A map hits the ground right before the train door closes. The woman who was holding it crouches quickly to pick it up, and starts staring intensely at it. The map is upside down. A few seconds afterwards, she realizes, and turns it around. She’s wearing shorts, thick-soled sandals and a short-sleeved t-shirt. She’s tied a brown jumpsuit to her backpack, just in case. You never know around here.
The train advances, leaving the station behind. It looks like a botanic garden, with that high glass dome ceiling, aluminium skeleton, dark grey beams like spines. The trains are red and yellow. An ugly yellow, however, staining the middle of the carriages.
The sun sneaks in through the windows. It’s early in the morning and the river, which suddenly appears, majestic and fumbling, reflects its rays on its uneven surface. The vertices of the one million waves that appear, following closely behind a huge tourist boat, remind of summer-night fireworks.
The train keeps moving forward, and enters another station. This one is made of dark reddish-brown bricks, low rough ceilings. The signs are coloured with the same blue, the same white letters that point out to lost tourists, their exact situation in that coloured tangle: the extremely important public-transport map.
The shorts-and-sandals woman whispers something to a tall man who may be her husband, and they both place themselves two centimetres away from the door, as if ready for the start of a race. The train reaches the next station, another of those so majestic, made of glass that lets in the sun. A normally unusual sun, yet so common this summer.
This station is especially bustling. A modern anthill, made up of suitcases, backpacks and upside down public-transport maps. The woman and her husband get off the train, and so do nearly half of the passengers filling the car. Another horde of people get on. Among them, a young blonde who finds a seat in a corner. Long tousled hair, the blackest make up no longer covers only her eyelids, but has also formed smudges under her green eyes, emphasizing her dark circles while her eyes fight to stay open.
Under her hands and on her lap rests a wrinkled, dirty cloth bag. She’s wearing a tight, long-sleeved black t-shirt, with a simple and suggestive cleavage. Made of transparent fabric, with a v-shaped neck it ends who knows where inside her high-waist cut-off jeans. She crosses her legs and rests her head on the window-pane. She’s beautiful, even weary and travel-stained as she is. She smells of night.
Huge straight buildings surround the station. Flat facades, long windows, thumping doors. One, reddish, looks like a shopping mall. Loads of people are going in and out. There is a statue of a woman jumping –or running– whose body draws an X. The same X that is contained in the name of that mall: Alexa.
A bizarre figure stands behind the station. It hides, between the reflected sunlight in the air and the morning fog, of which only remains a blurred mist. It’s like an immense ball nailed on a concrete stick. Huge. A sharp needle crowns it, dressed in red and white stripes that alternate until to the top, which slashes the sky.
All size feet squash the grey stones, up and down. A woman walks fast, dodging bags, elbows, ponytails, to be able to start running at the precise moment when a yellow tram insinuates it is going to close its doors. A little boy tugs at his dad’s hand, murmuring something in a chewed and virginal German. A big man, dressed in a black suit and a shiny tie, walks slowly by. His legs are extremely long, and each of his steps equals three of those of a normal person.
Nobody looks at anyone; everybody is locked up in his or her own world. How frenetic, how vertiginous. What an accompanied loneliness. Bubble crashes.
And so the city wakes up, gently. Ignoring the one that stands by. It has time to wake up calmly, as the sun rises early. It catches the night creatures walking, with no battery left in their phones, towards the Fernsehturm, just like a sailor guided by Polaris. It surprises them settling into the subway seats when the metropolitan network opens its doors once more, around 4:30 in the morning. The first sunrays light both those coming back from the techno temples and the suited businessmen wanting to get to their offices to make an early start on the day’s work. The modern version of the Ant and the Grasshopper tale, with party grasshoppers smelling like beer and combed ants smelling of morning coffee.
Streets become full, little by little, with tourists eking out their hours in the place, trying to make the most of the time they have left in this forest of buildings. There are few inhabitants left in the city during the summer. They hide from this mass of unknown and un-knowers. And the visitors (some of them) try camouflage. Some pretend to live here, dressing themselves more unusually than they would in their hometowns. Scrutinizing the Internet, in search of the less-touristic places. Avoiding hubs. But still they all make a stop at the Warschauer Strasse Photoautomat, carrying away the strip of four black and white snapshots.
