There’s no better way to really understand a place or time than when you are away from it. Currently, I am in an undisclosed location, floating between this world and the next, and free from the regular constraints of time and space. I think back to the past two months, the adventures, the trials and tribulations, all the fucking red meat. It seems like a hundred different worlds, all strung together by memory, and the long Strassen, stretching out in front of me.
Did I mention all the red meat?
Vegetarians of Germany, my heart goes out to you. From Currywurst to Bratwurst, Blutwurst to Weisswurst, Bockwurst to Gelbwurst; these line the aisles of every food store in Berlin. All screaming at the stomach, ‘you will shit horrible for days with us!’ Terrible. The meat is fine. But staring, often times slightly high from Amsterdam weed, at the rows and rows of sausage at Netto like monotonous rolling hills of swine flesh, I can only assume this is what any veggie nightmare would look like.
There are some vegetarian options, sure, but for the gluten free, you, my friends, are in the Devil’s Den. Beer is EVERYWHERE. And cheap, fine beer, indeed, no doubt—truly some of the greatest beer I have ever tasted comes from the Fatherland.
Don’t forget the potatoes and the bread. For you gluten-free people out there, get ready to only eat beets and sauerkraut as your meals. Oh, and the broccoli. You guys can have some broccoli, too, they like that.
These types of Germanic meals says one thing about the people: Fortification. Meat, potatoes, and beer. All you need for the war. Whichever one we are talking about—because with the German people, life is a war. Whether it be to caught in the Wagnerian arms of the Weimer Republic, or the booted insanity of Fascism led from crippling unemployment, to tearing down a walled division between brothers and sisters, Germany (specifically the Berliners) is at war all the time, even if it is with its own history.
I was drinking in Berlin: in Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Mitte, and Friedrichshain. I walked through the maze paths of the Teirgarten, stood at Brandenburg Gate on the 25th anniversary of the Wall coming down. Just after hearing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony live at the Berlin Philharmoniker in full.
It was only in the late hours of the night did I meet the angry youth of Berlin. Some outsiders, boys who had to watch their mother’s cry when the GDR fell. All in one night none of your property is worth anything and your currency is a joke. The West had won. Then there’s the stories boys told me about their grandfathers being Nazi’s. Sitting there on a bar stool right next to me, eyes almost brought to tears. “So you hate me too?” one asked me. I stared him down serious. The last blood relative in Germany had been my grandfather, killing Nazi’s. I said: “You are not responsible for the sins of your fathers.” We drank whiskey on that note. Hell, my bloodline could have killed some of his bloodline. Creepy thought.
There are always two sides to any story. This kid was on the wrong side of history, even before he was born.
By the time Nirvana’s first record was released, some these people were up-rooted, and tossed to the side. Sure, the rich were fine in Pankow. But a whole working class had to leave in 1989, some to Wedding.
Oh, Wedding (pronounced V-edding). Berlin’s Queens. One night I went out with some ‘actual’ German’s. They were fine people, one a psychotherapist, the other, a writer. We all cliqued immeadiatly. Plans were made; beers (endlessly available at the local bodegas) were drunk. Three bars later, all of us ended up at some locals joint in Wedding at 4 in the morning. I don’t have a phone or a clue where I am. At that point, it didn’t really matter. This was one of my first adventures with folks from the country itself. I couldn’t be happier. The Germans have a strange sense of humor and the glasses of beer (mugs, really) came sloshing our way. How strange is their ‘humor’?
Example 1: "schadenfreude". There is no other word in any language that shares its definition. It is the ability to find pleasure in other peoples’ misfortune. I had encountered several instances of this phenomenon while out in the night. Some German locals explained I didn’t ‘look German’, and that ‘outsiders were not welcome’. When I asked what exactly I did look like, the answer was ‘not from here.’
The German new friends I made were not like this, of course. They were gregarious after 12 beers, laughing and telling stories in their native tongue. I just sort of sat there, trapped behind a glass wall of language. Then I realize how much language separates us. All those language classes I ignored in college. I want to know all languages now. I want to become a walking Berlitz.
I go to the bathroom. Pissing, I reflect on my life back in Brooklyn, think about the friends I left behind and people I knew. I thought of the petty dramas. I remember the amazing parties my collective threw. I smiled and zipped up. What time could it be? 4? 5? Did it matter?
I walked out of the bathroom. Everyone was gone.
“No,” I whispered. I went to the door, past the looming locals watching me cross the room. I burst outside. Still dark. But they were gone. All of them, including the strange passive-aggressive Irishman we picked up along the way, nowhere to be seen. I feel the bitter cold chill my bones. My jacket was inside. That was the first revelation. The second was that I had no idea where I was in the city of Berlin. The 3rd—I didn’t have a phone. There was no choice now.
I went back into the bar and one foot in the record scratched. All of the men, large, working men in hoodies and plaid (not the Seattle 90’s version of any of that), stared me down. I go to the barmaid (I can say this gender stereotype of ‘barmaid’. She was a badly tanned woman squeezed into a tight, under fitting Bavarian beer girl outfit).
“Ein Bier, bitte?” I ask. She gruffly points to selection I also cannot understand. I gesture to the first one. She slams the mug in front of me, when I am approached by a burly Aryan who saddles right up next to me. Eyes locked on me, his face sweaty red-pink and twisted, as if he smells something terrible. I do the only thing I can do, still pickled drunk from my disappeared German friends. I turn to him, raise my glass, wrinkle my face the same.
“Prost,” I say. He meets my beer glass with a clank and downs half of his. I down half of mine. It’s like a Japanese showdown, the two warriors emulating each other’s stances before the battle. It’s me or him. And he’s built like a tank, 6’5”, 300 pounds easily. Me, 5’11”, 180. But I am brave.
He starts in, bad pronunciation and all. “No English!” He exclaims.
I smile meekly. He must be referring to the previously disappeared party antics hours before. I remember him leering at us the entire time we walked into his bar. I know how this goes. Hell, we used to play Cyndi Lauper on the regular on The Subway Bar’s jukebox back in the day, much to many of the regulars chagrin. He repeats: “No English. This is Germany!”
I wipe some of the spittle of my nose. Now I get it. Foreigner in a foreign land. I’ve been in Barcelona after Iraq War II. I’ve been to Paris. But never had I felt more like an outsider, and reminded of that fact, than in Berlin.
The giant continues. I get it. I get it. Simply because I was ‘over it’, I break from this man’s tirade (at this point barking at me in German) and go to the jukebox. Music, I figure, is the only solution between the cultures. One of the first records in the juke was Beastie Boys “License To Ill”. It was also the 2nd record I ever owned (the first, “Raisin’ Hell” RunDMC). I pick “No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn.”
The song blares loud. I walk back proud and pound my beer. If this guy is going to punch, this was his last chance. He doesn’t. He takes a moment, listens to the beat. Then he blurts out, right at the chorus: “No sleep ‘till!”
“That’s where I live,” I say in plain English, slamming down my mug. I nod my head to the giant and walk right out into the black night. I don’t know what direction to walk in, or how long it will take. I was going to make it home one way or another.
Till next time: The Final Summation Part Two (The Berlin Edition #5)
THE SINS OF OUR FATHERS.
"WHERE I LIVE."