Yesterday, with scraps of about four short stories in my head that I couldn’t pin down, novel number one back with my agent, and novel number two trying to get the better of the short stories I wanted to rewrite, I thought I’d go for a walk. I’m just about over the flu, but short of energy, so I had to steel myself for the U-Bahn ride to Krumme Lanke and the walk from there to the lake. I was bit pissed off by the view when I got there.
I’ve come to Krumme Lanke in autumn and photographed the reds, golds and browns. I’ve come in summer and swum in the lake. The peace when you’re out there in the middle on your own is something I wish I could preserve and access whenever I need it. I’ve come in winter, when the snow was thick, with kids and a sledge. But this… this was disappointing.
But I wasn’t going to give up. I would walk all the way round. On this…
It was slow going. I was almost alone. A woman walking a dog. Two men jogging. A few solitaries like me, mumbling to themselves and trying to avoid eye contact.
Every so often, I got my camera out. My fingers were freezing. I put it back. Then, I got it out again, and again. Halfway round, I was involved with the world around me, my head was clear and the stories had stopped fighting each other.
Here is some of what I saw.
Still pretty bleak. But interesting bleak.
I am not in Berlin. I’m in France, where I’m doing what I suppose I can only call the last things I’ll be able to do for my father while he’s alive. It’s been a matter of days for weeks, no, months, because he’s tough, but as I take over night duty from my mum, I wonder whether he’ll be alive in the morning. Maybe that’s why, the day before I came here, I went wandering around Friedhof III in the rain. I love that it’s just called Friedhof III. So appropriate, I suppose – when we go, we’re all the same.
I took some photos. Marlene Dietrich is the best known resident of Friedhof III. She could be anybody, couldn’t she?
Except that my daughter wouldn’t have made this for any old stranger, so maybe my theory is wrong.
Here are some more pictures of the things I like about Friedhof III.
There was a tiny mouse scurrying around behind this one. I wonder why…
Until the end of last week, the photo above was the view from my living room. Beautiful, in a very Berlin way. You can’t hear it, though. You can’t see what it will become in six months time. You don’t remember the fox that lived in the old school building that used to be there a year ago.
When I came to Berlin two and a half years ago I thought I’d blog a lot. Berlin had been a favourite city for years. I wanted to say so much. But I didn’t. Life got in the way. Earning a living (much, much harder than I’d expected) and learning a language (I still speak German that sounds more like Dutch) and, well, other things. I feel like I lost touch. Where are you city? What did you mean to me? Why can’t I remember you? Does it matter?
It’s so strange, I’m sending out pitch letters to film producers at the moment talking about the distinctive vision a director has when they first live in a city (and no, I shouldn’t be contradicting myself in public, but I am) and I’m actually wondering what on earth that is. Berlin feels both less alien to me and less familiar, probably because I’ve actually encountered its difference on a daily basis for the last couple of years rather than holding an image of it in my head. I have so little to latch on to. My attempts to learn the language on a deeper level than Dutch haven’t been very successful. I can communicate. I could do that quite quickly, but just as I found with Dutch, my vocabulary limits itself to what I need. Yesterday, I was dealing with plumbers but I’ve already forgotten the verb ‘to drain’ because I don’t need it today. I don’t seem to be able to do anything about this tendency to forget. My Berlin has become a jumble of necessities, relating to school, money and administration (bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy – it could be a well-ordered German poem). I came across the word ‘ulkig’ this week and it’s stuck in my head because I like the sound of it, but I can’t remember for the life of me what it means, so a nice sound is what it will remain. If life in Berlin has a pattern it’s a very confused one. So much for my director’s vision…
So, this blog is a way to step back. A way to ask myself where I am. I used to be able to send my daughter to school by standing on the balcony and waving to her. As of this week, we take the U-Bahn. We’re still close enough for me to walk home. Today I took some photos on the way. This is Berlin.