Breath of fresh air on a Saturday in Berlin - more specifically, Prenzlauer Berg. Brunch all alone at one of the many cafes that line Kollwitzstraße off of Danziger. Beautiful green and brown trees casted their billowy shadows over me, while I ate bacon, eggs and sipped a mocha topped with a hefty amount of whipped cream. Next to me a little boy with a devilish grin purposely spilled a heap of granulated sugar on the cobblestone floor beneath us. A little of it got into my bag and his mother apologized profusely in sharp German. “It is not a problem,” I say, and “it is okay” - she smiled and scolded her son. He laughed and stuck his pink tongue out at her.
Late brunch at 1pm and the cafe was filled to the brim with people that looked to be anywhere from 23-40. Prenzlauer Berg caters to the mid-twenties and mid-thirties crowd so this did not surprise me in the least. Everyone looked so put together. I felt like I could be sitting back at a Country Club in Texas, minus the ten gallon cowboy hats of course.
I am turning 25 next week. I am not delusional enough to think that is “old” , but it is still a quarter century so it leaves me with a lot of room to think. I wondered - will I look this put together when I am 30? Will I look more like these people? Talking about how they don’t “get” Facebook and how they think they will take it easy tonight. A shiver ran up my spine.
An older set of women cried together at the table across from mine. They were being very discrete but since I had nothing else to pay attention to, my eyes were fixed on them. God it is a terrible feeling to watch someone cry - knowing you can’t do anything for them. I like crying though, when you really need it - so I was kinda sickly envious of them.
One of the women in particular looked extremely red faced and wept silently, yet more freely into her friends shoulder. She looked so sad but at the same time she was expressing some kind of wild emotion and that was beautiful.
It is beautiful when reality smacks you in the face and wakes you up from some kinda robotic dream or lull in life. I feel like too many people are sleeping with their eyes open in this world when there is so much to feel and experience. You might as well feel something, even if it is sadness and pain… than feel nothing. The numbness that comes along with the feeling and weight of nothingness is the worst thing in the world to experience.
It feels like cold soup on a cold day.
Watching this woman cry, I was reminded that I had not felt anything significant in a long time. I desperately needed something to inspire me.
Lately I hated everything I wrote, said, felt and did. Maybe “hated” is the wrong word because it implies that I was actually experiencing something when in reality I was feeling bored and in a daze. My writing was blasé and boring lately. I could not even string together a sentence that didn’t make my stomach turn. My writing tasted like sour milk. My words were curdled.
Everything was a struggle and the only thing that I relied upon for self expression was failing me. The words would not come and I did not want to write them.
Sitting across from those women weeping, I finally felt like I could write about something so I took out my notebook. I described them in detail - the way they were dressed, the way I thought they might smell - like concrete after a rain storm mixed with salt. I wrote about how the woman who was crying more intensely was twisting her fingers around her hair delicately, creating intentional knots - maybe a nervous habit. I wrote about how pink their faces were and how one was wearing glasses and I could tell from my table that they were Prada. I wrote about why I thought they were crying - I guessed it was a man. I guessed it was divorce. It could have been anything but I was developing a story, a narrative, two characters.
I wrote a story about them and could not stop writing and it was probably shit but I was escaping. I was escaping the melancholy I had felt and I was feeling something and it was easy transferring my thoughts to my fingers - to my pen - to my notebook.
I sat there for 30 minutes watching them. Looking up and down at the words and then up and down again.
I looked up at the women and then wrote some more - diving into my notebook head first. When my eyes finally returned to where they had been sitting , they were gone. A young group of twenty somethings took their place.
In my mind I had written their story and now they were gone and the story needed to end so I ended it. I was never very good with endings, as I believe they are the trickiest bits to piece together in a story so I wrote that the woman with the glasses - had been the one who broke up the marriage between her best friend (the woman who was crying more intensely) and her husband because of an affair - but she never found out. Cliche? Yes. I took a soap opera approach as I figured I could change it later. Scribbles in a notebook. I was content.
I put away my notebook, paid my bill and walked down the street towards Prenzlauer Alle. On the way to my tram, I passed by the women who I had seen at the cafe - they were browsing books at a nearby store. They were holding hands and then to my surprise, passionately they kissed.
I had read all the signs wrong.
I could not help but laugh - the first real laugh in a long time. Not at them, but at how I had been so closed off to the signs that these women were indeed together. It was so damned obvious now. I was also happy to see that they were now smiling and I was most relieved to realize that the cause of the tears had not indeed been a man…or at least not a husband. I was seeing the world all wrong, in such a closed off perspective. The flood gates were opening. I revised the story I wrote significantly on the tram ride home while listening to The Shout Out Louds with a big old huge smile plastered on my face.
Tracklist :: Intro - Mami Koyama Minky Momo Love Love :: Balam Acab - Apart :: Tropics - Mouves (Keep Shelly in Athens Remix) :: The One Am Radio - An Old Photo of Your New Lover (Baths Remix) :: Washed Out - Eyes Be Closed (Star Slinger Remix) :: Sun Glitters feat. Steffaloo - Cosmic Oceans :: Baths - The Nothing :: Southern Shores - Antibo :: Work Drugs - Catalina Wine Mixer :: Germany Germany feat. Steffaloo - Just Go :: Chad Valley - Fast Challenges :: Regina - Saanko Jäädä Yöksi? (Blackbird Blackbird Remix)
Hungover. Covered in confetti, I woke up in my room at 10 am on Sunday. Make-up smudged. Clutching a bottle of water, wearing my Nirvana t-shirt and volleyball shorts.
