The Berlin Diaries (Part II)

I enjoyed riding the S-Bahn as it chained its way across the city.  I liked it when the trains ran parallel with the traffic on the road and you felt, momentarily, at one with the drivers behind the wheel – it felt like equality – and then when everything dropped away, thwump, into darkness as you entered a tunnel, and then again when you emerged looking for the sky.  I liked this.  The feeling of movement, of going somewhere.

I was 30 years old, turning 31 in less than 14 days.  I was emotionally sick and wasn’t doing well physically.  I smoked too much and my lungs burned if I exerted myself.  I hadn’t eaten properly for months and the weight had dropped from me until what was left was a gaunt, bone of a man.

I was crashing at Liana’s place in Neukölln, two minutes walk from both the S and U-Bahn. She lived with five others in a flat like a commune I once saw in New Zealand, where the residents shared everything from sex to drugs.  The rooms were large and bright, quite wonderful, and the corridor that linked them seemed to bend around like a two-headed snake. The doorbell didn’t have a button.  It was two open wires you had to put together to make a sound.  Although not entirely clean, the apartment was well organised, reflecting Liana’s presence.  I felt, somehow, this flat was the hub for all the creative spinning of Berlin.

But I would discover more than this.

Many years ago I was heading out of Las Vegas in a white camper van.  The fluorescent lights of Vegas were fading behind me and the beat of that sinful town was making way for calm desert and cacti.  By the road, covered in dust, was a tramp with a dirty beard and a satchel slung over his shoulder.  He had his thumb stuck out into the road.  I remember thinking this man had probably arrived a millionaire.  Cities can do that to a person.

Berlin is a regular city.  It has its casinos, bars, nightclubs, strip-joints, whorehouses, but it’s also pregnant with the unknown, something that impels a person to search for adventure.  Every possible thing opens into everything else.  There are no boundaries.  You can do what you like.  A foreigner living in Berlin needs something of a safety word to keep them self grounded.  It’s dangerous otherwise.  You can lose yourself.  Get arrested.  Catch an STD.  Overdose.

We all have our safety words, I expect, and I don’t mean an actual word.  It could be a thing, a teddy bear, a coin, a book, even a friend, although friends are not always reliable structures.  We’re fallible.  That’s why neediness is such a red blooded killer.

95 comments

  1. Your voice is entirely authentic, your vignettes charged with a kind of sullen and, at times, heartbreaking power.

  2. Read through the first few posts here. Gripping. Felt like exiting the theatre after Trainspotting. You have a great voice.

  3. What a cinematic expression. Enjoyed reading….
    Thanks for (also) visiting my blog. keep in touch!

  4. Mmm – I hereby join the appreciative throng.
    Liked the sullen comment. Accurate. I wouldn’t have thought of that description.
    Enjoyed reading this Berlin story and another half dozen.
    Good stuff.
    I glimpsed that side of Berlin once, but didn’t really linger.

  5. Absolutely brilliant. If it didn’t say fiction in your tags, I would have sworn that this was a travelogue written in the voice of a fiction author. The descriptions were seedy in some places, and disconcerting in others. Your voice was, as another blogger had said, thoroughly authentic. If you told me that you had seen these things firsthand, I would utterly believe you. I have followed you, and I hope to read more of your writing in the future.

    By the by, thank you for the like on my post today. Much appreciated.

  6. Your last paragraph is full of realizations on being human. I began reading and I was magnetized by the mystique of that part of Berlin.

    I have a little keepsake, lucky charm of my own, a jade rat. I also have something similar to an Iron Cross dangling from my key chain. It’s not like we’re relying on objects, but we are only relying on ourselves more than we do on others.

    I love that thought of yours regarding the hitchhiker from Vegas. Sounds like a word of caution.

    Good luck!

  7. I love the natural flow in your writing, it is amazing. I have been to Germany myself a couple times when I was younger. My mother used to do business in Switzerland and had good friends in Germany. I do not think I have been to Berlin, but I know I have been to Frankfurt, that’s where my mom’s friends lived. I wish I could go back.

  8. I have never been to berlin. And despite the safety words, I think I would love to come there. I come from a city in South India, that is so bloody preoccupied with constructing things people constructed ten years back – metro rails, IT glass ‘temples’, and our minister’s houses. But, somehow, when some place has been home since your birth, even though I never lived at a time this city’s roads were empty and trams transported people, it’s quirkiness is what makes it home.

    berlin diaries is great fun to read. thanks for sharing.

    samyuktha
    editor
    chaikadai.
    p.s. If you do have an email, do let us know. We often work on bringing out small online anthologies of writing. :)

  9. Thanks so much for liking my post! I’m quite a fan of what I see here. Your writing is precise, melancholy, wry, and elegant. Good work!

