Impressions – 50 Shades of Dirty Snow

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Winter isn’t just coming, it has arrived.

I never was a big fan of winter. My body is badly isolated by itself.

But ever since I started living in this city, I truly started hating it. Not just because winters are colder here (they are….). But how it transforms this city, its people. Hibernation strikes. People hurry from the metro stations to the next warm place, and don’t stop to talk or look around. They look at the ground, to plan their next step without slipping, and don’t smile or are open for their surroundings.

The city I lived in before I moved here was grey all year around. Grey sky, grey river, grey buildings, grey people. In Berlin, with all its parks and trees, and its inhabitants who love living outdoors, the difference between summer and winter is huge.

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A splash of color on the Boxi Sunday Flea Market

Snow doesn’t stay white in a big dirty city. And in a poor city, it isn’t cleaned away either. So it turns grey. Light grey in the parks, since smog and soot is everywhere, thanks to the traffic and the coal heaters. A darker shade on the sidewalks, where it mixes with the gravel. Almost black on the roads. Or it turns red and pink, where the remains of new year’s eve fireworks are still hidden underneath. Or brown and yellow, since there are a lot of dogs in this neighborhood.

I remember one winter, which lasted for four months, when at Easter, it finally started thawing. And slowly, under layers of snow and ice, the confetti of New Year’s Eve resurfaced in front of our house. When the never too fancy smell of this city became even worse, since four months of dog shit and piss thawed out in a few days time.

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Heaps of snow on the saddles of the bikes in my backyard. Nope, no biking in Berlin Winters

I remember my first winter here. When in October, after I peeled off layers of isolation when arriving at a party, a friend of mine (after giving me the nickname “Onion” because of all those layers) asked, “when do you stop riding your bike?” I didn’t understand the question.  “What you mean, when? Till what time at night?”. He sighed, and asked again. And I still didn’t get the question. Till he reworded it: “When is it too cold for you?” I laughed. I’m DUTCH. There is no weather where we stop riding bikes! Until my first winter. When, stubborn as I am, I kept trying to go with my bike. With. Not on. I spend one winter pushing my bike through the heaps of snow the city workers shoveled from the bigger roads onto the bike paths. Or tried to maneuver the wheels of my bike without falling off through the frozen tracks cars made on the smaller roads. I gave up after that first winter and went native.

But there’s plenty of people stubbornly refusing to admit winter has arrived.

Almost every small cafe still has tables outside. With ashtrays, candles and blankets. You see people trying to eat their food with gloves on their hands. The cutlery is just too cold to touch with your bare hands.

At a traffic light, a senior citizen is stuck in the snow with his wheelchair. I help him get unstuck, ask him where he wants to go. And end up pushing him over the icy sidewalks full of “false tracks” and through a park to his nursing home. How the hell did he manage to escape his nurses and get as far as those traffic lights? “I never depended on anyone” he grumbles, admitting defeat.

Also in the caves we huddle in, hiding from the cold and the grayness outside, the beat goes on…

At the foodsaving brunch, an small (smaller than me!) older guy with a very interesting face folded into itself, with a cap too big for his head protecting his ears and wearing at least two jackets on top of each other, takes some of the vegan potato mash. He puts in his mouth, munches, stares for a minute, munches again. Comes up to me. Accusing look: “Is there mustard in this?” Erm.. I don’t know. Could be. We don’t make the food, we only redistribute it. He groans, hands me his full plate. “I hate mustard”. I point out there’s plenty of other food, he should just watch out with the chili-sin-carne, it’s pretty spicy. He groans again. “No teeth” he mumbles, looking down to the floor. Well, that explains some of the interesting folds. One of the other guests overhears the conversation, opens her bag, takes out one of the boxes with food she packed for her kids, and, without a word, fills a bowl with rice porridge and hands it to the guy. His smile is worth millions, even without any teeth.

