An orgy of swallows swarm over my pre-WWI courtyard every day. From the moment the sun breaks through my blinds, I love listening to them fight and feed. An unseasonable heatwave has seen temperatures reach the early 30s this week. Berlin’s tenement buildings are not equipped for the Anthropocene. I’m not sure we’re designed to work in such conditions.
My flat lies opposite a notorious anarchist commune in Rigaer Straße. Its been described elsewhere as a “squatters Champs-Élysées” with anarchists inked from head to toe running the entire street. As police vans watch them 24/7, the protagonists defiantly hang out banners and clutter the street with mattresses and toilet rims. There are trolleys stuffed full of recyclable bottles, plastic crates operating as seats, and a red Protestant church clattered with Bolshevik bullets.
I’m an invisible tourist in Berlin. Nobody pays any attention to me. Its a bizarre living arrangement in so many ways, but one I will look back upon with intrigue and pride. Like a swallow on a mistimed route, it feels incongruous for me to stay here, with my plain white arms chiming against this riotous display of ink.
I gave Livia a 150€ cash deposit before she went home for Easter. She’s an Italian fashion photographer who divides her time between Rome, Milan, and Berlin. Her flat is rented out to lucky applicants throughout the year. It was the perfect size for me, and I felt grateful to be selected.
I have a fickle fascination with interior design. I am a late bloomer in that respect. It’s only since I moved around Europe that my visual perspective changed. Livia’s place is a tiny artist’s studio with Caravaggio and Don McCullers books nestling beside driftwood, pot plants, and a black vinyl record.
Virgin leaves sing in the courtyard as the first wasp of the year tries to get in. She has bored angels guarding the kitchen door. Her sofa is ruby rouge like a kiss. I sometimes wonder how I would decorate my place. But it’s time for me to go now. To a new place across the street.
Outside I hear the artist rattling her key.
Locked indoors and listening to the sweet cry of blackbirds, the church bell strikes noon. I love the songs of spring.
Ambulances and police vans are wailing in the distance amidst the clatter of twenty-first century life. Alien vehicles warding off death and destruction hour by hour.
Indoors I have two suitcases and a blank page for company. I refresh the screen to avoid working. I am subletting from a Roman fashion photographer. The sun beats behind my curtains as they fly from tree to tree.
Writing from Berlin, I listen to a pianist play a festive melody as the snow settles on Arndtstraße. He plays every day while I type into a mute machine. The Bergmannstrasse area reminds me of Upper Street in Islington with its boutique florist shops. It’s a Christmas card looking for a frame. My book shelves are empty, but I have the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante to complete before the year closes.
There are entire libraries separating me and her prose.
Sitting on the Straßenbahn, I saw The Joker fade into the night. I did not sway from her bloody grin. Her lush cake wound made my night actually. Halloween’s comic orgy lightens the mood as the year freezes to a close.
Every night I see them howling like wolves underneath the railway bridge, forming cross-legged circles and wailing drunken invectives into the Spree. Their brutish chants always put me on edge after dark. My body trembles with fear as I walk past them – the unfamiliarity of foreign darkness.
It’s now almost eight o’clock, and I’ve not eaten anything since noon. I rarely have proper meals unless I have company. I usually forget what I’ve eaten within hours of consuming it. Is that just me? The Balkanisation of fast food has ensured that kebab shops are nearly everywhere. I try to avoid them for undefined health reasons.
I’m on tour this autumn as my constellations live on the continent. With technology as my oracle, I feel compelled to move to stay relevant. To remain interesting. When I walk around I am reminded of how malleable my feelings are and how affected they are by my environment.
I’m currently staying in Friedrichshain, which is like Manchester in the early 1980s – a vast concrete resistance against nature. It’s a former Soviet ideological frontier with an aesthetic brutality to match.
As I frequent local bars and cafes, you notice a riotous absence of decorum in places. From gracing red velvet bars filled with smoke to watching vagrants open tins on the street – the social mores are looser, traffic faster and beers cheaper.
Seeing cigarette packets in grocery stores again is like a cinematic throwback. It forces you to reset your mind to a different period altogether, but it was only a few years ago that the British government banned tobacco advertising in shops.
It then dawned on me that Britain isn’t so liberal after all. You get cleared out of pubs at 11 pm with bells and brooms. Public drinking is tolerated but frowned upon, and in some cities, it’s prohibited by law. If you drink outside of licensed areas, then you are usually condemned to the margins of society.
With the spectre of Brexit looming, I welcome the licentiousness of Berlin and the ugliness of its Soviet zone. For all the grunting noises under the bridge, it feels strangely safer here too. Less on edge than London. For good or bad, I always end up living in a booming dystopia.
On departing Dalston Junction last Saturday, I mismanaged my packing so badly I alighted the Eurostar on the station master’s whistle. My violent, sweating omnishambles of a departure saw my finest cottons stuffed into Sainsbury’s bags and an elderly Australian couple trampled upon at the platform.
Any romantic notion I had of travelling by rail evaporated at passport control. I could barely breathe for stress and fatigue. Everything had gone smoothly until that point – freelance tasks, new clothes, storage, doctor appointments, dentist bills, direct debits, and pub-hosted goodbyes.
My packing mismanagement aside, I loved my continental train journey and miles of leg room. Going on a first-class time machine through spicy red forests, you feel part of something bigger. No longer marooned by shoals of mackerel, herring and cod. Moving over land is the best way to travel if you have the time to spare.
Before I arrived at St Pancras, I had been on standby in an AirBnB flat with bourgeois professionals I will never see again. I have no patience for fake relationships nowadays. London is like Zurich with arts and entertainment; terminally transactional with its rising rents and contactless pubs.
With Dalston now a distant din, I will keep moving forward until I am forced to come back for employment. Now deep into the orange fall, the spectre of Soviet socialism is all around me. I zigzag past the Berlin Wall every day and have frequently got lost since my arrival by train.
I have no idea how I managed to get this far.