Dear, mean, exciting, filthy, ugly, beautiful Berlin,
Addressing you is addressing a network of people, a hub of buildings and constructions, a spot on a map; a centuries-old organism, forever changing and constantly growing, gulping in and spitting out. I am addressing your bullet-ridden walls, your VoKü meals, your flea markets, your U-Bahn stations with their cool metallic smell. Your grand museums and leafy parks, the unbearably dark pages of your history.
I could be writing to the city I was born in or the city I live in, but instead I write to you. Why?
You were not always kind to me. Berlin doesn’t love you, I read on stickers on your lamp posts, cruelly reminding me of my pathetic devotion. But it’s not just me, thankfully. You get cold sometimes – hiding under a veil of grey, so that your apartment blocks become iceboxes. You get impenetrable, your nightlife an inscrutable maze of insider’s haunts.
As a twenty-one-year-old with a need to escape, I took the bad with the good. In your streets I could safely reinvent myself, far from anyone I knew. I would get a large bottle of beer from the Spätkauf and follow my impulses, stepping into an anarchist bookstore or following my ears to a squat concert. I’d chat with a gallery owner or go up a dark, graffitied staircase just to see what was there.
You are a city of ghosts, Berlin. The washed-up addicts of ‘Bahnhof Zoo’ still linger at Kotti, your Reichstag is crowned by a transparent dome of repentance, and a giant Stalin statue’s moustache is a relic in a café. When I visit you now, I retrace the steps of my younger self.
I return to my favorite places and confront the passing of time, the tide of gentrification.
I might have been a mere passer-by, but I know you remember me, like you remember everything and everyone, from the rat that scurried away from the busy hands of a Trümmerfrau to the drops of sweat on the shoulders of an ecstatic participant of the 1995 Love Parade, glistening in the sun. Every time we meet, you remind me of what you were – and who I was. What is and could be. For that I cherish you. Even if you don’t love me back.
Leonor Faber-Jonker (1987) is an author, researcher, and artist. In 2008-2009, she wrote a music history of Berlin, her first book, for tour organizer Sowieso030.