A guy walks around the place barefooted, leaving little puddles of melted snow. Now I do know some people who, out of principle, go without shoes, and walk barefooted 7 out of 12 months (and somehow manage to avoid all the broken bottles or still burning cigarette butts). But this is mid-winter. When even the hard-headed fundamentalists of the callous-feet-church, abandon their faith and start to be practical. So I speak to him, and tell him about the free shop, where there might be shoes his size. He tells me this would be very unlikely, his feet are size 47, shoes that size are not common, and yes, pretty expensive. But I shouldn’t worry, he does have shoes, they just need to get dry again, and points to one of the tables, where underneath, some really worn down sneakers and a pair of socks are standing close to five candles next to each other.

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Pigeon Nest in winter. Its inhabitants went for warmer places.

People tend to stay at the brunch far longer than in summer. Long after the food has been eaten or packed. Quite a few of our guests don’t really have a choice about staying indoors or go outdoors. In a strange way, it improves the atmosphere. People tend to talk more with each other, socialize. But I really feel sorry for one guy who fell asleep on a couch, and who I had to wake up and tell to go outside, because we have to close the place up again.

It’s winter.

By now, rain has come. The last remains of ice slowly melt away. I can’t help myself. At every corner, I test if there’s some lose ice, and kick a brick of dirty snow on the road, so it melts faster. Can’t help myself. I hate the winter in this city.

But it will snow again. Snow which will turn grey, black, red and yellow. Just not green…

Blurp – The Door to Summer

Just like the old tomcat in Heinlein’s book
I’m desperately looking for the door to Summer…

*sighs* & remembers the sound of crickets when hiking up a mountain with 37 degrees celsius, the smell of hot steel enjoying breakfast & a good cop of coffee in the sun on deck of my favorite ship, the relief of a breeze standing near burning asphalt when hitchhiking or just the feeling of the air on a warm summer night in the local park…

Impressions – Random Snapshots of Humanity

Random snapshots of people in a big city’s underside – how human we are…

  • Mummy takes her little son along to the giveaway shop to bring the toys she sorted out. He sees a box with toy cars to be given away on our shelves. Shouts out: wow, those are exactly the same cars as the ones we have at home. Mum tries not to look guilty. She was here last week too to bring stuff and secretly unloads another bag of toys behind his back.
  • Foodsaving brunch. A guy with bad teeth and probably no money to spare loads up his plate, and fills a container for a friend. First time here, and he thanks us so much: his housebound friend only gets 10 minutes a day for household help, barely enough time to warm up a microwave meal. And finally he can bring his friend real, good, food. He’s so happy, not so much for his own plate, as for the tasty food he can bring his friend.
  • A homeless guy has taken up residence on one of the wooden benches in front of the free shop. No matter how much we try to convince him to come in and get some free hot tea and cake in a warm place, he proudly refuses, and rolls up in his sleeping bag. The evening before I had a little chat with him. He enjoys the clear skies and the stars, even yes, it is actually too cold to sleep outside. One of my colleagues tells me, the only offer he actually took up, was the offer of the house to take a shower. When I leave the giveaway shop, there’s loud snoring coming from the sleeping bag, and I notice someone passing by has covered his sleeping bag with another blanket.
  • A team of people comes in half-frozen through the wet snow for the hot soup at the foodsaving brunch .They just organized a friendly football match with a group of refugees who just arrived in the neighborhood,. One of them asks me in the kitchen if it’s ok if the refugee team joins us for the food too. Of course. The only problem is, just one week ago, when the foodsavers found out about the shelter and started bringing food to the refugees, they were told they sometimes get too much food, and well.. now that food is saved and brought to the brunch. So those refugees might actually get the leftovers of their last night’s meal if they join us today.
  • One of our regular guests in the giveaway shop is in desperate need for help. She’s more an alternative minded person and likes bright colors and “india” fabric. But now she has to attend a classical concert of her grand daughter, who gave her a “dress code”. We have a lot of fun dressing her up in “classical” style… and she is semi-shocked, but also pretty satisfied when she sees the result in the mirror.
  • Foodsaving on the week market, and we have like boxes and boxes of prunes which need to be eaten the same day. Me and a new foodsaver bring it to one of the house projects, where they organize “cooking and eating with and for homeless people”. Immediately we are invited for the food, but no, we just want to get rid of the prunes. Quickly the plans are made for prune pie, and the spokesperson, in between calmly pointing out to a homeless lady “no smoking while other people eat” tells us there’s another initiative for involving homeless people to help themselves, but the source for the food ingredients is drying up, He emphasizes it is so important not to treat homeless people as if they are little kids, but to take them serious so they can get themselves out of that situation, with a little support. The guy obviously knows from personal experience what he is talking about, and you noticed how much the (still) homeless people respect him.
  • A woman comes in the giveaway shop with two little refugee boys. One speaks a bit of german, the other one only english. Big-eyed they look at all that stuff, and shyly ask if they can take some of the board games and puzzles. The woman tells them not to take everything, but leave enough for other kids. They politely nod, and make an obviously huge effort not to go wild on the cakes we offer for free. Then a bunch of german school kids storm the place… going through all the cakes, and the shelves. When I put a hold to their enthusiasm the moment they want to take a pair of crutches, they tell me, ok, they would only take stuff if they could really use it, for a school play or so, and then return it. After watching this, the refugee kids lose some of their shyness, and not only happily consume their cakes, but also find out there’s a piano… Which after 10 minutes, we wished they hadn’t.

