Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Berlin -- Kreuzberg at Schlesisches Tor (and my flat) March 2008

A Winter's Tale

It's a good thing that I'm salvaging this blog because it will give you, dear reader, a vantage point from which to view my learning curve vis-a-vis the German language. It will also document my overtures towards German culture and the international scene at large. I will also share with you tales that simply must be true because no-one could make them up.

One recent incident involved a kooky Canadian girl whom I met at a cafe where a lot of Americans were going to link up to the Internet (I found this out after I started going, naturlich). She seemed sympathische at first, but the facade of normalcy quickly faded as I realized I was dealing with yet another sufferer of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It became apparent that this person was never listening to what I was saying, just classically waiting for her turn to speak. But there was a twist: as soon as I tried to give my two cent's worth on any given topic, she would listen quasi-patiently for a minute and then bang her fist on the table and say "No!" like a petulant child, and the subject would immediately shift back to her problems, like a key turning me off...I kept picturing her, hands clasped on ears as if they'd been boxed, shrilly humming Mary Had a Little Lamb: "I don't want to hear what you have to say!"

This got a little tedious, but it was slightly amusing. For kicks I started throwing nonsense words and German phrases into our conversation, and she would just nod as she sat there, never cottoning to the fact that I was spewing gibberish or talking about something completely outlandish. Ultimately she impressed me, though, by dint of her utter lack of awareness of self. How could someone possess such a blind spot? Did I have one which obfuscated qualities only others could see? She was like a steamroller mowing down all and sundry in her path, swatting at those little incoveniences which prevent one from really enjoying Berlin -- like actual Germans.

The piece de resistance was, one night a friend of ours, Ken, another coffee shop refugee (although we all ultimately got internet in our Wohnungs) arranged to meet us at a small Kniepe in Kreuzberg, the de facto liberal heart of Berlin and also the site of the reputedly violent Erste Mai riots each year (Sonntag I saw a man whip out his penis facing street traffic, his big foreskin flapping in the breeze and a strong yellow piss arc stabbing a tree in a park on a roundabout in der Stadt.) It's Ken's last night in town.

So the tableau is set for the night's sturm und drung: one stop west of my flat on the U1, at Schlesisches Tor. Kitty corner from the entrance stands what is known as "The Bar" . Recommended by this gorgeous tall drink of a French guy with cheekbones that could slice gouda, who edits film scripts here in Berlin but moonlights there. Go to the Bar in Kreuzberg, he said. "Which one?" I thought.

F and I traipsed over through a snowstorm. People were everywhere were quaffing Jever or Beck's or Dixie cups full of liquor, 1-Liter Cokes spiked with different concoctions, staggering around the subway. (But Berliners never get too messy. It's a civilized kind of wild.) When we arrived it was immediately obvious that the place was not to F's liking. As I ordered a double Absinthe, she paced the floor, huffing, puffing and harrumphing, fidgeting with her cell phone (I later discovered the nadir of her relationship with technology when I spied her computer in her bed.

"Do you sleep with that?"
Looks at me like I'm crazy:
"I always sleep with my computer!"
Changes subject back to more pressing matters.)

SO she was obviously not having any of this. I am sat sipping on my drink wondering if Ken is getting laid with this girl he's been talking up for weeks, because he really needs to, and wondering if he's bringing any nice German Boys. F then suggests we move to the other room, presumably to play Fussball. But in this room the "White Trash" decor proves too much to take.
F. finally gets hold of Ken on her cell, she's chomping at the bit.

"They're on their way."

When "the guys" finally do arrive, I am charmed. They are all adorable and funny. F's tiny frame leaps to its feet.

"We're going somehere else, I don't like this place" she whines.

Ken's girlfriend says "There's nothing wrong with this place. What's wrong with it?"

"It's too white trash for me! " crows F. I know this really cute cafe around the corner, it's really close, and it's so amazing, I really wanted us to go there." So she has everyone's interest in mind. At this point everyone has already taken off their Jackes.

"Could I please finish my drink?" I say.

The others chime in:

"We are wanted to go dancing, not sit in a coffee shop all night. We are going to the Watergate."

"No, no, I think we should go for coffee, this place is amazing and so cozy!"

The haughty waitress has taken back the menus and we are swiftly out the door and now standing whilst giant snowflakes pinwheel to the ground, sticking to our clothes and tongues. Here on the corner (or as they say in Deutscheland, an der ecke) ensues a battle of wills between the forthright, droll German hipsters and a flaky-beyond-belief four foot nine Canadian-but-born-in-Bangladesh girl.

"Come on you guys, you don't really want to go dancing. Let's just go to this cafe first and then we'll decide. I know you guys will like it."

"Where is this cafe?" someone says.

"I'm not exactly sure, but I know I can find it. I know it's around here somewhere. I thought it was right there on the corner."

"So you can just sense where it is, and you'll lead us all throught the snow to find it."

"I will, you guys, I know I can find it."

Our German hipster friend gives his throatiest, most detached Klaus Kinski: "It's 0:17. This is not the time to go to the cafe. This is the time to start dancing. We are going to Watergate." He turns on his heel to face traffic.

Ken's girlfriend gamely tries to convince F to come dancing. The others agree. F starts stomping her feet.

"No No No! I will not give in to peer pressure! I resent that! People tried to peer pressure me as child and I used to hate it! Do not try this, I will not give in! I'm going now."

"You're really going to go?" says Ken. "That's lame. I can't believe it's my last night and you won't come in and go dancing with us."

"It's just not what I had in mind. I really wanted to go to the cafe, but I won't, I say I won't respond to peer pressure!"

"Uh...OK. Bye." Awkward moment between two people whose Freundschaft has just ended. F. traipses off whence she came, towards the Spree, a huge blanket of snow engulfing the city.

Liebe Meinen Kumpels

I realize this blog as gone completely off the boil, but I been so busy becoming a Berliner ("Ich bin ein Berliner" to quote JFK) I've scarcely had time to check email, much less maintain a blog. Who reads these things anyway? In addition, it was time for the perennial purge of my spring "datebook", the time when those friends who have revealed themselves as anything but must be cleansed from the email contact list. I don't these erstwhile friends poking their snouts in my business...

To be honest, said purge was the result of a personal identity crisis in my art and life which has been a slight blow to my self esteem, I won't go into it here, but I do vow to bounce back bigger and better than ever, my mojo'll be "Me Mark II." I have found great solace in the Berlin art scene, not least from an exhibit at the Hamburger Banhof by Joseph Beuys. Beuys based his life's work on a theory of Creative Capital, which is a democratic viewpoint stating that everyone has the capacity within themselves to create, it's a matter of tapping into that creative energy and life force. It may sound a bit Oprah when I put it into non-academic terms, but I find it to be a very optimistic, non-elitist take on art. So often in the past I have found myself paralyzed in front of a computer because writing is something that "other people" do. I guess the best thing for me rather than sitting around waiting for my muse or for some extrinsic force to swoop down and infuse me with confidence is to simply write without thinking about it. The truth is in there, and how else can one get at and begin sucking on the marrow underneath than by revealing the most embarrassing, mundane or painful incidences in one's life? Only by dint of painful, messy birth can the sublime be achieved.