Berlin is not Japan.
When we boarded the Lufthansa flight the faces were stern and the exchanges were business like, matter of fact. We did what we were told, and felt more like part of a machine than a living breathing group of people with a common purpose. The cold faces and exchanges continued throughout our Berlin visit, except at the bakery near our friend’s house where we were greeted with smiles. Our friend said, of course, they’re not Berliners.
That was Berlin. It came off as harsh and unwelcoming, truly dog eat dog and every person for their self. And yet, radically accepting, casual and liberal, somewhere we should have felt more at home than most places we have been and will go. Whereas in Japan nature crept gently along the stone walls and was neatly contained in the parks of the city, in Berlin it was left to grow wild however it felt, in green spaces between the road and side walk, between cobbles, under trees. The grass was long and reached out in its own radicalism and protest against containment.
Abandoned broken down buildings sprouted trees and colourful graffiti. Small bars and shops moved in to the lower levels below crumbling rooftops. People wore however much or little they liked, in whatever state or colour or fashion they liked. During the day we wandered, wearing as little as we liked and as little as we could, the summer sun bearing down on us relentlessly, the temperature climbing to the mid 30s and bouncing off windows and concrete. In the east the buildings were square, unimaginative and uncreative. In the centres the buildings were new, with very few remnants of the past having survived the wars. At the East Side Gallery, street art and graffiti art told stories of the past that had been built over. The Stasi Museum drove home just how recent that past was.
We sat in parks and walked in parks, alongside the river and beneath the trees. When a gentle breeze blew, the branches let go of millions of tiny yellow flowers, which filled the air and gently drifted down like snowflakes, decorating us. We bought beers at the corner stores and wandered with them in hand, in gentle enhanced bliss, enjoying the greenery and nature that spread all throughout the city. With hands clasped against the hard metal of long overgrown fences we looked through to a fallen tyrannosaurus rex slowly deteriorating on the ground and an abandoned ferris wheel beyond, gently spinning in the breeze, relaxed spirits raising their own beers back at us as their seats slowly turned around.
At dusk the TV tower glowed from across the river. We sat at a vast monument, the darkening silhouette of a giant statue of a Russian holding a baby and a sword towering in the distance above a glowing ember. On other evenings we sat at a bier garten and watched football. We went to a club and danced to house. We wandered the runways of an old airport and drank beers at tables outside the corner stores, makeshift bars that would never exist at home. I loved the casualness and freedom, our company and our experiences, and yet, I also felt trapped and anxious, the uncomfortable past hanging in the air, and everywhere building buildings buildings.
I think my partner was right when he said the city is just so flat, I am going crazy not being able to see a horizon. When we said goodbye to our awesome host and friend, our many other friends and my cousin, the parks and corner shops full of delicious cold beverages, and left for Austria, I truly got what my partner meant. Slowly circling to land in Vienna I could see across a rolling green land, rolling because there were hills, and I felt that good kind of tingling moving up my legs and throughout my body. It was simply just excitement from staring out across an undulating land to a vast horizon of mountains. And my heart sang.