December 31st was bright and clear and I was happy to be out walking through the city putting up posters for the language school. Red was making arrangements for a party in our flat that weekend, and I had returned to the Hauptstadt after my gander in the countryside with a renewed sense of vigour, determination and optimism, that naturally fell into place comfortably next to the approaching New Year. It was already a day for new starts, I thought, a day for lists and intentions, and in my head I sketched out my hopes for the year ahead, planned down to the month.
In honour of this spirit and the beauty of the city that day, I came to an abrupt halt on Oranienstraße and ordered a coffee at a good café on the corner there. This café is made in a style that is found throughout Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln, and particularly frequently on Oranienstraße. Oversized antique furniture, a lot of wooden tables, walls either bare and flaking or sprayed with big eyed murals, loud and queer and shouting things such as ‘KABAAAM!’ and ‘Blue Coffee Club, Berlin.’ Shabby-chic, scribbly, lots of magazines and newspapers, mismatched chairs. Hipster Mummies and wrinkled vagrants and dreadlocked cyclists cluster and perch and recline on stools that are too comfortable to be called a box, but smooth enough to be seen sold for a small fortune at a Flohmarkt. The staff are surly, speaking quick German or patronising English, and are sure that there life and work is better than yours. These places are cheap, with good food and serious coffee.
I sat outside and had a cigarette with my coffee.
I then walked down passed Görli and then over the bridge at Schlesisches Tor. A girl from Liverpool had got in touch with me that day, telling me that she was moving to Berlin that day. She had been part of the Easy JetSet coming to Berlin for a while now. She had been to the popup raves and the warehouses and had interrogated me over LinkedIn in regard to which clubs I went to.
A beautiful day to arrive in Berlin.
The city was looking its best. The water glistened a sparkling blue, and the sky was clear and open ahead. It was Berlin at its finest, and coming from the cows and woods of the hinterlands, I drank the city in with revived vim. On the bridge I paused in one of the pockets that stick out from the pavement on the side facing Mitte. It is the view from this little spot here that makes the first segment of the U1 such a delight to ride. Rumbling along in the train, coming out of Warscahuerstraße you can look left over to Treptow and the two giant men wrestling in the water, and the terrace where I had smoked cigars at the office Christmas party. Looking right, as I was no, you get the stretch of the Spree leading into the heart of the city and the brilliant Fernsehturm shimmering like the river in the light. Looking down and right you have East Side Gallery (a stretch of remaining Wall covered in murals and graffiti – shouty, messy and disappointing up close, but nice enough from the tracks) stretching out along the bank, and to the left the little coven of willows that dropped down to the water. Coming out of a club down there before, I had looked out in the misty night and watched the orange trains roll over the red brick bridge, their lights reflected in the water, as beautiful a view as that which they offered.
I dithered that afternoon, moseying about the city, putting up a flyer now and then, and it was until I was on the S7 back to Mehrower Allee that I realised it was actually quite late, and there supermarkets in Marzahn were likely to be closed. I contemplated a New Year’s Eve drinking nothing but Liquor.
It was already dark when I got off the train and the supermarkets were indeed closed. Boys were clustering about street corners and over the ‘meadow’ where I had once see the rabbits dancing, lighting fireworks, sending them into the air or throwing them at the ground to make no more than a sharp bang. Packaging and burnt out remains of fireworks were scattered about the place and over the Platenbuaen the crack and bang and occasional whoosh of fireworks sounded.
Thankfully the little shop just a three minute walk from the front door to our building was still open and I bought some beer there. The family that worked here and the peroxide chuby who worked at one of the sterile bakeries nearby where the friendliest people I met in Berlin, and the old chap at this shop had even once spoken to me in English, straight off, which elsewhere in berlin would have irritated me.
Red had spent the day brushing, scrubbing and hoovering the flat. It now shone like a child fresh out of a hot bath, and Red sat languidly smoking in an arm chair, gazing at me with her green eyes and demanding praise. She looked as beautiful as the flat, which she had managed to transform from a stick scrap yard to something that was now fit to host a party. God knows what she had done with the piles of junk that usually sat about the place. The rabbits were in her bedroom.
‘Ha? So? Good, ja? And you haven’t helped me at all! Now you must sit with me and we play
drinking games until everybody arrives. Until somebody arrives.
Once I had showered we started playing a drinking game, the rules to which Red kept changing in her favour as we went along, leading to me feeling a little tipsy when the first guests arrived.
I was the only non-German there and most of the guests all knew each other. There were probably about 30 people there. People brought loads of food and I met up with eating and drinking and smoking furiously whenever I found myself outside a conversation. Suitably lubed up with alcohol. It seemed like people began speaking to me in and either English of German I began to have a lot of fun.
At one drinking game I remembered drinking ouzo from the bottle, and playing up to the crowd and repeatedly loosing. I kept face, I believe, by drinking the spirit without flinching, while the others spluttered as soon as it touched their lips.
At one point it became firework time and a group of seven or so of us went down to let the first ones off outside the building. Even through the ouzo it was cold. The sound of fireworks cracked and cackled around the city, and the air was thick with drifting smoke. I was handed a firework. I told them that it was my first time as they lit it for me. Just let go when it gets hot, they said. I assumed by ‘it’ they meant my hand. Well my hand didn’t get hot for a few moments, until in a rush of flame it heated fast, the firework roared and tugged itself out of my hand and flew off, upwards but at an wonky angle. There was no letting go involved. I was thrilled by the whole thing, but the others told me that there weren’t enough for me to do another, but maybe later.
At some point, I remember going out on to the balcony back in the flat, looking over the lights of the city, and someone counting down from 10. I do not remember what happened when we got to 1, and how I filled the first few moments of 2014. I was however later outside again, with fireworks again, in the patch of scraggly and that stretched between two clusters of tower blocks. The smoke that came from our fireworks drifted languidly across the grass and about the trees that stood brittle and gnarled about the place. You could not see ten feet in front of you, and when another firework was let off the red and green flashes that lit up the fog was lit a session at Quasar, or some NASA launch. I drifted off into the fog, and turning round saw my fellow revellers, whooping and leaping in the fog. Some hooded and bundles up, others in just a t-shirt and skirt, leaping, and jumping, carolling, and wolf-whistlers. Some held stacks of long fireworks in their hands, other bottles of sekt, I could not identify any of them, they were just black silhouettes, dancing, disappearing in mist and then emerging from it again, as if dancing through a cloud, or drowning in a hour glass.
I tried to call to them, or at least one of them, to come to me so they could see themselves. But none of them heard me and I eventually had to return to them. Someone suggested climbing a tree. I was soon climbing a tree, and then later making my way up to the flat, and then falling into hysterics at the foliage that we soon discovered was clinging to all of us, between our shoulder blades and the small of our backs, and for a long time we clung to the banister of the stairwell and laughed.
Nothing is any clearer after that. My ouzo partner had passed out on the sofa. Someone was being sick in Smokie’s room. I was talking about music with someone and then I was listening to music with someone. I was running out of rizlas but found some more. There was certainly a disagreement about something, and I remember speaking slowly and loudly. I was out of filters, and so began making roaches. I was then out of rizlas again but I was offered straights. Someone was looking at me funny and people were taking the food away. Red was telling me something that I had to remember for the next day. She kissed me on the check, took my lighter and then she went somewhere too.
Bertie Digby Alexander