Posts Tagged ‘city-lit Berlin’

city-lit Berlin book launch (London)

In Berlin Wall, Germany, Running on November 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

This Friday will see the launch of city-lit Berlin at London’s Goethe Institute. The anthology is inspired by the atmospheric German capital which has captured so many writers’ imaginations – including mine.

I have been lucky enough to have some of my Berlin blogging included, alongside some pretty heavyweight names in modern literature. The book has been collecting great reviews, and my own modest contributions were singled out for praise in this FT review.

If you’re around – do please come along.


city-lit BERLIN

Book launch
Friday 27 November 2009, 7.30pm – 9pm
Goethe-Institut London, Library (First floor)
Admission free, but please reserve a place by phoning
Tel: +44 20 75964000

‘Twas very bliss…

In Berlin Wall, DDR, GDR, Germany, Running, Uncategorized on May 13, 2009 at 8:57 pm

This is a very web-unfriendly 1,100 words, but parts of it made the city-lit Berlin anthology. So if you have a few minutes…

If not, here’s the several second summary for the time-poor: Berlin is beautiful in the sunshine. Two days ahead of the event, I go for a training/sightseeing run and end up at the border crossing which became world famous on 9th November 1989 when the border gates spilled open and Ossis finally got to see what was on the other side. Life is good.

Two days to go to the Prologue, and I arrive to a hot afternoon in Berlin. Everything is as it should be: the S-Bahn is half empty and its patrons park their bikes and pore over their books and newspapers. €2.10 buys me a hassle free journey through stations that resemble London – on a Sunday morning that is. Even the major hub of Fassbinder fame Alexanderplatz, is quietly civilised and free of any interchange irritation. The U2 takes me to the familiar surrounds of Senefelderplatz in East Berlin, in the super cool Szenebezirk (literally “scene quarter” – think Shoreditch) of Prenzlauerberg. Arriving at the top-rated East Seven Hostel before 5pm, this sunny evening seems an ideal time to get a quick training run in, and simultaneously reacquaint myself with my favourite part of Berlin.

And what a run. Like many things in life, sometimes you have to push yourself to do it, but once you get up and out there, it’s always worth it. Pounding the sunny Schwedter Strasse, past Lidl and heading north along Kastanienallee it’s your quintessential summer evening idyll. The scenesters sun themselves over strong cold beers and strong hot coffees – none of that anaemic rubbish here thank you, and the smoking ban is for Wessis – and mums on bicycles ferry their kids on baby seats or pulling cute articulated trailers that make them look like mini maharajahs.

My feet felt unusually light, and I’m aware I’m running on my toes without having to think about it. Past the Kino (cinema) which is showing Joy Division this evening; then Morgenrot Cafe with its ‘pay what you can afford’ brunches; then left on Oderberger passing the retro and thrift shops that scatter their orange and brown kitsch-cool debris as if the pavement were just a natural extension of the cluttered inside.

Crossing the road on a red light, which immediately marks you out as a non-German and causes both frowning and bewilderment (“Why would anyone cross on a red?”) and it’s into the Mauer (wall) park. On May Day it’s best avoided as anarchists and those left behind by gentrification let off steam, but tonight it’s a picture of metropolitan delight as lovers, friends and bookworms range themselves along the south facing slope, soaking up the sunshine. Somewhat incongruously, two riot vans rest at its edge, but it still puts me in mind of San Francisco’s Mission Dolores park. Berlin is so far the closest I’ve found to the SF vibe in Europe; after a fantastic few months in Norcal’s glorious capital, it’s my metropolitan yardstick.

Passing a teenager who riding his bike, backwards, standing on the front wheel; I weave my way through the parents trailing microscooter mayhem behind them. Some people don’t get running; but on a night like this, the buzz is huge and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. After a sprint over a runway-like patch of concrete, I decide to push a little further west and see where it brings me out. I love the light at this time of day, and the angular shapes of the park’s landscaped stairways form sharply defined intersections of sun and shadow.

Before I know it, I’m over a big junction, railways lines shining in the bright light. In the distance I can see a fairly ordinary looking grey metal bridge, but a familiar one at that. A few months earlier, I had crossed this bridge on a Mitfahrgelegenheit (ride share) trip from Jena. Our driver was a German who had finished his GDR national service only 10 days before the Wall fell. On the famous night of 9th November, less than a fortnight after being released from the very army that was supposed to defend the border, he’d danced on top of the Wall with thousands of his ‘Genossen’ (comrades) as they celebrated the beginning of the end.

In a few minutes I’m there, on the Bösebrücke. This bridge, part of Bornholmer Strasse, became famous on that night in 1989. Besieged by a mob who weren’t violent but weren’t taking no for an answer, frazzled border guards opened the gates to relieve overcrowding. Before they knew it, 20,000 impatient Ossis had streamed through (video) after that afternoon’s famous governmental gaffe. Pressed by journalists as to when the (just announced) loosening of travel regulations would come into effect, a hapless government spokesman could only muster a response along the lines of “Er, now, I suppose?” Cue border bedlam.

If Himmler exemplified the banality of evil, perhaps this represents the haphazardness of history? Or the idiosyncrasy of the iconic? Still punning in my head, it was time to head back through tree-lined streets in an identikit housing estate as old couples shuffled along to the Imbiss on their evening constitutional. Crossing Bernauer Strasse, there was the Wall information centre where black and white films show that fateful day in 1961 when Berliners woke up to a city cut in half. On this street, desperate old ladies jumped from three or four floors up as people held blankets to catch them. Morose bricklayers soon sealed the windows, as Ulbricht’s ‘anti-fascist protection system’ took shape.

Nearing home I pass the Zionskirche. It’s stunningly silhouetted against a blue sky so pure that nothing could spoil it, nothing that is, save the dust spots which have recently appeared on my point-and-shoot’s sensor. Unlike Paris cafes, there is no sitting outside surcharge here, and Kapelle’s outside tables are doing a steady trade tonight in contemplative bohemians. Leaving the pensive sippers behind, I spot a remnant of pre-yuppie Prenzlauerberg. Standing outside a defiantly unfashionable corner bar, four men in dungarees and labourer’s fatigues stubbornly cling to a table, like limpets fighting the tide. Wave after wave of wealthy westerners have radically changed the face of this former GDR worker’s quarter, but in a place where people once used newspapers to stand in for the curtains they couldn’t afford, some trace of tradesmen lingers on.

There is a final curio to be contemplated as I approach the hostel. Stepping out from a modest hotel are five middle-aged men and women in traditional dress, Lederhosen and all. A festival perhaps? Or a band? I have to ask, and discover they are from Bavaria, come to visit the Bundestag. It seems the most natural thing in the world for them to be stood in such a fashionable area in such distinctly unfashionable outfits. I tell them about the Grenzlos Laufen (Run Without Borders) I’m doing and they look politely disinterested. But the endorphins are flowing freely now, and unbowed I walk the few doors down to the hostel. Time for some carb loading in Asia Stubchen, the cheapest and best Thai restaurant on Kastanienallee. Very bliss indeed. © Simon Cole 2009

2019 update: in my excited haste to get the words down of that thrill of a jog around Prenzlauerberg, I confused – or deliberately mashed up (?)  – Wordsworth’s quote about the French Revolution. And now it is immortalised in print, in the Oxygen Books title City-Lit Berlin. The original line was of course:

Bliss it was in that dawn to be aliveBut to be young was very heaven.’