Friday 4 October 2013

Ich bin Fremd hier #2

I spend the day time wandering about the city handing out my CV (Lebenslauf, ‘life-run’, in German) with my big map from the hostel, walking into Irish pubs and English bookshops and other hostels with big maps, often swapping mine for one of theirs when it begins to tear from constant folding and unfolding and stuffing into pockets. I return in the early evenings to the colourful hostel where I make a sparse tomato and cheese salad in the kitchen, and scrounge about the ‘Free Food’ cupboard to see what I find to add some variety. Other backpackers crowd into the kitchen around me, making elaborate meals with herbs and cinnamon sticks and prosting drinks and trying to remember what it was that was said in Amsterdam. People walk around shoeless and wear pyjamas and hoodies sporting ‘Melbourne Rowing Club’.

Unsociably practising German in the mornings I attempt to make up for this in the evenings, joining the card circles and smoking out on the hostel terrace and clinking beers in the ‘chill-out-area’. One evening out on the terrace, during a mass game of Shithead, Sam and Sammy appear from the kitchen. They tell us they have just woken up after getting back from Berghain at 2 o’clock that afternoon. Sam - a cockney Jack-the-lad type who smiles cheekily at everyone and they smile back bashfully and a little dazzled and watch him as he flits about the room, ‘Alroight lad, hows it going, what’s the crack?’ - and his girlfriend Sammy - with long curling hair and big glasses that magnified her eyes, making her look like either a nerdy toddler or old spinster, or a loveable, pretty insect -  a couple fresh from A-level results, who arrived on my third day and took the bunk bed in the corner of the dorm I was in.

They are a kind of sensation in the hostel. The night before, as I look over at Sammy surrounded by a group of girls from Canada, the squat lesbian sitting next to me spits into my ear– ‘they only like her because she is sleeping in the same bed as him!’ And she jerks her head over to Sam who, with a rollie held lazily between his lips, is teaching a group of guys a card game called ‘Jack Spaniels’ Cookie Jar’.

The ripple of anticipation that spread across the terrace when the two appeared bubbles into a flurry of wonder as space is cleared for the drowsy couple and questions are placed before them. I hear little of their answers as the squat lesbian is at my shoulder again: ‘Berghain is nothing. Kit Kat Club is where the real action is. And I’ve heard of one next to that where you can lie in a bath and get pissed on. Shit as well. People save it up during the week and bring it in a lunch box …

I head inside to grab another beer from the fridge and fall onto one of the bright orange sofas. I haven’t been there long when three figures enter the hostel; all heads turn to them as they enter and there is the palpable yet subtle sense that the carefully managed equilibrium of the hostel has been broken. The first one of the three, a tall guy with coiffed hair and little black eyes, whispers something to the receptionist who merely twitches her eyebrows and gives him a bored nod before turning away from him. He leads the two girls behind him towards us, strutting confidently and flashing a great ivory smile. The girl on his right has bright blonde hair, and is dressed all in black, with a black Russian winter hat and furred collar. The second girl is short and square; she has brown hair that falls about her shoulders in great curls and has the eyes of basset hound. She is wearing a tight coat and small like black elf boots that appear to curl up at the edges as if they have been left in an oven, and ivy-coloured tights that complete the look.  Each of them has a shining, laminated card hanging down from their necks.

The leader introduces himself as Leo, working with a company that runs Pub Crawls every night in East Berlin. ‘And we are the only Pub Crawl to do that! We take you partying in the East; and the real Berlin is in the East.’

Common along the backpacker trail, I had a friend who had worked on a Pub Crawl in Rome, before it was shut down when one unfortunate punter fell into the Tiber. They are surprising popular. I remember coming across a Mexican lad in a hostel in Liverpool who had been travelling across Europe and hadn’t gone out except upon on one of these organised pub crawls. This was what he planned to do in Liverpool as well – indeed, it was the thing he was most excited about - and I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t think there was such a thing there. That is, unless he didn’t mind waiting a couple months to traipse about town with seven people from the University of Liverpool’s English Society dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland.  

Camp Barry from Cape Cod next to me asks Leo where it starts and he sits himself down next to Barry and taking out a brightly coloured flyer begins pointing towards bars and clubs and pictures of people smiling open mouth into cameras amongst gawdy lettering in bright colours. Stationed behind the flinching Barry was the basset hound who repeated what Leo said in short staccato phrases in a strong Slavic accent. ‘East. The Best. Good time.’ And she slaps Barry on the back. ‘To the East!’

The girl in black sits next to me. She lights a cigarette and stays silent for the next hour, smoking cigarette after cigarette looking bored and pissed off. Leo and the basset hound slink about the hostel.  Leo laughs loudly with the guys and grins at the girls, leaning towards them and bouncing his eyebrows up and down. He is largely received well. Only once I see him approach a fat American at the bar who looked like he’d rather live in a video game, and snaps at Leo shrilly, ‘I said ‘no’ man you’ve already asked me!’ The basset hound slaps both the girls and the guys on the back and drinks a few pints herself and releases war cries and beats down upon the bar, whooping and cheering and grabbing wrists attempting to drag possible crawlers to the exit.