  10. Very nice post – really enjoyed it and will likely be back to catch up on the predecessor and further chapters, if any are planned out.
    Cheers.

  11. I’m quite sure after reading this fraction of your work, that if you were cut you would in fact bleed authenticity. You’re words trickled out clean, precise, and meaningful. I must agree with taraisarockstar “Pregnant with the unknown” is my favorite quote. Alarming, yet exciting. Kudos.

  12. For me the finale was the most poignant line of the piece: That’s why neediness is such a red blooded killer.

    It is, in fact, true. It resides within, eating its way to the surface, infecting the soul.

    Excellent drive from the scene to the moral. Looking forward to more.
    Red.

  13. Your honest approach to human fragility keeps one reflecting on your words.
    Thank you for sharing your art, it’s a powerful writing.

  14. I’ll never forget coming into East Berlin from Rostock taking photo’s of the countryside only to see an Army look out turret in the forest. I couldn’t wait to get into West Berlin. Made even worse when the East German guards searched out carriage three times. Next day thankfully I wasn’t arrested so I could enjoy the Siouxise, Iggy Pop, Julian Cope & Mission festival gig next to the Brandburg Gates in an outdoor ampetheathre back in 1988.

  15. Love this. The two bare wires, the feeling of oneness with the train, the dissolving of yourself into bones. I’m here from My Memories of a Future Life and the Undercover Soundtrack. Thanks for clicking Like – not only for the enjoyment vote but for introducing me to your world on these different-sounding tracks.

  16. “That’s why neediness is such a red blooded killer.” Hot damn that’s great. Thanks for the reads! Your work gives me fuel.

  17. I am so digging your rhythms, your pacing. I feel trapped in the protag’s mind one minute, liberated outdoors the next. Traveling in and out of time, living within art — art as an unexpirable passport — I plan to stay on board, getting off only on your imagery and lyricism.

  18. authentic, raw and honest story telling.. enjoyed this..seeing berlin through your eyes..many great lines like..Every possible thing opens into everything else… enjoyed this..

  19. Your story transported me back to time when I was hitchhiking from Michigan to Colorado, living in a commune/flophouse…and many more memories. Thank you for the journey. I checked you after you “liked” my post… and I will definitely be back. I’m subscribing – love your raw storytelling.

  20. You have the writer’s gift, for sure. My husband was born in Berlin, and there were things about him I never understood until he took me there. People would start up arguments with strangers on the S-Bahn and other strangers would take sides. Then, they would get off at their stops–no hard feelings!

  21. Hey thanks for stopping by my blog!! I appreciate your support of the arts :0) This is an awesome blog with excellent content – great story want to hear more… Cheers

  22. …very interesting stories, indeed. Ever tried to publish them in a book format?!…

  23. Ah, to be young, as I once was, and in Berlin, as I once was. Thank you for transporting me to a time and place when structures and things and people made sense and optimism was the norm, not the exception. Wonderful! Simply wonderful!

  24. Berlin…never been there save through books. But they hated Hitler. It reminds me of my own city (o city, City), Hong Kong, where “the Mountain is high and the Emperor is far away”. Or New York…even parts of Chicago. Where the clock god ‘s groaning is silenced. Where you’d expect the necessary self-repression to be high but precisely at that point it switches, dialectically as seen in Hegel, into reverse.

    Ah, but thirty. Thirty! Even my sons older.

    The only cure for smoking I know, other than a full American plan, in which you turn into a “real” American, constantly pressing Bible texts on others in the wearisome American way, is Nicorette for the confirmed smoker as I was. Something about the unnatural quality of modern life seems to otherwise require a pack a day.

  25. This kept me glued, from start until the very end. “We’re fallible.” That’s my favorite sentence in your work. Great, great post. I have the feeling I’ll be checking this blog regularly… :)

  26. wow, u are a great writer!!! Also, english is not my native language and I never had read an english book I could imagine to read a long skript from you. The way you write is makes me feel like I’m watching the story like a movie.

  27. There are people that travel around the globe. Visiting major cities, tell you what they are like. And when you read or hear them, it sounds like a textbook or a travel guide, or photos taken where the bus stops. Scenery that is always seen.

    You on the other hand, just write. Express a thought from within. A visual thought with descriptions of sounds to open an imagination. You are a person that doesn’t write for what people expect to see about a place , nor hear about. You write, “this is what I see because I lived it.” OR “I am living it now.”

