Faces of Berlin

1 05 2009

Three faces of Berlin…

Following up on my posts about bin hokers and plate hokers, my latest encounter has been with a remarkably verbose drunken lady. Sitting down on a park bench to eat our ice-creams (oh, I love you Berlin, and all your ice cream shops), Jackson and I were approached by a lady dressed in pastel colours and dream catcher earrings. She immediately picked up that we weren’t German and switched to fluent English, this despite the smell of Aldi’s cheapest wine and the type of spirits sold in those miniature bottles, flowing off her breath. Coupled with the collection of bags that she’d dumped on a bench nearby, a gentrified conversation didn’t appear too promising, but – never judge a book by it’s cover. Our newest acquaintance had more than enough sharp observations of the differences in mentality across Germany. The Berlinerish ‘Landkreig’ (no one ever, ever gives way on pavements or opens the door if you are coming through), the peering through curtains and judgement of neighbours, compared to the more open and easy-going manner of Hanseatic area. Of course, living in Berlin one soon appreciates that ‘God knows everything, but the neighbours know more‘.

UPDATE: Jackson just reminded me of the strange joke the lady made about Jackson speaking ‘Egg speech’. Somehow she moved from Ireland-isch, to Eier-landisch, to Egg speech. It does actually make sense: eier means ‘eggs’ in German; but our new linguist found the joke immensly funny for far longer than is usual. 

I’m never sure if people I meet on the streets, who clearly display signs of alcoholism, madness (who are we to judge?), and general dirtiness, spin out embellished stories, or do tell the truth. The lady in the park had, accordingly, sailed around the world many times, and was an accomplished yachtswoman. I’m leaning on the side of believing her, and why not?

Later that day I also had an impromptu conversation with an old Vietnamese man. I was buying Summer Rolls on the spur of the moment on my way home, and the restaurateur started talking to me. I told him I’d visited Vietnam a few years ago, which is where my love of Summer Rolls started. He, in turn, told me his story (which was certainly more interesting than my love of Asian food) of arriving in West Germany decades ago, as a guest student. Apparently after the Berlin wall was erected, and then when the war in Vietnam ended, Gastarbeiters and students from the north of Vietnam were invited to Eastern Germany (the communist connection), and many students were invited from the south of Vietnam into Western Germany. The restaurateur had been an electrical engineer for many years, before starting a restaurant with his wife. I think being a foreigner in Berlin, and recognisably so (I lack the required accent), has made me somehow more susceptible to being approached by many characters wanting to tell their own story. In the true sense of narrative history, everyone has a story to tell, but often no one takes the time to hear. My new friend also gave me some fortune cookie so I’d “know what’s going to happen later”. I opened mine up at home the paper strip read “You will have success on Thursday“. But it was Thursday! So have I already had my success for the day, was it to come in the remaining 3 hours, or come next Thursday? Or on another Thursday, ten years away? Tell me for certain!

Or maybe my success is linked to this:

Another reason why I love Berlin is the chance to meet Daniel Brühl, the face of Berlin, on the U-bahn. I’m 99% certain it was him, and 1% certain it was a spitting-image copy, but as I went down the steps at Potsdamer Platz, he was coming up. It was actually a second or so afterwards that I realized that I might have unknowingly experienced a star-sighting. Oh, missed opportunity! Actually, our eyes did meet….sadly, nothing else did.

Daniel, if you were at Potsdamer Platz at about 7.45pm, then, you know – call me!