Blurp – Living dangerously

ok.. usually when people tell me I take too many risks (hiking alone in the mountains, firebreathing, hitchhiking in countries where I don’t speak the language, acrobatics and other physical exercise which require movements the body isn’t really meant to do), I jokingly point out, the biggest risks I take are crossing two busy streets on my way to work twice a day. That’s JOKINGLY.

Life-with-a-capital-L shouldn’t need to prove it. I’m very much aware of statistics, thankyouverymuch. Today on the way back from work I almost got hit by a car who ignored my pedestrian light being green (busy road 1), after a short ride in the metro I got hit by a bike without lights going in the opposite direction on the sidewalk (busy road 2).

Again, dear Life-with-a-capital L, please don’t take my jokes seriously?? You already did this too many times…

Impressions – The city through old eyes

Walking through the neighborhood with my 78-year old mum visiting me, I see someone I know standing in the door of one of the local squat pubs. So I go over, and while my mum admires the huge murals outside. I chat with this fellow-foodsaver. The pub is a distribution point for saved food, bread & cake have just arrived.

So I tell my mum to go inside and take some. She obviously feels a bit awkward, until one the people outside, an elder, broadshouldered batcaver all dressed in black and wearing a Crass shirt and a nice fluffy mohawk, steps into the doorway, and almost knightly and very insistingly invites her in. A bit shy, she has no choice but to step inside, still feeling very out of place and trying her best not too look at all the weird hairdo’s and tattoos. Then she discovers the cakes…. and yes, they’re fresh from the bakery, and yes, they are for free…. We didn’t stay for a drink, but my mum immediately popped into the small art gallery next door to have another look inside :).

Thing is, sometimes what surprises my visitors says more of how my original country has changed, than about the more positive aspects of this city.

My mum wondering how all these little craft and other shops survive and aren’t taken over by huge chains. Enjoys the cheap indian food, and swallows hard when her wine arrives, the glass is so big. Stopping at a supermarket open til midnight, and my mum exclaiming how cute, how cute, and I wonder why, it’s just a very normal supermarket, until she tells me, there’s only one girl behind the counter, this late at night, and nobody thinks it’s dangerous. I of course have to inform her about the not-so-nice backgrounds, no minimum wage means, yes, the food is cheap, but either the owners works at least 12 hours a day, or that the bread is so cheap because the person on the other side of the counter works 40 hours a week, and still is dependent on “social service money”.

But yah, I rather live in a poor city which smells bad, is dirty, and where the drunks hang outside, than to worry about walking the streets alone after dark, my mum actually asked me if it wasn’t too risky for a woman on her own.

