music to go: subterraneans
Taking the day train from Paris to Berlin last August, Trandi Romantic entered Germany for the first time in her life along the green hillsides of Saarland, where houses looked remarkably like those plastic ones in a miniature train set, complete with pine covered mini mountains to tunnel through. The day before, she and her travelling companion had admired the Gallo-Roman architecture of Southern France from their carriage window, now they were in Märklin land. At Mannheim station they were to transbord from their French TGV onto a German IC to take them directly to Berlin. According to our tickets, we have thirteen minutes to change over, the subterranean traveller remarked, and since we are running a bit late, we'd better run for it as those German trains always run on time. But surely they will wait for us, Trandi supposed, as we can't be the only ones to travel further. Let's hope so, the subterranean said, all I know from travelling by train in this country is that they always leave on time. They love their punctuality and they are proud of it.
As it so happened, their train would be leaving from the other side of the platform they disembarked upon and it was running ten minutes late. Great, the traveller exclaimed, just enough time to get me one of those famous beers before we continue. He took the stairs down and soon reemerged with some drinks and sandwiches. I believe they are broadcasting news about our train, Trandi told him, I could pick up the word Berlin but not much more. I guess we´ll find out soon enough, the traveller said dryly. There was now a car seating displayed above their heads and some German was sounding. He could pick out the word sieben. There seems to be something wrong with one of the cars and I believe it's ours. Wrong? Trandi asked. In Germany? The entering train answered her question when upon slowing down in front of their eyes car six jumped to eight and they, and a good deal of people with them, began swarming the platform attendant to demand where wagon sieben was. It turned out there was none. Was soll denn das? the travellers with their seat reservations asked incredulously. Although they were German, and the subterranean could follow their tongue much better now, they equally seemed flabbergasted by the sudden disappearance of a complete wagon. The attendant, a fattish sixty year old in short sleeves who was sweating nonetheless, turned all red in the beefy face and cried against so much insistence: Ich hab' keinen Wagen sieben! Geht doch hin, nach eins. Stunned, the passengers started entering wagon six, sure to be on board and then find their way to the promised seats in one, all up front. Much fewer dared the faster route outside, our friends picking up a few cars to jump ahead in the trail. And so they ended up in wagon one, which was empty, and they filled it up like a cheap flight and at Frankfurt they turned around, as it is a terminal, and they were carried in the last car to Berlin, where they arrived at beer hour.
They lived off the Strassenbahn, Warschauer Strasse, in a pleasant interior new build hotel in Friedrichshain, with all that revolutionary stuff from when it suddenly happened fading away around them. Berlin had all gotten clean since the traveller's last visit in 2003, when it was already much cleaner than before. It was a happy town, mostly, where an absurd election campaign was going on. Everywhere you looked, Angela Merkel was telling us how well she had done once again, and none of the other contestants for the Kanzleramt challenged those words. They all promised slight change on safe subjects, from human rights to pensions and green energy, but nobody would mention the wars and Germany's standing in the world now that the financial rigging was becoming visible to many. Only the local minority radicals (who get remarkably more space than in Spain, where they would be prosecuted) were telling it like it is, so a Merkel win seemed assured. Newspapers were admitting to the mood, as they all wrote on the lack of Spritt in the campaign. Berliners didn't show much sorrow. They were enjoying the good weather amidst droves of tourists, Trandi and the traveller among them. It was like being in a giant Amsterdam.
Berlin is rich with history, immediately visible in its build up. There's the remaining parts in north and south, some of whom nineteenth century, further away the early principles of modern building, and then the various attempts at modernising in the devasted east-west central zone, from nowadays rich but boring Ku'damm to neues Mitte, quite ghastly, to be honest, I felt like being in of those Romantic era fascimile prints, but you would expect this place to come to life in some way; and then the former East corner, where another modernity has been swepped under to make way for an eighteenth century rebuild, to finally get to Alexanderplatz, still very much its old self, with some new constructions filling up old holes respectfully. It's all fake, of course, but at least it looks good. Berlin is a beautifully wounded animal, and it still harbours some sense of easily provoked resistance in less modernized neighbourhoods.
Trandi and the traveller found a bookshop on Karl Marx Allee, named after the street, which was closing and offering a firebrand sale of its stock and it so happened to be the final day. They were called into an office on the first floor and then led back downstairs to be locked in for an hour in a beautiful wooden bookstore, a vast cabinet basically, where thousands of books were still lingering, horribly mixed up. Silently, Trandi and the subterranean started scanning the shelves, each from a different corner, commenting on finds and sometimes walking over, as it was pure pleasure to tread those floors. Humidity was an absolute zero here. The traveller found some highly interesting kilo volumes which he impossibly could bring home and also a handful of super economical paperbacks from the nineteen sixties, which he bought for five euros. They felt the money wasn't worth the attention received.
This part of town was mostly bombed and burned out in the final battle for the city and in good communist fashion rebuilding started with the palaces for the rich, to set an example of the coming success. They did manage a reasonable level of consumerism in the seventies, though nothing like their neighbour. And when the neighbour started venturing off in all directions thanks to this thing called computer, it became clear they needed to be part of that, so they sought access to western markets. And when the pressure on the smugglers became unbearable, the floodgates were opened and east became west and west became east.
It's too bad politicians had to disturb these processes with their bullshit, as they will always do. On the wealth of old footage favourable to him that modern day visitors of Berlin are exposed to, mr Honnecker looks like an arrogant fool, not able to trust the people who resurrected their country without help from America. In return, the people couldn't trust their government and tried not to think of it. This lasted long enough to drive everybody crazy. They paid a heavy price, as West wasn't able to show mercy. Instead of modernizing their economy, West tore it all down. They're still lagging and will for a while longer. Ever since the first world war, these people have been on the receiving end.
Inevitable was a visit to mr B's flat, or rather the main door, and then a drink in his and Pop's hangout, where the same fans they'd seen outside were sitting. The traveller had a vodka and Trandi lemonade. There were photos hanging by a photographer she had met, B having fun some ten years ago. Is that close enough for you, Trandi asked. It was the day they ended up on Ku'damm, having sorbets and seeing beautiful closed bookshops. On the way home their S-Bahnfahrzeug had to be abandoned for lowly specified reasons.