On September 25th 2011 I reached Berlin, a city with one of the darkest history of Europe. Who was going to say that this city of approximately 3.5 million inhabitants would be my home for the next 18 months. Kreuzberg, one of the 12 districts of Berlin, famous for the Turkish immigration in the 1960s when West Germany’s economy grew at an excessive speed and, today, by the large number of people from all over the world who want to live in one of the most alternative areas of the city, hosted me for five days until I’d find four walls and a roof. In the house of Marco Gotti, an Italian, from Bergamo, short, dark hair and big eyebrows, a more or less round face, sympathetic and with a characteristic smile, with marked and very descriptive movements, in a joyful spirit and desire to drink, socialize. It was eight o’clock at the evening when Marco says: “andiamo a bere!” So we started to walk the dark cobblestone streets, full of rotten mattresses wet by the rain, left on the sidewalk, looking for drinks. While wandering we entered a Späti, to buy a beer, half–litre glass bottle, good, cooled. The seller asks us: “auf machen?” Marco answers: “na klar!” And so, with a bottle each, toasting before making the first sip of the Augustiner opened by the man at the Späti, “PROST!”, we ramble through the streets of the former American sector, western sector, of the divided Berlin between 1961 and 1989, looking for bars and fun.
The Berlin wall was build during the night of 12th to 13th August 1961, build … Barbed wire was placed surrounding, zigzagging
west Berlin for one hundred fifty five kilometres, thus separating the city in two. West, divided in three sectors: French, British and American; East, the Soviet sector. Every five hundred meters had a watchtower, a total of three hundred sixty. The Berlin Wall was not only a wall, but a set of two walls; in the middle had an empty space, without anything, a barren plain: the death strip, the no-man’s-land where approximately -it is not known how many with accuracy – about three hundred people lost their lives trying to jump from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the western sector. What moves the people, humanity, the human race, women and men to have this mistrust, create these barriers, borders, fences, walls? To protect themselves? From whom? Of what? To preserve and ensure their property, ideologies and economic interests? The fear of losing everything block our eyes and separates us more from ourselves, from human relationships, human proximity.
“Marco, dove Andiamo” –I ask-. “Andiamo al Das Hotel ” –he answers-. We walked into the bar, close to the canal in the Mariannenstraße. From the entrance door the fog blocks our view, it takes a while, a couple of seconds to get used to that smoke part of the furniture, part of the bar; the cigarettes mist, the smell, the colour, the figures formed by the levitation of the nicotine, tobacco leaves, cigarette paper and tar burned, dance throughout the whole area. A room of about twenty square meters, equitable, with high ceilings, rusted greyish walls, as if before there had been wallpaper on them, with three round tables on the left where two are occupied; in front of us, the bar, about five meters long, extending horizontally, behind it, a bit higher, you can perceive a room and the toilets from where a blond, blue-eyed girl with very red lips and a green dress goes out; to the right, stairs, of about seven steps that lead down to a hallway, lit only by the candle lights, with more tables which stretches out to connect with the room and the lavatories after the counter where the drinks are served.
We approach to the bartender, with thirst, with the desire of poisoning ourselves. With what? Beer? Whiskey? “Jordi, cosa vuoi?” –Marco asks-. “Non lo so… mmmm. Un gin-tonic?” – I answer-. “Bravo!” – he says-. “Zwei gin-tonic” -I tell the dude behind the bar with my broken German-. He answers: “Wie bitte?” “Zwei gin-tonic” –I repeat-. “Ok”. With the drinks in the hand we sit down in the free table next to where two girls were speaking and laughing laud. “Prost amico!” “Salute Jordi!” We drink, converse, laugh, exchanges the stories that we lived since last time we saw each other in Freiburg, of girls and sex, love and adventures, of nationalisms and politics, of meaningless things, bullshit. Feeling intoxicated by the second gin-tonic we talk to the girls at the table sitting next to us, for some time, until we finish the drinks and move to the next bar, still in the American sector.
Oranienstraße, the centre of Kreuzberg, it’s heart. At the end of the 1970s a strong squatting movement emerged in this same neighbourhood due to the destruction of affordable rentals and the hostility of an urban renewal plan. Empty apartments were occupied and transformed into centres of subcultural opposition, later, some were legalized as hire housing and other evicted by the police. At the beginning of Oranienstraße corner with Manteuffelstraße, at the side of the facade of a building where there are no windows, there’s a huge graffiti of animals hanging of a rope upside down from their paws: a deer, a hare and a heron, lying down under the hanged animals a male goat with it’s horns curled up, all dead – at least this is the impression that I get-. Just below, a plot, where there is an old, double-decker bus, white: Das Kiosk. Upstairs some tables set for the cold and rainy days, which is not the case today, and below the store with everything that you can find at any Späti. Walked in, took two beers and a box of matches and went outside to sit on one of the tree logs. As we roll up some cigarettes and drink the Tyskies a voice of a girl calls: “Marco?” It was Elena, a Greek girl Marco met at a party in someone’s house. Marco reacts and we join her and the group of friends with whom she was having a few beers. We drink and drink, one, two, three beers, smoke cigarettes, laugh, sing the first songs that come through our minds, trying to understand each other through languages and gestures, looks and mutual understanding approaching us as persons from different past and history, of distinct personalities. Half the people go home and there we are: Marco, Elena, a girl from Kosovo – never have been able to save her name to my hard drive – and I.
Marco suggests going to the Madame Claude at the Lübbenerstraße crossing Görlitzer Park that was formerly a railway station. Completed in 1867 which on the Second World War was bombed and destroyed by the Allied Forces in 1945 during the battle of Berlin; could not be redone, rebuild, enable, because of the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. In the space where you can now find the largest park in Kreuzberg there are still some of the buildings of this railroad terminal, designed by the architect August Orth, where now is located Das Edelweiss, a bar that every Tuesday holds jazz concerts.
Entering to Madame Claude I realise is a quite particular place: the roof is all decorated with tables, chairs, pillows, lamps; a mirror of the ground beneath our feet, all hooked up and giving a feeling that those who are upside down are we, a parallel world, inverted copy of the furniture of the house of a grandmother or of that restaurant of some remote mountain village. I am drinking, talking, discussing, smiling to the new life that awaits me here in Berlin. The alcohol begins to affect me. I think: I need something to eat. “Marco, ho di mangiare qualcosa o cado al terra!” –I tell him-. “Anche io” –he answer-. “Andiamo a la hünerhaus per mangiare un pollo con patate, il meglio di Berlino!” –says very enthusiastic-. Half roasted chicken with french fries three euros and seventy-five cents. Great!
It is four in the morning and Marco and I are stumbling thru the empty streets of a Monday faint night at Berlins end of summer time, going home, after saying good night to the girls, drunk, with a full belly, laughing, with trouble pronouncing words and making sense of what we are saying but, who cares. First hours in town, with an old friend, the first hours of a feeling of a new life that wouldn’t know where would bring me, that’s the point right? Not knowing where you are going or where you are not going, of the new, of the unexpected future, unknown life, different, strange, unsecure… Now what?
A year and a half past: full of experiences, awkward situations, many people, friends, unforgettable nights, alcohol, problems, happiness, colours, party, culture, new spaces, smells, love, disappointment, misunderstood sensations going cross-current, lost in the thoughts of a saturated head full of emotion and illusion. Sensations and experiences that have made me who I am. Thanks Berlin, thanks. Delighted to have known you. Many walls still have to be crossed, jumped, carved thru… And now, welcome uncertain road!