Blurp – A random outside event

Nice surprise at the Lohmühle Summerfest today: militant queer-rap with great lyrics on nice danceable, slightly cheesy, rhythms. If they play near you, go see them, live so much more better than soundcloud.

It also made me realize, looking around me in the audience, how many people were around who, if you want to mention gender, can best be described as “post-gender”. But fuk all that, in the end we’re all individuals (and dangit, how we love to express this 🙂 ).

And of course I enjoyed the rest of the fest, the diversity in age and appearance of the people, everywhere self-made food & drinks and little performances or play areas for kids & grownups, just letting myself go with the not really straight flow, meandering between wildgrowing greenery, self-built houses & sheds, random recycling/art, kids, dogs & cats running freely, laughing my ass off when a kid got reprimanded for pushing her daddy into the dust-kicking pogozone & mummy next jumping in herself dragging the kid along, and the general utterly relaxed atmosphere. Berlin at its best imho, but ah well, I am a bit of a hippie at heart 🙂

Impression – Eeew.. am I settling down?

Biking downhill from the hidden garden of the Villa I realized something weird..

Yep, living in this neighborhood, in my little “scene”, always felt good.

But, looking back at another busy, full weekend, with renovating a bit in the giveaway shop, saving & distributing food on the market, where all the standholders know me by name (and friendly laugh at my slight wasp-phobia), going to another great gig & hanging outside with my friends waiting for it to begin, at the sunday fooodsaving brunch chatting with our regular guest, a random couch surfer or some people I dragged in to enjoy the free – vegan – food, then off to the circus acts in the garden of the Villa, and admiring the huge amount of apples & pears hanging in the old fruit trees (long live the Villa bees!), and end the night freezing my ass off under the stars watching a sweet little movie, every now & then scanning the sky in the hope the Perseids give me a falling star.

Dangit. I’ve “arrived”. My two feet, my heart and my head are firmly planted here. That’s scary. That’s frikkin scary. Omg, I haven’t “settled”, have I?

Though the word itself still triggers an almost allergic reaction (literally, as I noticed not that long ago, it results in choking & coughing my lungs out), eeks, I’m settled, in my own, slightly freaky, way.

Though, when talking to someone who (also?) loves traveling unpaved roads, yes, I do have a certain “longing”, especially for the Balkan – the beautiful german word “fernweh” describes it so well. Though I still picture myself as the crazy old woman on top of a mountain with 15 cats and 3 goats (and a donkey or an alpaca).

And I know my experience here might differ from others, who point out how this city can suck you dry, how hard it is to crack this nut, how much the anonymity of a city of millions can lead to utter loneliness, or can’t understand how I like living in, what one of my friends called it, the warzone, with its filth, its bad smells and its very present and visible seamy side..

My always present urge to keep moving is goners, that urge to move on, even when and where the situation feels good (thank you, nomadic ancestors, for the horizon fever & the always itchy feet). It’s so weird to realize this.

At least it’s gone for now. It prolly will be back in winter, since this city so frikkin different depending on season, but for now, weirdly enough.. the itch is gone…

Blurp – A Noisy Crowd Going Quiet

So.. a crowd of about 400 wearing band-shirts from Napalm Death, Neurot label bands, industrial festivals, Swans and scandinavian metal bands, & anticipating one hell of a loud feedback distortion trance, watches the support gig.

Which is completely different from the slow torture death metal of the main act & consists of one woman with an experimental cello-like instrument and an eery voice.

And there is utter, complete, silence in the audience while listening to her soft music. And I mean utter silence. No one utters even one word, no whispers, no phones ringing, no cameras clicking. Only sound I’ve heard, standing up front, was actually the opening & closing of the fridge & the popping of bottles behind the bar at the back of the venue.

Now that’s the kinda crowd I like 🙂 Not only open minded when it comes to a completely different style of music, but also showing the uttermost respect for it.