Game as the next foolish punter, I joined Barry and the rest of the motley crew from the hostel – two giggling Swiss sisters, four lads from Manchester wearing shining button up shirts and jeans, three brash girls from Sydney and lolloping Jann from South Africa, who sleeps and snores in the bed next to mine – to follow Leo East. Arriving at the first bar we realised to our surprise that Leo and the two others were mere minnows in comparison to Garth, a great sperm whale of an Aussie who was to be leading the tour that night. As we approach he shouts out, ‘Alright guys! Where are you all from!’ A few of us tentatively call out our home cities and Garth takes us through the night: three bars, one awesome club, free entry, free shots with every drink, litre cocktails, a sheisha with the fifth drink you buy, beer-pong! Flipcup! €12 and unlimited return!

The first bar – the ‘techno lounge’ - was so small that our group almost filled it out, and later it was bursting as catches from other hostels were reeled in.  I get a beer and drink my free shot – neon and weak – and sit down to talk to the Swiss sisters. I ask how long they are in Berlin and when they arrived and what they think and what they do back home; I turn to my other side and I ask a Portugeuse girl the same and she asks me in return. After about three quarters of an hour here we head on.

‘So we are leaving Freidrickhain and heading into Kreuzberg!’ Garth is yelling from the front. ‘We are effectively crossing the border from East Berlin to the West! In this bar, I would highly recommend, the ‘Adios Mother Fucker!’ You will be well and truly - hammerfaced!

A flutter of excited voices rises and falls at this last announcement and we cram into the bar and like school children lining up for lunch we form a queue and obediently each order an ‘Adios Mother Fucker!’ And we sip away in the second bar which looks like a sterile sushi restaurant as the barwoman squeals out: ‘One ‘Adios Mother Fucker’? Four Euros please!’

Into almost empty bars we paraded, led by Garth. Those few already in the bar, sipping a cocktail at the bar or talking quietly in corners, looked up in surprised horror at our arrival. This turned into a disdain mixed with a slight shamefacedness at being caught in such a place themselves. At the third bar I notice that the three that picked us up from the hostel have disappeared and I wonder how long ago they left. There is no time to ponder on this though because Garth is yelling out the rules of flipcup. We shuffle ourselves into teams and give our names gleefully to Garth who yells them out with a hoot of laughter which we appreciate and then we play. It is all laughter and drinking and good fun, except for one quiet girl from Belgium who is unable to flip her cup and this sends her into a hysterical breakdown and she rushes into the bathroom to the sound of the roaring victorious Manc lads who celebrate by downing the unflipped cups of the vanquished Belgiums.

Then onwards to the club which is a blur of Pitball and discolights. At one point I remember seeing Garth bouncing by in the crowd a huge smile on his face as he disappears into the throng. Too many hours later I find myself back at the hostel and bump into Joseph and his girlfriend fresh from Paris.

‘How’s the job hunt going?’ I ask him, leaning up against the door to my dorm.

‘Ah!’ he let out a panted ejuaculation.

‘Job hunt!’ his girlfriend said, turning to him. ‘What? I want to go home!’

‘Yeah … that’s not really happening,’ Joseph says. ‘The whole not speaking German thing …errr … but another time ... How’s it going for you?’

I told them about my fears of Social Security numbers and flats and the refusals and rejections I’ve received so far. ‘I fear that I may be going home too.’

‘Not true!’ the girlfriend shouted out. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way!’ And she whisked Joseph off and out of sight. I go into my dorm to get a jumper. As I enter angry voices fall silent. It is dark and late so I don’t turn on the light but I can see two figures sitting on their bed in the corner by the window, silent, and waiting until I leave the room.

The terrace is as busy as always. I manage to find a chair squeezed up against two Aussies.

‘The reason I haven’t told you before …’ the smaller one is saying, with his head hanging.

‘Bro, you can tell me anything,’ the big one cuts in.

‘I know, man, I just haven’t because –‘

‘Anything man. You know I won’t judge I’m just here to listen man. Just to support.’

‘Ye, I know, and that’s why-‘

‘But bro don’t say anything you don’t want to say, I don’t need to know anything…’

‘Yeah, I know-‘

‘Only what you’re comfortable with man …’

And this went on for a while until to my surprise – and I believe that of the smaller one – the bigger suddenly burst into tears and fell into the other’s lap. His knees were quivering up against mine and I could hear him mumbling, ‘I’m sorry man, it’s alright, I’m OK …’

And then as quick as he had collapsed his head snapped up and he leapt onto his feet and cried. ‘C’mon! let’s go get fucked!’ And they were off.

Bertie Digby Alexander
Berlin 2013

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