The night before was a blur. A night of dancing, vodka shots, bier, awkward conversations and more bier. It started at 7pm and ended sometime around 3am on a tram with Jess, both of us too tired to talk. Too tired to walk. Too tired to think. Too tired to drink anymore.
It was our summer party and everyone was really drunk. Drunk off wine, liquor and whatever else was behind the bar, the sea of people on the dance floor were moving and shaking their hips in drunken unison. So sloppy but succinct - smiles on most everyone’s faces.
Confetti explosion in the sky. Confetti everywhere. My hazy dreams that I had during the night were even filled with confetti.
White, pink, purple, blue - in my hair, on my clothes, everywhere.
Dancing with strangers, dancing with friends, dancing by myself. Lots of dancing. Slurred speech - confused, befuddled words pouring from inebriated lips.
Dim lights and conversations sprinkled with laughter - interrupted by vodka shots. More dancing.
Focus on standing up straight. Fall over repeatedly.
Paul Scraton reports on life in his Gesundbrunnen kiez…I
Wedding - photo by Paul Scraton
It is just past midnight on the Osloer Strasse. I emerge from the U-Bahn station onto the wide, dark boulevard. There are not so many people about. At the corner of Drontheimer Strasse a couple of drunks stagger out from their smoke-filled corner kneipe, bellies full of gassy pilsner and cheap shots of korn.
The lights in the kebab stand across the street burn brightly but there are no customers. A few steps up the street and patients stand on the steps of the hospital, smoking inadvisable cigarettes. I am about a hundred metres from home when a couple of young men approach. At a guess I would say they are of Turkish origin and they are wheeling a bike.
We pass without eye contact and then one of them turns to call me back.
“Excuse me,” he says, “Would it be possible to ask you a question.”
I am wary, but he is extremely polite.
“Do you want to buy this bike?”
I smile and wave my thanks but no thanks and he wished me a pleasant evening. They wheel the bike away into the gloom. It’s a good story, I think, as I push open the heavy door to our building and its three courtyards, nine staircases, and almost a hundred mailboxes nailed to the wall. I climb the five flights of stairs and a story of Liverpool comes to mind, of the man parking his car and leaving his dog behind.
“Mind your car for a pound?” a little boy says.
“No need. I’ve got the dog.”
The boy pauses, scratches his head.
“He can put out fires then can he?”
Positive and negative stereotypes right there, all present and correct, into one tiny story. What more can you want. I have no idea where I heard it first. In the apartment I tell Katrin (my wife) about the boys and the bike and the one about Liverpool. She smiles.
I was stuck in the mud by the planetarium near my house on Prenzlauer Allee. It was intentional. I was sinking into a puddle of black gunk mixed with fresh rain water and grass. Melting into the ground - my body was drenched and my clothes were soaked. It was July, a Sunday and I had not seen the sun in a month.
I let myself sink further into the puddle as I looked up at the water falling from the perpetually gray sky. The clouds were full and bursting from the seams, bottom heavy with water. I had forgotten my umbrella at home and had decided to walk to the small convenience store a few blocks away from my house for frozen pizza. Since it was Sunday and nothing is ever open on Sunday, pizza is pretty much my staple meal when I close out my week. When I started walking, I noticed that the sky was not as friendly as it had appeared from my kitchen window but I walked anyways and ignored the signs of rain that had been ever prevalent and on going since the start of July.
As the rain came down on me, first starting as a trickle and then a sudden downpour, I did not hide under the shelter of the building overhangs that jutted up around me. Instead I walked forward. More like trudged.
I had given up to the rain and felt the only way to go on was to embrace the struggle as it were. So I walked down the road and blinked quickly and the raindrops splashed my face and stung my eyes, eventually falling down my cheeks and slipping down my neck. I walked past the convenience store and focused on the emerald green grass that lay in front of the Planetarium between two stops on my tram line. I always had passed it yet had never ventured there due to the awkward location. But I was walking in the rain without anywhere in particular to go so I followed my feet and they crossed the street and walked down the block and in five minutes I was sitting on the wet grass by a statue of a man who looked quite important.
Yes I was sitting. I was sitting in the wet grass like I used to do when it would rain in Texas when I was a kid. I loved sitting in the grass, playing with the mud. Sitting in the grass in the rain made me forget just where I was. In fact, I was not really thinking about much of anything except about how the grass felt on my fingertips, so wet and soft, each blade unique. I was also thinking about how the rain felt on my face and how I wasn’t even upset that my clothes were becoming muddy and grass stained.
There were these little white flowers that stuck their precocious heads through the grass with such effort that I felt bad to see that some had been ripped out the ground violently and thrown onto the concrete of the sidewalk path near where I was sitting. I picked them up and tried to gently place them back into the ground knowing that my efforts were futile and quite optimistic at best, but I felt better knowing they weren’t on the path.
I probably looked crazy to any onlooker that happened to see me but I was not focusing on anything like that and besides when I did happen to catch someone with my eyes all I saw were umbrellas obscuring faces and lots of rushing about to escape the wetness of the day.
My hands were getting cold and the rain was letting up temporarily and the sky let out a sigh - thunder in the distance. I was hungry and starting to shiver in my soaked clothing. I got up and started walking towards the convenience store leaving the emerald green grass behind.