On a side note, my inner organs, bones, diaphragm & the fillings in my teeth are still vibrating from the sub- sub- sub-bass frequencies from Sunn o))). The moment I saw the huge wall of amplifiers on stage I grabbed a pair of the free earplugs… but those only protected my ears 🙂

Impression – Summer Time

Summer… which means either I have visitors or am visiting…

Though my eyes never are closed for what’s happening in this neighborhood, walking together with people who are not “settled” here, opens my eyes even more for those small things I perceive as quite normal.

  • Going home from a squatting pub in the early sunday morning daylight, and note from the corner of my eye random people sleeping on abandoned, graffitied, couches on the sidewalk.
  • During the foodsaving brunch, talk to one of the life-experienced people who really, really, really wants to help, but well, she’s slightly confused and already rubbed some people the wrong way. With a huge smile, she tells me her ex lives around here. Then looks away, tears filling her eyes.. she doesn’t miss the guy, but oh, how she misses the dogs… I hear one of the other foodsavers making a remark to his friend how so many people here can still laugh, still have a huge smile on their face, but if you hear their stories, you wonder how they can keep going.
  • Sitting in front of the giveaway shop, trying to have a meeting, get pissed at and become quite rude to some drunk guy who starts laughing weirdly in a foreign language whenever we want to discuss something more seriously. Luckily he buggers off after one of the other giveaway people tells him to get lost in his own language.
  • Waiting for one of my guests, and watch a naked guy making a bed by wrapping himself around a young tree growing out of the more than 1 meter tall weeds on a street corner.
  • Say hello to one of the local too-many-dogs ladies sipping her beer on the steps of a gentrified-away – former second hand children’s toys, now empty for over one year – store, and my guest shaking his head, wondering if I know all the freaks here. Deeply inhale the smell of rotten garbage at the end of my street.
  • Grab a drink in one the newer “steam punk” pubs my guest wanted to visit, and watch some local talent taking the open stage.
  • Relocate to an artist “public living room” for vegan cake & coffee at midnight and see an escaped ferret run across the street looking for food (and my guest running after it with his phone to make a pic).
  • Hear some really nice music from a balcony nearby, and can’t help but to get slightly pissed at that one annoying neighbor who called the cops on it.
  • Having a chat in the park with a girl in her early twenties, asking for a cigarette, who obviously takes more care of her dog than of herself, and, after refusing her offer of some stronger liquor, we exchange life stories.. . A few days later, I distribute saved food, I meet her again, & she shyly asks if she can give me a hug, tells me she quit drinking, and thanks me for our talk. Only when she walks away I make the connection…

Impression – Back From Borg Country

Back to base.. (or “the warzone” as one my friends described it)

All of a sudden I realize how many graffiti is all over the place, and how colorful it makes this city. Normally I only notice the really good pieces. See all the half- or completely ruined & abandoned buildings along the tracks. Get out of the S-Bahn, hear music, and it IS actually someone playing a guitar and not a huge flock of seagulls or an air-conditioning. Or on the platform, see a guy holding his bike, and completely relaxed, smoke his cigarette directly under a non-smoking sign.

Walk past the local streetpunks begging “for weed and beer”. Smile because people not even in the back of their head consider leashing their dogs. Inhale deeply the smell of broken sewage, rotting garbage & the exhaust of the close-to-totall-loss cars, the only ones which people here can afford, and are not that susceptible to arson.

Avoid some fireworks, still saved from new years eve, being thrown into a passage. Go into my street and immediately discover a few cardboard boxes with “zu verschenken” (“for free”) and a some abandoned couches, mattresses and other furniture soaked by the rain. Actually for the first time notice that my window ledges are “noisy” with tags. Sigh, and remove a few empty liquor bottles from those window ledges. Sit here, inside, and hear the groups of people laughing and chatting on their way to the pubs, prolly holding “a beer for on the way”.

Though I could have done without getting almost hit by a car when I crossed the road or stepping into dog shit.

Just gotta check in the park if the local “senior hooligans” are still as loud and messy as always, if any dreadnecks are annoying the “Norman’s” with a beat here and there, and how much grass could even try to reach a height over 3cm after weeks of berlin’s no. 1. hobby of “grilling”