Not far from Rosenthaler Platz, in a courtyard right in front of Weinmeisterstrasse station, a young Australian runs a cute cafeteria, delightful in an unusual way for this metropolis, he says. Blond, clear eyes and a bright smile, he describes the commerce he works in, talking first about the coffee, then about the service. He says the drink is delicious thanks to the love, the effort and the quality. As for the service/the way customers are treated, he points out bars around here do not use to make friends among drinks. I serve; you pay, and so in several cafés, says the Australian –who is, by the way, quite charming.
It looks like mandatory to abandon Father Carpenter with a coffee to go. Very hot, even if it’s summer. Sun’s burning, and so does the energetic potion on the tongue. And so do the pokes of the hordes of transients who overstock sidewalks around Mitte. Showcases at Hackescher Höf, not far from there, attract curious tourists smeared with cameras and smartphones, with what they capture everything and everybody.
The same smartphones that, perched in extensible sticks, photograph their owners in never-ending photo bursts that lack all value, as they hardly ever show the Brandenburger Tor, who should be the main character in those images. Among them, the iPhone 6 belonging to the woman wearing shorts and thick-sole sandals who had, back on the train, an upside-down map. It looks like she’s doing better with the phone. Her husband is fighting with the stick, though. Those two do not get along that well.
A five-people bike passes by. Tumbling on the street, it leaves behind Unter den Linden and the door that once separated two cities in order to reach Potsdamer Platz. There, the rhombus-tie tall man from Alexanderplatz keeps walking, with his giant strides, whilst he sips coffe from a paper cup and observes his watch, as if he wished to stop time with his angry pucker frown look. He walks out of a cafeteria, from which flows a conversation.
-Yesterday was great … You should have come.
-Where did you go?
-We were circling Kottbuser Tor for a while, drinking beer and walking Oranien… and then just ended up in the Atonal Festival, that electronic music one. The place was spectacular. It was in Tresor, you know? The legendary techno nightclub that I told you about. A huge building, enormous, soaring ceilings, fucking awesome music, everyone dancing, not giving a shit about the other people…
-Yeah… I got home at ten, girl.
-Woha… But do not you have class now?
-Yes, but hey, I’m ready to kill it again.
-Did you queue, last night?
-Not at all! And it’s not normal…
-I can’t believe it… Going out here without queuing … What a feat. Now I envy you.
-Well, and what did you do?
-Me? Well, so when we got out…
The conversation gets lost among buses, cars and passers’ noises.
It blurs, it stays on air and is already part of the city’s essence. The after-party morning, mixed with the tourists hubbub, with coffee, with a sun that can sweep to rain in a matter of seconds, with low buildings, with businessmen, with German teachers, with the graffittis that cover doors.
And the question stays without an answer. What’s it in here. What has this place. It is said that it is the less German of the German cities. It is said to be the most hospitable. It is said that doormen at nightclubs are extremely selective. It is said that here graffittis are beautiful everywhere. A lot of stuff is said, but nothing is ever satisfactory enough. This is the best-mixed cocktail ever.
Here, the weirdness standard is very high, there is space for everything, nobody looks at you in a bad way. It’s you in the middle of your bubble, which coexists with more bubbles that go floating around there. One spot has nothing to do with the other. There is space in the same city for both an abandoned airport turned into a park and a hotel whose modernity has manifested in the shape of half of the building hanging over the Spree. Kreuzberg, with its doorways covered in graffiti, its charming hidden cafeterias, its stinky corners, its enviable nightclubs, lives together with the half-asleep Wilmensdorf, on the West, with nineteen-century buildings and old women that go for a walk on Sundays afternoons. Mitte, scarcely majestic, yet so imposing. Prenzlauer Berg, full of trees, of hanging buildings, second-hand shops that look like dollhouses.
Bikes, terraces, lakes, parks, trains that go underground and trains that go on the ground. This city is ugly and beautiful at the same time. But here ugly things seem to be beautiful. Here the light is special. Here the posters that pile up on the streetlight sticks, providing the iron with a second skin, are beautiful. Here the graffittis on the doorways are beautiful. Here the buildings that peel, crying paint, are beautiful. Here the convents turned into open-air cinemas. Here the beer bottles on the streets. Here the underground art galleries. Here the jazz musicians in brick buildings in the middle of a park. Here the world-famous discotheques for which mad ones queue for five hours, and do not get in.
Here the perennial magnetism, the perpetual addiction, the drug with no name.
Here the streets where art can be breathed and where there is space for everything,
Here the eternal return, like the ending of the mythic Eagles’ Hotel California: “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.
Spanish version here.