It was a long journey. Up at 5.45am. Shower, clothes, out of the door from my mate’s house in Barnet, on the Tube to St Pancras, and onto the Eurostar. English landscape English landscape English landscape darkness for a bit then French landscape French landscape French landscape, which looks pretty much the same as the English landscape on the other side of the Channel. It was only the slightly different road markings that would tip you off, really. Unless you were, of course, aware of the journey’s route, which I would guess all non-baby humans would’ve been. Continental Europe, then. Hello Brussels. Three hours to kill: a wee walk around, a couple of beers, some frites, then back on trains: first to Köln, then to Berlin. I’d wondered how it would feel to be back. I lived in Berlin for around eight years. And this is the first time I’ve been back for over five years. The train pulled into the Hauptbahnhof, all of the passengers got off and the more adventurous of us took the stairs, but most of us used the escalator. Berlin. Back in Berlin. There’s Kamps, the bakery shop, there’s Kaisers, the supermarket. I’m really here.
I got in a taxi. The driver didn’t know the street I asked him to take me to. I told him it was near Mauerpark and Max-Schmeling-Halle. He still didn’t know. I had found the least knowledgeable taxi driver in Germany, it would seem. I told him I could give him directions. It was difficult speaking German again. My brain has two switches: English and Other. Right now, the other that floats near the top is Spanish. My instant reaction is por favor and gracias, not bitte and danke schön. I would find Spanish words for directions, correct myself, thinking, digging deep for the German words. It didn’t help his confidence in my ability to get us where we were going. We eventually got close to Mauerpark, the meter clicked over 15 euros so I told him I would get out here.
It was dark. It wasn’t foggy, but there was the fine fine orange mist of drizzle and sodium lights. This park is where I walked my old dog Billy every day. Every single day, morning and afternoon. The orange drizzly-ness that punctuated the almost silent dark darkness really did make it feel like the sort of familiar place one would see in a dream. Some lads talking and laughing in Turkish punctured the dreamy.
The next morning, I walked around my old neighbourhood, the video store is now a cafe, but the tobacconists is still the same with its revolving Zippo display in the window. Some new cafes, and some faces I recognise walking around the streets. My old apartment, the building is still there, of course, but the front door is a different colour. Leaves all around on the pavement. Starting to rot and go squishy under foot. The smell. And the smell of coffee at Impala, my former local coffee shop. I got a cappuccino for old times sake. It tasted the same.
I pressed the English button on the ticket machine at the U-bahn station, can’t be arsed to try and recall everything in German. A guy asked me for some money. I bought a day ticket, put it in the wee machine that stamps the date on the ticket and stood there. It’s still a bit dreamy. Back in Berlin. The train came, the same smell of train wafts out when the doors open. I get on the train, stand near the doors and the recorded announcer voice says “einsteigen, bitte” and that’s when it really really hits me hard: this is Berlin. And simultaneously a feeling I’d not expected: this is home.
I was smiling to myself when I got off at Alexanderplatz. The station smells the same. Smell smell smell, the best sense. An accordion player played something classical. Beethoven, I think. I walked past him and up the steps and right there, a grillwalker, the dudes who have a sausage grill strapped on. The smell of the sausages, the sound of a Berlin accent asking a customer, “ketchup oder senf?”
I went to the bank, got some euros, and had a look at the Weltzeituhr, a landmark I’ve always loved, continued walking towards the Fernsehturm, and heard a busker playing Under the Bridge, the Red Hot Chili Peppers song. A drunk man was dancing in front of him, arms out stretched. Another drunk guy, with a nearly-empty bottle of vodka in one hand was shouting at the coppers in a parked police car. He flipped them off as they drove away, then kicked a cardboard fruit box.
I walked around Mitte. But i didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just walked, ooh, this street, and, aaah, left here. I was getting sweaty in my coat. Bars, cafes, newsagents, kebab shops, stationery stores. The German-ness, the Berlin-ness, just a bonfire night of senses going on. My brain couldn’t keep calm. I bought a beer at a corner shop. I’d forgotten that they do this, but he asked if I wanted him to open it so I could drink on the street. Yes please. This isn’t Mexico, Craig, you can drink a half liter of Berliner Pilsner whilst you walk back to the apartment.
It’s wonderful to be back.
If the elements of this drawing were symbolic: I would be the stone, the water would be the Atlantic Ocean, and me being able to schedule this post for a time when I will actually be in an aeroplane, well, that’s my trust in the pilot to get me to Heathrow in one piece.
Here they come, with their empathy and being a bit thoughtful about their use of language, the bastards.
I am fucking sick to death of the right wing, Daily Express-reading, UKIP-voting (Fox News-watching, Trump-supporting) fuck knuckles pretending that somehow the concept of using language in a more empathetic manner is some massive lefty plan to suppress their gobs. You can still use those words if you want, ya dinosaur, but you’re on the wrong side of history. If you wanna fight that battle, go for it, but there are better, more important battles to fight than the one that allows you to still call someone a faggot cos that’s what you’ve always called “them.”
Evan Gattis’s head on Tom Jones’ body:
Cal Ripken’s eyes:
José Bautista’s beard-o-clava: