It has taken me 6 weeks to write a second Berlin post. Beer is cheaper than water and the city pulls me in 100 directions at once. Productivity is difficult; procrastination rife. Then there are moments when you can’t sleep and things just want to come out. After 6 weeks, this took barely an hour.
Its 5.55am in Berlin and I can’t sleep.
It’s been light outside for an hour, and the sugar from the red wine last night has turned me into a morning insomniac. I wake, shower, cook eggs, creep around the apartment while Hon sleeps, and peer out to the grey blue outside, clouds low and moving quickly over the city.
I decide to head out to write. I don’t know if the gates to my studio are open at this hour but I have nothing to lose and am game to try. When I head out, the Turkish husband from next door is squatting by his doorway tying up the laces to his tan worker’s boots that are left on the doormat and smell in the evenings. I offer a tentative “guten morgan” but he either doesn’t hear or isn’t actually awake. I see the Turkish man often, corralling his raucous young kids and even in the daytime after he’s had his first smoke and coffee he seems reluctant about pleasantries. He loads the lift with heavy rubbish bags and by the time I walk down the four flights of stairs the lift is only just stopped, I’m on his heels again and outside he hacks a smokers cough and loads the bags into the skips by the grass near the car park.
I unlock the chain on my bike. The new bike—not the East German fixie with red chipped paint that I bought from a Canadian in Prenzlauer Berg the first week I arrived. Nothing but bad luck from that thing. It had a flat tire the first morning and when I went to pump it up a car pulled into the drive—I twisted my body out of the way of the car just as the heavy fixie tipped over and smashed into its side with dense thud. Four Turkish women exited to survey the damage and frown and mutter for a while as an acid-wash feeling of concern washed through my gut. The women spoke no English, my Turkish was worse than my German but we traded contact information and, later, I saw one of the women down by the dented car chatting to a man that looked like her husband and I approached them both and agreed to pay 100 Euro for the dent. I was annoyed about the money but happy that the matter was put to an end. The man’s name was ‘Aktug’ and I won’t forget his slug moustache or his turtle neck, or his Turkish intensity.
I fixed the wheel of the red bike and for a day or two it was fine to ride along the canal and the streets of Kreuzberg but I when went to use it after that the tire was flat again. I gave up on the red fixie. For the money I’d spent on repairs and Aktug I could have bought a far superior bike, which wouldn’t have cause the drama in the first place. Anyway, my new bike is too small for my large frame but it’s reliable and gets me around and so far hasn’t caused damage to any cars.
This city celebrates the night, and frowns on the mornings, which are deathly silent. Cafes don’t open until 9. For a minute, I question if being up so early is a good decision; if the studio is locked, I have nowhere to go but perhaps the canal where I can write for three hours or so until the first cafes open. The bellows and static of World Cup matches shown at the outdoor bars and clubs of the neighbourhood are dormant now. On the night we returned from France it was warm and exciting in Berlin and everyone was out drinking beer and cycling and it was unmistakable when the first football game of the night began—we knew all about it up on our balcony for the cheers and crowd roar filtered through the night streets as if we were plum in the middle of Rio De Janeiro and not Berlin at all.
I ride with pace down Reichenberger Strasse, over Ohlauer, Forster, Liegnitzer, four blocks to Glogauer Strasse, where the studio is. I don’t use it much, because lately we’ve been travelling. But when I am in town it is a good place to write. It is a desk space in a warehouse shell that I share with visual artists and architects. I turn the corner, ride past the closed restaurant. The deco streetlamps are still on. The gate is open. Glad about this, I ride into the driveway, past the mechanic that shares our drive, deep into the rear courtyard where I lock the bike wheel to a steel girder in the ground, find the main entrance also open, which pleases me more and I walk up the musty stairwell to prize open the heavy iron door to the studio.
It’s even quieter inside, though here it normally is even in the middle of the day. The other artists often don’t come in at all; the architects are all young mothers and spend time with their children at home. In the first week, Hon and I came to meet them all. We were greeted by Raphael, a meek Frenchman who gave a soft handshake; and Laura, a Finnish lady with bright red lips and cerulean eyes. Later, we met Clemens, a serious German artist whose studio is filled with bits and pieces of artistic things spread across tables and pinned to the walls with paper scrawlings and storyboards, meanings of which will only over be deciphered through the complex scrim of his mind. But no one is here this morning.
When I open the computer to begin work it fails to turn on for lack of battery and it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten my charger. I zip up my blue leather jacket and half lock the studio door, return to the stairwell and the courtyard and unlock my bike and zoom home again, up the familiar stairwell, where I know in an auto-pilot fashion that we are on level 4 from the sight of stickers on the apartment door at the top of the stairs, and the Turkish slippers that sit on the doormat on the floor below by the doorbell with the family name ‘Linnartz’. My marking points. After six weeks in this city, things have become very familiar. Berlin is as good as home.
Hon is asleep as I creep in to retrieve my cords and I am careful to edge the door quietly closed and return to the silent morning. Instead of riding the same way I take a left up Lausitzer to Wiener Strasse, which, if you turned left would take you to the Kottbusser intersection where Turkish old men gather by the bank to smoke and philosophise and young Roma women wash car windows for loose change and junkies hold the door open for bank customers in exchange for copper coins.
That’s in the peak of the day though. Anyway, I turn right to follow the cobblebrick bike lane by way of Goelitzer Park, the workplace of hundreds of weed salesmen who tell you they’re your best friend when you come near and offer blunt sales pitches of “smoke? smoke…hashish?” One desperado even tried to sell me condoms once. On balmy Berlin evenings, where the sun refuses to go down and reluctantly does only after 10pm, young people mill in clusters on the slopes of Goelitzer and the smoke of barbeque grills hazes over the park as baton twirlers and jugglers practise skills for show and dog walkers walk dogs and everyone laps up leisure and doesn’t seem to worry too much about things that other places sometimes worry too much about. But like everywhere else it’s quiet now in Goelitzer and there are no salesmen to be seen.
I return to the studio and flick the warm light on over my desk, which is really the door to our loungeroom at home. Our landlord is a Turkish film phd named Koken who offered both the apartment and studio at a fine price and, in the absence of a working desk, supplanted the apartment door. It is sturdy and I feel good working on it.
I pour the first coffee of the day and feel giddy at the great expanse of time before me, awake before anyone, ahead of the day itself. Or so it feels.