Berlin sprawls. From East to West, it can take a solid 2 hours by public transit, depending on where you’re going. Everything in this city is half an hour away from everything else. And at the same time, everybody who’s been here for a few years knows every street, or at least every street inside the ring. For all its size, for all its people, Berlin is the biggest small town in the world.
Berlin officially divides itself into 12 districts, or Bezirke, but unofficially, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Kiez. This word does not really exist in German; if you ask someone from Munich what Kiez they’re from, they’ll look at you with a grimace of confusion or disgust. People don’t live in a Kiez so much as they date one: for some it becomes a life partner; for others, they try them on one by one, a strange form of serial monogamy, the avoidance of the Anmeldungsbestätigung similar to the avoidance of a ring. A particularly bad breakup might find you escaping to another Kiez in another part of town. (Eventually, I suspect, this is how people end up in Schöneberg). You return one day, perhaps by accident, like bumping into a scorned former lover on the street. You find one that you love, and you’ll do anything to hold onto it. It’s smell even grows on you and becomes familiar, comforting like the scent your partner leaves on bed pillow.
People say that Berlin is not Germany. Berlin is multicultural, vibrant, reckless, arm aber sexy, while Germany is responsible, stolid, and provincial. But this is not true. Berlin is as provincial as they come. Berlin’s charm lies precisely in the quaintness that sits just beneath the graffiti, the flair it wears to convince you that it’s something it’s not. There’s no downtown, no single city center. Cut through the Bullshit, and you’ll find that Berlin is nothing more than a densely-connected collection of villages.
In this city, you can depend on serendipity. Visit a new restaurant, bump into an old friend. Sit at a Biergarten in a Kiez 40 minutes and two connections away, see your neighbor. Berlin’s greatest trick is making you think it’s harder than it is, but even our punks wait at the Ampel.
At any rate, I was happy to see friends this week, new and old. From dinner in Kreuzberg to ice cream in Prenzlauer Berg to a boat rental in Köpenick, it was nice to get out and see people. This week was pretty great as a result.
What I’m Learning
Part of my learning strategy for German is continuous review of material I have already learned. I find that it’s hard for things to stick with me; I have to keep going back to repeat them over and over. Eventually they sink in, but often I have to keep coming back to them. I guess that’s not special. But I’ll be glad to finish the last 3 chapters of my B1 review this week. I managed to knock off at least a chapter this week.
The week ahead
This week I’m excited to do a reading of part of my chapter in _¡No pasarán! at a Pride event at work.