When I first came to Berlin, it felt strangely enough, the most “home” I had been in five years. Having moved to the US five years previously from Moscow, I had not been around socialist architecture since. The first person I met outside of Tegel was a gruff and grey middle-aged taxi driver, who played jovial ABBA songs while swerving through snowy streets. He seemed so familiar, the experience so manageable in contrast to the confusion I felt on Annandale’s strange and isolated campus.
As everyone does in the beginning, friends and I lost direction on our first night on transportation. We were in some S-Bahn stop (I still have never been back to it, and cannot remember where it was in the city, I just remember the panic) comparing maps and exclaiming over and over again how cheap and good our Spati beers were.
Tresor was the second night, 8mm bar the third. I became addicted to walking. Though it was cold and we were always lost, there was always more art to see and vegan burgers to eat. I had no phone plan, and still attribute that lacking to my ability to navigate the city without the help of internet. It took me two semesters to memorize basic German articles, but somehow within months I knew the U8, S2 and 200 bus schedules by heart.
Berlin has transformed into something different for me now. What Katy Derbyshire calls the “sexual History of Prenzlauerberg” , I have experienced as being confronted with “Tombstones of past Selves”. I hear people at parties constantly complaining, “everyone is always leaving“. And, it’s true. Leases rarely last more than a year, friends move and you meet new artists, new confidantes, new lovers at parties you weren’t invited to, fleamarkets you were too hung over to enjoy, but still endured, even thrived at. But each month has a period of mourning, a quick funeral for onesself.
I could give my own “History” tour, but it would be full of the stories that have been retold, recounted, morphed and inflated over the years just as the Berghain myths have. My life in Berlin would seem like a circus.
The thing that stays constant is the rhythm within the city. It was so fast in the beginning for me, unmanageable. But now it’s as if it keeps everything going, an unstoppable current flowing and catching everything surrounding, pulling me into new extensions of life.
This rhythm is reflected in the unbeatable music scene. I’ve gone to swing, salsa, funk and techno nights all in the same week. Berlin is a city that expresses itself through sound. As Katy describes, “dancing on concrete to music made of concrete”. The character of the music expresses the material of the city, the hardness of urban space, the inscrutability of mass movement.
Lastly, Berlin for me is a city of protest. Protest in it’s every day form, in the inherent right to question. Much of this manifests in written artistic communication: graffiti. The photograph below illustrates the canvas of the city, the constant reusing and recycling of materials: all of a sudden, a mattress becomes political, confronting Berlin with its propped-up question.