It is always pleasant to feel at home and for almost four years, Berlin was nice enough to be my home. One of the reasons I am not getting bored by the city – although not always happy with the average offer in terms of money and professional opportunities – is that you can always have something new to do. If enough time and serious advertising, I can probably write daily something new on my dynamic Berlin blog.
When I moved here, I bough a big Lonely Planet guide that I still use it from time to time when I have doubts about different subway stations. Otherwise, I tried to read as many books as possible about the history of the city and of Germany in general, and to go out as often as possible. I dare to say that I know a lot about my newest home city because I paid a lot of attention to the details of the eccentric Berliners, their way of talking and drinking in public and many other things that you will not see in other cities in the world.
The great merit of Oxygen Books’ guide of Berlin is to cover perfectly all the issues, problems, surprises, dangers, wonders and historical memories of the city. In only 229 pages of texts – I must recognize that many authors were completely unknown to me – I went from an end to another of the centuries, from Prenzlauer Berg to Zoo and back at a party in Berghain. The geography of the place is populated with various characters and personalities: journalists, David Bowie and other rock stars, Stasi informers and other spies, historians and historical characters. Many of those I had the curiosity to meet in real life, many of them I am happy I did not have the chance to do it. Take, for instance, this simple description of Dan, 29yo, American, from Ian Walker, Zoo Station: ‘Dan had come to Berlin on a holiday four years ago and never gone home. He was working as a window cleaner and still hoping to become a pop-star’. Dan is one of the many people living in Berlin, waiting for the big leap to celebrity and fame.
Paul Verhaegen’s description from Omega Minor is what this city is all about: ‘The city, quiet and buzzing, beautiful and ugly, is always an alembic close to boiling point’. It may be said about many cities, but Berlin is always boiling, beyond what we usually call ‘normal’ parameters. Oh, normal, it is another word that does not fit anything going on in this city: ‘(…) people who stuck out, who would be labelled as crazy, who were the eternal talk of their small town elsewhere love to move to this city’ (Jakob Hein). This is exactly how Berlin is.
The paradox of the city is that while changing permanently, it keeps the track of the same coordinates. Poverty and hunger and the big number of people relying on social services is a reality of the daily life of many people living here. The same when it comes to the a certain aggressiveness, well described in Doeblin’s Alexanderplatz. And another testimony of the true colours of my neigbours: ‘Berliners have always been famous for their irrepressible disrespect and hedonism maintained through all oppressions and apparent even when I first came to find a city half in ruin’. (Jan Morris)
The guide may look a bit chaotic, but you need a lot of pieces and testimonies before you realize what you are into it when living here. I appreciated the natural way of describing the life from the two halves of the city in the time of the Wall. Most probably it was hard but not as deeply dramatic. With a bit of humour and a strong hammer, any wall, including the Berlin Wall, can be destroyed. In a way, I was a bit more curious to find out more about the secret life of the citizens of East Berlin, but most probably this is the due to my old time communist memories, when the GDR was for us the best place on earth compared with other countries from the ‘Bloc’. One of the mst powerful images by far is that of Rostropovich playing cello in the front of the Wall at the Axel-Springer building.
How would Berlin will look like in 10 years from now? With such a high concentration of artists and authors and freelancers living here, there may be new literary works ready soon. Since the guide was published, in 2009, everything changed here, but the spirit is still the same.