    Great stories. Thank you for sharing.

  28. I love the Berlin Diaries. I just read all 4 of them and they embody stark parallels to my own life, while holding on to their own voice and life. I’m a writer, or maybe I will be a writer, and your stories did something to the way I think. Thank you.

    -Dan Herczak

  29. Just inspired me to stop being lazy and get back to my own work. Thanks a ton! Also, authenticity is what a reader looks for when they focus on a narrator, and you brought it to the table. Not an easy feat.

  30. It’s a truly great writer that holds the ability to move their readers as you. It’s evident you have a strong voice from the responses you receive from the above comments.
    Thank you so much for checking out my blog! I have no idea how you found me… But I’m glad you did. Now I know about you.

  31. Powerful! You left me wanting more! I wish this were only the introduction of an entire book. Can’t wait to check out more of your work. Thank you for your work! –Tim

  32. I love your voice; compelling, so now, your use of verbs claiming the subject, helping the motion forward; kinetic images, painterly images, you got it; you are very good; 100years ago i smoked 3 packs a day; drank, blah, different generation; now i’m 73, an old gal with a voice of a 35 year old, a voracious reader, and the delight of discovering modern prose with such a compelling voice makes me want to jump on the train with the character. Have you heard of Dreaming by the Book, Elaine Scarry; the folks at Iowa thought exceedingly well of it; i didn’t go there, but I read tips and stuff; and I found her book helpful; i’ve studied literary crit, not a total fan of it because of its papal hierarchy, but still, she, Elaine Scarry, moves away from that in tone; interesting comparison of Flaubert’s movement and the writing of prose.
    I can’t read any more of Berlin Diaries right now; will wait another day.

  33. Thank you for the like on my post. I enjoyed the Diaries (ll). Your writing is an introduction to the heart of other people.

  34. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow!!!!! I felt like i was living the words you wrote! You really have a most amazing gift! Thanks for liking my new art post! Just started the blog a few days ago so i really appreciate it.

  35. I have experienced Berlin completely different. Like a pile of small villages with lots of broken things. But I never lived there and was only a visitor. I lived in Dortmund for a while and yes it’s possible, that it’s easier to lose oneself in cities like that, but if you’re moving a lot it’s better anyways if the safe word is in yourself.

  36. i always love travelogues, and i also love noticing the different things that people notice. I am intrigued by this format of wordpress, tumblr, etc. with possibilities of micro-fiction, or micro-fact. Very small snippets of detail, but making a cohesive thread that is like peering inside yr head. Like walking down the hallways of yr synapses, unlikely dream logic, an emotional burning core. Its like being possessed by someone for a moment, an alien reality that quite literally lands in yr lap.
    Thanks for reading, thanks for writing. I will be back.

  37. A long-ago poem of our own:

    Sounding

    A run-on sentence of winter
    Split the evening days of coal the red
    S-Bahn across the palimpsest city
    Simply for something

    Birds wet with snow with wings
    The steel mouth shudders
    Dim lamps, damp shivers
    Had nothing to do with cold

  38. I like your voice too. Sounds like cigarettes have been sitting too long in a wizened lung.

    So many comments where I wonder if they are being genuine or if they just looked up fancy words on the internet to describe your writing. I’ll try one:

    Your writing is similar to the images conjured up by masturbation. Enveloping, unnerving, unreal but altogether existent, physical.

    I “like” it.

    We do some writing here in Toronto too, come by our blog sometime and see if you like anything enough to take it home for a night and comb it’s hair.

  39. I enjoyed how you began the story with movement. Although I’m a native of Chicago, I can put myself in your shoes riding the ‘L’ train, going underground, than popping up along side highways and skyways.

    I too can feel the ‘moment of oneness’ with traffic gliding alongside.

  40. Thank you for enveloping me in Berlin. I went to the city as soon as the Berlin Wall came down. I remember ‘Mitte’ when the streets were in darkness. Your writing takes me back to that time… and also transports me into the future as I fantasise about the characters in your story. Great writing pricks the skin like acupuncture needles. Have a beautiful day. Michele

    1. Thank you very much. Unfortunately I do not accept these awards. I get quite a few of them and I can’t really keep up. But thank you anyway.

  41. I love your pages and your form of self-expression, it is a pleasure to have you share your gifts through your pages Thank you. I have nominated you for blog of the Year please visit my page Blog of the year awards and nominations Thank you! Revised
    Posted on December 9, 2012

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