Thursday 27th May, 2010. 11:33pm. Berlin.
Sitting in the loft with bread that’s almost entirely soft grain, cheese, grapes and mint tea. Decided I needed a night in. Took a three-hour nap and my brain kind-of erupted with symbolic processing. Probably my first real chance to decompress since I left Australia.
Yesterday morning I pulled on a pair of pinstripes, a t-shirt and the new leather coat I bought at WGT and met up J and her friend from Helsinki, Marie-Elise (sp?), at Alexanderplatz.
J wanted to check out an area of town she remembered from a few years ago. On the way we passed the Absinthe Depot (Jesus God what a concept), and I almost bought a bottle of…
We found a retro clothing store.
That’s the coat I got from WGT, by the way.
My first attempt at doctoring a shot on a Eee (just cropped it in this case.) I liked the hand study, and the buttons against the black. And the wrist detail on the right.
The girls looked around, I looked around, J found a tie and I found a box of Matteo Dineen art. I think I blew about 30 euro on a few prints.
I went to pay and a guy and a girl were before be. She’d just found a fedora she obviously loved. Paid, bounced, thanked the cashier and skipped out. One thing I’ve noticed about Berlin: people tend to be happier, and take more pleasure in the little things, than they do in Melbourne. Even the kids. They play outside here, they laugh, they’re quite often polite and well behaved. It’s a relief being somewhere where people aren’t lugging around this air of being hard-done by or full of undeserved self-importance.
Anyway, so I paid and left and showed J and M-E what I bought, and then they went straight back in, rifled through the collection and wound up grabbing a few themselves.
We found more of his stuff later that day, and today as well, and in the end I think we paid Matteo’s rent for the month.
After that we headed out and I spotted a couple of small things I considered to be awesome.
The first one had me laughing.
J wanted to find this out-of-the-way cinema, a place that served cheesecake (as apparently German cheesecake is something that needs to be had) and we struck out on both counts, at first. Eventually we found both: the first served by an Israeli guy in a deli while we tried to decipher the wording on a postcard advertising a graduation performance of the local theatre school, and the latter we just stumbled upon.
So we headed down the lane, past people drinking coffee at paint-splattered tables. J noticed that off to the left was a museum dedicated to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind. We went inside. The few almost bare rooms were run by a distinguished-looking gentleman with wire-rimmed spectacles and the most outrageous and ornate muttonchop sideburns I’d ever seen: thick, salt-and-pepper and curled elegantly up toward his eyes like rolls of smoke. He was talking to a young man in a black turtleneck.
The workshop was run during the war, and Weidt would hire blind and deaf Jews in order to protect them from the Nazis. They made brushes and the like for the war effort. The place was mostly-empty rooms containing glass cabinets displaying things they’d made, benches they’d worked at, postcards grateful people had sent back to Weidt…
I’d spent the Berlin leg, up to this point, walking around and wondering about the history. I haven’t been to the Reichstag, I haven’t been to the platz where they burned books. But I saw this, looked around, and imagined sixty years ago men in Nazi uniforms storming the building and dragging a blind family back out through those rooms to be loaded into a truck – probably in the same laneway where we passed people drinking coffee at paint-splattered tables – and hauling them off to Auschwitz. I’ve needed to find a node like that since I got here: someplace ordinary quietly imprinted with hidden importance. Seems more real than any imposing building or over-filmed locale. I guess I just wanted to really feel it and understand that all of that actually happened.
Outside the window of that room you can now see a giant mechanical hummingbird bat/frog in the coffee garden of a cult movie theatre. From here on in it goes from the morbid to the ridiculous, and somehow makes the morbid even more, I dunno, sad or something.
So we left, and went next door to the alternative art bookstore.
Bought more Matteo Dineen art, and saw all this stuff besides:
The shopgirl didn’t seem as excited, though.
Stairwell was cool.
I was quick enough to get this shot of M-E. Pretty happy with it.
We got to the cinema and J found a programme while I photographed the pneumatic bat-frog thing…
… and then joined her inside to find this.
I pretended this was normal and went back to the bat/frog in a courtyard that once was the only view a long-dead blind family had had for four years.
After this we met up with M-E’s friend, went to dinner at a Korean place called Yam Yam, and I ate something wet and black while others questioned my decision. After that we walked to a distant pub where the weekly CouchSurfing meet was taking place. 2 Euro entry donation, then you pay a reasonable amount at the end depending on how much you drank. On the way, however, we passed a stone archway. The archway led to a cobbled entryway between very old stone buildings. Cranking, angry, grindy music was coming from there. J and I looked at each other, asked the others to stop, I got my camera and walked down. This is what I saw:
Getting a little closer I noticed the basement windows were strobing, and a cloud of smoke was rolling out from around the corner.
The crowd gathered were obviously looking at something. The others waited to see what if anyone objected to me walking in. I figured no-one would, even if it was invite-only. I sidled past the crowd, ducked under a branch, turned and saw a small stone stairway leading to a big dark entrance, out of which the smoke was pouring. The smoke strobed, throwing a guitarist into silhouette. I took 40 shots, none caught the flash, goddammit.
It seemed to have just been a spontaneous thing. There was no booze, just a random collection of people listening to this shrieking noise, with the occasional game punter walking down the steps to get a look inside. I went back to joint the others and caught this shot through the basement window.
They must have been a 2-piece outfit. As a completely random piece of performance art, it was a hell of a thing to just stumble upon. And then we got on with our night. Stopped, bought chocolate, got to pub, it was packed, girls got monstered by a regular, I talked to Ann about medicine, vet science, CouchSurfers, and learned that being the one who stays behind is a doubly sad experience because it’s the good ones who always leave and the crap ones who stay. I’d never stopped to think about it.
After a couple of hours J and I headed for home. She left her art prints at the pub, I waited for her a block away. And then something really weird happened.
I had the camera and was looking over the shots I’d taken. I got to the first shot from the performance piece, and I had the overwhelming feeling of having seen that picture before. Then I remembered a dream I’d had in which I was standing on a street like this, looking at this photograph. I remember the dream had had something to do with soldiers, or Nazis, and there had been some conversation about ‘troops’. It was the most profoundly weird, weird feeling. I knew at that point if I looked to my left I’d see J coming back, and that she’d say “Thanks for waiting.” And that’s exactly what happened. I remember that dream.
Anyway, so we S-Bahned it home. Here’s some shots from a bridge near Klaus’.
And these are from the walk home: