How is it? my boyfriend wrote in a text message four hours after I’d landed.
I’d navigated my way out of Tegel. Caught the U7 all the way to Rathaus Neukölln, walked to my friend’s place on Weserstrasse, bought a beer at the Späti and drunk it alone on the bank of the canal, with everyone else doing the same. Then I borrowed her bike. Cycled to another friend’s for dinner. She made spaghetti with blue cheese sauce and caramelised pears, topped with walnuts. I’d bought a Gugelhopf for dessert, and a bottle of Rioja at Edeka.
Berlin will always be the ex I can’t stop sleeping with, I wrote back. We’d been living in Vienna for two months, and I’d said that I liked it just as much. A couple of times, I felt close to believing it.
Sure, my Berlin is changed in the 4 years since I left. But, there’s a special feeling I get when I’m here… I think it’s what you feel, when you feel home.
The next morning I cycled down Weserstraße. I needed coffee. Neukölln has the most interesting bars, and the most committed hipsters. It’s not cheap anymore, but it wants to look it. Angry graffiti artists tagging ugly slogans on freshly painted walls help the cause. I drank a double espresso at a cafe with a coffee cup for a sign. I sat out the front smoking because it was one of the things I did in Berlin. I tried on my German and the barrista actually answered me in German. Before, I just mustn’t have been good enough to fool people. Another tourist passing through. Two people sat inside the cafe. Their clothes looked hard to wear, and difficult to have strung together. All black, but very textured and tight. The girl wore platform boots, and the guy, body glitter around his temples. When I heard them talk, I realised they were Australian. The guy took a call about a festival and the girl redid her pigtails with might. When they left, the guy picked up his bike from out front. It was a pink and white hero, and as he swung his leg over the frame the girl said, “Oh my god, that bike is like, perfect for you”.
Send me some pictures, my boyfriend wrote.
I sent him a picture of a folk singer on the deck at the Maybachufer market, belting out songs to an audience sitting cross legged in front like this was a classroom. Getting high and selling single feather earings for 10 euro. People moved slightly, and smoothly, to the music. Half wore shoes. A thirsty teen drunk orange juice from the carton while he rolled a perfect joint. There was enough to go round.
Another: of my friend on her balcony. In Friedrichshain. Overlooking a park filled with trees. We drank Rotkäppchen and laughed. I always thought it was decent sekt. But it was only 3 euro, and you felt that on your tongue and in your tummy. The sky was blue, the trees were green and her scarf was a lovely pink, and that’s why I took the photo against her wishes. Downstairs, a man played the accordion. It was light even past 9pm. I couldn’t believe she was still here actually, my first friend from German class in 2011. Back then, I hadn’t really realised it was possible to stay. “It’s been a shitty year,” she said. “I had my will to live in Berlin tested. I slept on couches and borrowed money. But I’m here. I’ve got my three year visa. And I knew all along it was worth it”.
Last, I sent a sunset shot from Warschauer Brücke. I’d cycled that track a million times. Over the spree, TV tower in the distance, ugly buildings to your right and left. It calmed me just like that, because it was all familiar. I wasn’t even going to stop this time. Except the sun started to set, and blanche everything pink, and I knew right then that it was that special kind of light that looks very good in photos. I pushed myself against the iron railing on the bridge and felt it’s hard coolness against the shard of exposed skin around my hips. And I pushed in even harder, so I would remember.
It looks amazing, he wrote. I can feel how much you love it in the pictures.
Can you? I asked.