Recently, I went to Berlin for the first time in my life. I had always meant to go but somehow it had never happened until now.
I first fell in love with Berlin from books and television. It seemed to be a place people ran away to. I have always been keen on the concept of running away. I have been running all my life. You could go there if you were a misfit – poets, gays, trans, musicians, heroin addicts, writers, artists… Belin would take you all. This is where I felt I should be in my pretentious youth – dressed in black, bleached blonde hair and no idea how to make a living. I haven’t actually changed much. John Peel used to play bands from there with amazing sounding names like Einsturzende Neubauten. I saw the film Wings of Desire. Angels hang around the Berlin library trying to save people from committing suicide. One of them falls in love with a woman and falls to Earth. Nick Cave plays in a subterranean club and there is a beautiful, mysterious trapeze artist. Then there was the Berlin Wall which was still up for most of my youth and the long shadow of the war. Berlin: dark, brooding, mysterious, beautiful, tragic… yes Berlin was definitely my spiritual home.
Of course much has changed since those days. The Wall has gone and Berlin is a united city at the heart of a united Germany. I wonder if it will feel different, have a different spirit to the one I imagined in my head. Will it be gentrified, spruced up, dull?
I arrived at the airport and took a train to the centre of the city. The train left exactly on time and was clean and efficient. I looked out of the window, drinking it in. So far it didn’t disappoint. I love railway journeys into cities. You get to see the rear of everything, the unloved places, the industrial detritus, the ripped backsides as Iggy Pop would have it. Berlin’s backsides were full of graffiti, covering almost every surface giving it an old New York kind of feel.
My hotel was in Kurfurstendamm. This was definitely gentrified Berlin with designer shops and broad boulevards. It was like a cross between Paris and London. It was very pleasant but not the Berlin in my head.
I did all the sights: museums, galleries and significant buildings. Old Berlin structures, what is left of them, are beautiful. New Berlin architecture is sharp and funky. The old and new mash together really well.
It was in Kreuzberg I finally almost found the Berlin in my head. This is the Turkish quarter also full of aspiring creatives. It was full of bars, cafes and restaurants, every inch covered in arty graffiti. It was a kind of East London with fewer wankers and less money – and much more street art. This was a place you could get lost in, drinking coffee in cafes with the Bertolt Brechts of the future.
I saw many beautiful young people, carefully hip and stylish, perched on the underground. In middle age people seemed to give up, wear comfortable clothes and let their middles get wide. They were kind of like the British and also not like us at the same time. I felt at home. People spoke to me in German and then switched to flawless English when they saw my confused looks. I felt ashamed of my lack of knowledge. Berlin was full of vegetarian and organic (bio) eateries many of which were cheap which suited me just fine. There were bars selling German beers which were almost like our pubs. Then there were bars which felt much more European. This city was made for me.
I only scratched the surface in the few days I was there. I want to go back… maybe forever. I loved Berlin.