I am standing at a traffic crossing with long, wine coloured seed pods that I had collected from the street near the Berlinische Galerie in my hands. I am not sure what the tree is called from which they fell but the glossy surface is a deep rich colour like old leather and they are each twisted a little, this way and that, and there is a satisfying rattle from the seeds inside. Beside me an elderly Indian gentleman studies them curiously…
“Are you going to put those in your house?”
…he asks first in German then, realising, in broken, accented, English.
“Maybe,” I say, considering, or “maybe I’ll paint them.”
He smiles approvingly and nods and the lights change and we go our separate ways.
Riding the S-Bahn from Warschauer Strasse I am sitting across from a plump blonde girl who is eating a filled baguette. At one stop a man gets on, comes hurrying down the aisle making shooing motions for her to move along the seat and then thumps down before she has a chance to move, shoving her along. He doesn’t look at her, just opens his Swedish thriller and starts reading. She has continued eating throughout and as she slides along the seat she looks at him, curiously, briefly, as if he were some weird animal hardly worthy of her notice. As she loses interest and looks back to her far more interesting roll our eyes meet and she rolls hers and shrugs as if to say…
“Assholes everywhere, what are you going to do?”
…and she smiles and I do too and we go back to our separate worlds.
I love the trains, particularly the old carriages on the U-Bahn, yellow on the outside, heavy silvery handles that are satisfying to turn on the doors, beauty board interior walls, seats covered with patterned plastic like the formica on those 1950s kitchen tables. I spy a baby’s pram on the platform, a shaggy head bent over it. It is only when the head lifts that I realise it is not a mother doting on her child but a homeless man and his belongings.
In a cafe near Checkpoint Charlie I wait for my lunch. I have told them my name and it is so odd to here someone calling for me here in this strange city, to tell me my food is ready. When I leave the sweet girl behind the counter, still busy, takes the time to smile a goodbye. Near The Potsdamer Platz I stop a man who looks like Salman Rushdie and ask for a light for one of my very rare cigarettes. He passes back five minutes later but by then I am with the rest of the group, a rare rendezvous, and he walks on. I wonder if he was going to ask me for coffee.
I visit the lobby of the Westin Grand which was used in the movie The Bourne Identity, so strange to stand in it. I don’t stay long. It is posh and I am not. I have been noticed. But anyway, the whole city is like a location for a spy movie, serious, grey-skied, cold.
I go to a bar near ViktoriaPark in Bergmannkiez. Immediately I am transported back to Ireland 25 years ago. People are smoking for one thing and it is very much a ‘local’ bar. It is my kind of place, relaxed and a bit rough and ready. I settle into a corner with a weiss bier and my sketch pad. Over the next few hours I people watch. I ‘recognise’ everyone. The regulars come in and go to their regular places, hang up coats, pick up newspapers and stand reading beside friends. They chat in pairs and groups and tease new arrivals. Some go after one drink, their regular post work tipple perhaps. Others settle in for the night, comfortable, at home, among friends. Though I stay quiet in the corner the bar man is soon nodding to me, including me in. I too am recognised. I stay for a while but then it is time to go and I head out into the cold night and head for the station, snowflakes whirling about me, spinning from the grey sky.