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Berlin - fishing for inspiration

Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg

 www.see-berlin.de Hannelore Fobo <halo.fobo@t-online.de>     >>english page>>

Fishing for Inspiration ....... by Peter Reiling   ........ pictures: Hannelore Fobo

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Oranienstrasse
Oranienstrasse
Engelbecken
Engelbecken
between Kreuzberg and Mitte
Wagenburger
Wagenburger
water lilies in Tiergarten
water lilies in Tiergarten
Oberbaumbrücke
Oberbaumbrücke
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I was having breakfast on my first morning in the city; all you can eat for under 3 euros. I’ve come to Berlin without much money and a romantic notion of the bohemian lifestyle here which disguises the fact I’m in a foreign country with absolutely no idea how to speak German. The blissful throngs of ignorance often lead me in to these somewhat precarious situations.

“So what do you think my chances are of getting a job out here, not knowing any German?” I asked my friends who’ve been living here a while. They mentioned an American style diner in town. Already my face dropped, thoughts of another generic burger joint, full of manic chefs, pissed off waiters, burly backed porters grunting with the eyes of hounds, salivating like feral dogs over the swill and garbage. I’ve been there before, and I know the score. Sure you can lick the boots of white trash any where in the world, and you can see the queues of beat up desperados strung around the block, waiting to knock on the door the moment you leave. However, a timely interruption came to my grinding cogs as I was arranging the salami and brie in my Brot, having just returned from my third visit to the buffet.

“Where are you guys from?” This girl I’d already clocked, she had a cute friend who’d just spilt her latte over her jeans and the black Gothic fonts I like so much that they print on the newspapers and bottles of Jägermeister.
“London.” I told her. Navigating herself around the puddle of hot milk and coffee she said:
“You know, my friend worked as a Tour Guide here. You must speak fluent English but that is no problem for you guys I think, yes?” I liked the way she said yes at the end, turning her statement into a question that revealed for me her sincerity, she wanted to help; and this after I’d already been given directions to the bus stop from a stranger. I hadn’t even asked the guy. From the Big Smoke of London I’d just left behind, this kind of communal consideration and social civility was a shock to me, and all amidst the calamity of steaming milk and coffee, indiscriminately wetting shoes!!
Thanking her for the info, I left the damp patch in her jeans to dry and sent out some enquiries to a few of the local tour operators. I figured I’d hit a nerve when the first response I got told me that anyone can be a Tour Guide in Berlin: ‘that’s the problem!’ So the second thing I learnt about Berlin is that most of the English speaking tour guides probably have little more knowledge than the tourists, follow a pre-destined route and churn out the facts by rote, the first being that the people here seem pretty willing to help out the new guys.

You don’t want to do that, I thought. Instead of churning out facts like a machine and making sure everyone gets their shot of the fake American soldier standing in front of Check Point Charlie, why not take up this challengers gripe and give people the low down on a New Berliner, lost in town. So this is the way things happened for me on my first week here in town, trying to get a feel for the place and endeavouring to get a job so I can stay and stroke the Bear a little longer.

I still don’t know who this guy Craig is but I found his list, floating around the cybernetic ether one day, seems like a hooked up guy, got connections all over. Ashleigh was looking for someone to help out with her dainty pastry shop in Prenzlauerberg. Brendan needed someone to be his arms and legs, walk the dog, do the house work; he was disabled in a car accident.
Rather than line the pockets of someone else’s trousers I thought it might be good to work for someone who actually needed my help and would hopefully appreciate it. But I needed wheels. I knew I could jump on a bus or a tram to pretty much anywhere but I wanted to save a few Euros and besides, I like using my own steam. Within a few days I’d found a flea Market in Mauer Park and managed to pick up a bike for 40 euros. Squeaky pedals and a seat made for masochists didn’t make it the deal of the century but this was my new trusty steed now and I was relying on him to get me places.

Next day I set out for Brendan’s place over Charlottenburg way. Riding through the Tiergarten Park I passed the Soviet War Memorial. An over life sized, tarnished green hand bore down on my head as my eyes met with the metallic gaze of a Russian soldier; his size and strength appearing to symbolise defiance against the German National Socialist state. Black and white photos of the memorial standing amidst a barren and desolate landscape wiped out the sweet smell and intense colours of Autumn and left me feeling cold.
A tacky golden angel called the Siegessäule stands at the centre of the Tiergarten. I thought it looked like the kind of kitsch ornament you see on your grandmother’s mantelpiece when you go round for tea on Sundays.
Turned out the gig with Brendan wasn’t for me. I can’t understand why some people feel the need to make life so complicated but this guy’s list of, shall we say idiosyncratic, demands, made me feel as though I may end up developing an obsessive compulsive disorder all of my very own.

Waking up with a new found excitement in the air (I knew my trusty steed was waiting to take me more places) I got up and headed for Kreuzberg. There was a cold nip in the air that day which made me feel glad I was wearing my newly purchased, padded lumberjack shirt. For some reason it made me feel more like one of the locals. Rolling down Petersburger Strasse my new wheels spun clear and free on the cycle lanes that navigate the city till I reached the Oranienstrasse where I stopped for a coffee.

I’m sitting on the Heinrichplatz, but all the people are on the other side of the street; I thought it would give me a good vantage point to watch the walking hubs. Two feet cross the road in front of me with one ankle that won’t bend making her foot look heavy and fake. Old time musicians walk the streets with their shades and strings, looking for the next gig and the sun to peek through the rain again. Black letters on the building opposite confuse me with their double dotted O’s and 5’s hanging off the S’s like they’re fishing for inspiration. An old Berlin hippy rides by with golden leaves and branches strewn across his handlebars, the same colour as his gold silk trousers. Graffiti tags and street art delineate the structure of the streets, an indiscriminate web of fonts and colours, soundbite visuals marking the territory of hedonistic dogs, cocking their legs. The words make me hungry so I head toward the Turkish corner by the Kottbusser Tor where the smell of Falafel and Kebab coats the air with juicy fat and the Turkish pizzas are 1, 50 a pop! Outside the Kaiser's, beggars and cripples line the pavements with their supplicating hands and 25 cent bottles of Pilsner.

I start to think that all the depth has been replaced by surface, yet there is depth to the surface. I feel the freedom of this place, its contradictions, superficialities and above all, a sense of liberality and existential acceptance. I’m here to feel it; my curious eye following the sporadic emanations of my pen. Human packs stampede the slabs with their badges of inclusion like the top hatted group of Bavarian hunters that just walked by with their twisted pine carved walking sticks. There’s a feeling of contentment here that underlies the grunge, an awareness of society coupled with an acceptance of confusion and non-conformity.
Turns out the dainty pastry shop in Prenzlauerberg liked my muffins and I’ve got myself a little number cooking cakes on a Sunday. It’s a start and enough to make me want to stay here a while longer, roam the city some more and write it how I feel it.

© Peter Reiling, 2008

 





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