In the second teaser from KYD issue 24, Jennifer Down returns to Berlin, a city with enduring appeal. Whether we live there for years or just for a summer, some places keep drawing us back to them.
It’s June when I arrive in Berlin. I take a room in an apartment in a quiet street. It’s paved with big, uneven stones, the sort that make your teeth shudder when you ride a bicycle across them. One end of the street opens out onto a main road with eight lanes of traffic. On the corner there’s a dive bar with a flashing sign.
At seven o’clock in the morning disco thuds indistinctly from the bar’s covered windows, and middle-aged men sit in the paved courtyard behind, smoking cigarettes right down to their filters. At the same end of the street, opposite the bar, is a caged quad full of dumpsters from neighbouring apartment blocks. They’re unobtrusive and the top of the cage is alive with thick green vine, but on warm days the smell of rotting garbage sticks in the back of your throat. Sometimes kids sit on top of it. I can’t work out what game they’re playing, but they don’t seem to notice the smell.
At the other end of the street is a small park. Its dusty patches are flecked with cigarette butts and bottle tops. There is a playground, a small basketball court and a couple of concrete table-tennis tables. If I’m making it sound grey and awful, it’s not: its edges are leafy. On warm nights teenagers picnic with disposable barbeques and kids run through the fountain in their pyjamas.
This close to the city most everyone’s on bicycles or trains or trams, and cars wait parked in the street. A thick greasy film settles on their windscreens (something secreted by the trees, my landlord tells me) and leaves catch under their wiper blades. The apartment buildings are old, painted in greys and lemons, tagged with lazy graffiti. Above the buzzer to my building is I LOVE VERENA BREMER in a childish hand.
Around the corner is a childcare centre. ‘The House of Little People’ is painted in bright letters on its windows, which face the street. When I walk past in the afternoons, there’s often a row of toddlers with their faces and palms pressed to the glass, looking out at the street as if from inside a prison. I’ve glanced inside for clues as to why they want to escape, but the crèche always seems cheerful and full of movement.
In my German class a few weeks later we’re asked to describe our neighbourhood, our Umgebung. I want to say all of this, but the words fall away from me. I begin sentences before I realise I’m incapable of finishing them. I’m crippled by all the words I don’t know.
Want to read the rest? Issue 24 will be hitting subscriber mailboxes later this week, and is available online Monday 21st December! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.