making for its last days something I think Berlin inadvertently excels at. I’m not sure of words that won’t sound needlessly dramatic, but perhaps to say this and the squats and wagenburgs and all… together somehow make for a city that is living for people, or maybe for people who find home where they make it.
So I took photos with my venerable and too often dropped phone and kept going in a circle. I was supposed to sketch this for class tomorrow, but stopped after I completed the first quarter, from the Palast to the Alte Museum, a view, eine aussicht. Closeups of pillars and steps and the back of someone’s head appeal only to me in my private musings.
Still I am thinking of my walk to ballet each morning and how oh perhaps tomorrow or next week I will get up early enough and there will be some rain, mist, wetness so I can adequately show how beautiful this traipse is.
And it was someone who is arriving with much anticipation next week who said, “So you are going to live in Graefe-Kiez? That is a very beautiful area”. Like a badly drawn upwards-pointing arrow or lopsided mushroom needing an extra leg to balance its listing. Along the canal, down Kottbusserdamm, squiggling along Urbanstr, Hasenheide and Geniesenaustr wonkily back up again to the kanal.
I had my hair cut on Dieffenbachstr last night, and that morning walking across Urbanstr, the rain about to visit once more, sky opalescent…
I have moved. A home. For a while, my own room, a bed, unpacked suitcases, books on top of a cabinet, the start of another library, a new part of town to discover. Kreuzberg, Neuköln… the sixes, 63 of oranienstr, 67 of Urbanstr.
I walk to class in Wallstr in the morning, 30 minutes or so, along Grimmstr, then across the canal and up Erkelenzdamm to Oranienplatz and across to near another canal. Beautiful in the rain and cold and beautiful today with the sun firing the turning leaves. Berlin has something special in autumn.
I’ll try and remember where I began. It was last night. Was I searching for something for someone? Was I searching for someone? I am with someone in Berlin who is not here, yet follows with me, my aimless trails, and leads me also, because… what do you say of a home you decided to leave? And then through another, newly discovering, find it again?
I have walked up a street towards a bar that leads to Kottbussertor U-bahn often enough, maybe three times, for it to bear the resemblance of known. Each time until today I missed entirely the gallery. I decided after ballet, and having some spare time, and deeply anxious about my dwindling savings, to do mostly walking and looking, anonymous, and from the studio explore a little Köpenickerstr, which I saw through the windows across the Spree, warming up to dance another day in the past. And from there up this street with the amusing-to-me name to the gallery. In the streets are wagenburgs and in the exhibition, a small history of wagenburgs in Berlin.
I had to retrace my steps as Schwarzer Kanal was over this street I must turn down, mmm… what to say of old buildings left as they were abandoned, made into homes with flowers in window boxes, a certain kind of detritus and wilderness that is distinctly a squat. Fences I can peek through and like a magic garden of giant mushrooms, old wagens, trucks, delivery vans, even perhaps ancient train carriages all cluster, a herd come together. Also though I feel embarrassed to peer into someone’s home like this, as much as it does instill a feeling of home in me.
Up the street with the funny name, I mean Adalbertstr over the damms, Engeldamm and, I forget the other, past on one side a quite beautiful and empty building of red brick and white windows, the small oval leaves bright greys and oranges on the soft oh-so-European green. On the other more wagenplatz, and a kinder, I forget again how to say, a childrens’ farm, an old, thin but perhaps not unhappy horse and sway-backed black donkey, another horse lying in the stable, all munching on straw, horse wanders over, takes a shit, wanders back.
I reach the exhibition, Wagenburg – Leben in Berlin at the Kreuzburg Museum up many flights of stairs, oh is something special. I will take Daniel to it when he returns, and perhaps buy the exhibition catalogue… One video was of Schwarzer Kanal, women talking about the place, location, tenuousness of its existence, the bicycle workshop, and one woman, short hair, maybe a leather jacket, I can see her in my thoughts but describing evades me, she says about addressing sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and I thought oh… maybe coming to Berlin to find somewhere I feel is home, hoping that there is difference in places enough to make livable, all these thoughts, it is the right decision.
Later, in the rain and darkness, I move to Schönhauserallee, look from the balcony at the city in night.