Scenes from the Bahn or, my week in Berlin

As you could likely tell from my last post, Berlin fascinated me. A lot. And though I am back in Sweden (and glad for it!) I may continue to post on Berlin for a while, even amidst other, more current posts about Sweden. So here comes the first one:


Berlin is not one place. It is a million different places—a patchwork city that has been sewn together by a somewhat unsteady hand. “A city that is doomed to becoming,” someone once wrote. A city that refuses to make up its mind. There are quaint half-timber buildings, dorky remnants of soviet power, and every so often, little gold bricks laid in the street with the names of murdered people inscribed on them. A complicated fabric of light and dark, of old and new, of East and West, of history and irony.

The million Berlins are connected by the Bahns that crisscross the city with dreary yellow eyes. The S-Bahn, the U-Bahn, the Ring, they make the earth tremble, you hear them coming from a distance, you can see the yellow eye-lamps grow bigger and bigger when you lean over the edge of the platform. Berliners seem to be able to sense the Bahn like animals can sense changes in the weather. It’s uncanny, really. The train decelerates until at last it stops. Swept up in a hasting crowd, you step onto the train.

A large woman in a black coat blows her nose indiscreetly on a Kleenex. Her eyes are impossibly small.

A father speaks softly to his small light-haired daughter. She listens silently and nods her head. This station we are approaching, he explains, when he was twenty years younger, this station was one that travelers from the East couldn’t get off at, because of the wall. The train lurches to a stop, they stand, the girl grabs her bright green backpack, and they step onto the platform.

A horde of German teenagers has taken over the last few rows of seats in this car. They chatter loudly, laugh piercing laughs, and occasionally scream at each other. The boys are channeling some odd combination of Compton and Eurotrash. The girls are thin and have wear too much makeup. At one stop, the boys get off the train. Just before they are out of earshot, a girl rushes to the door and screams: “VODKA!” One of the boys sprints back and hands her an enormous bottle of the clear liquid.

A man pets a small dog sitting quietly, sweetly beneath his feet.

A student sits alone, headphones in his ears, his backpack in the seat beside him. He takes swigs from the bottle of Beck’s resting on his knee in evenly spaced intervals.

An old man plays the accordion and sings loudly in an incomprehensible language. His friend shakes a cup full of coins. The Germans ignore him.

A man and a woman sit in opposite seats. his face is large, sour with heavy, near-liquid eyes. His lips are two rose-puffed sausages; his skin, a pale expanse of torn up earth, ghost-like and pock-marked from so many seasons.

The woman is pointed, her short black hair is gathered into a tail that bounces each time the train jumps beneath her. her square frame glasses focus her black-beamed eyes on a singular point, midway between herself and the man.

The man’s right hand is extended towards her. Palm down, his fingers curl naturally into a snailshell suspended motionlessly in the air between the two seats. The woman now extends her hand. Palm up, from the hinge point of her wrist her long fingers extend, forming a languid scoop—as would a beggar who has grown tired of his work. She slips her hand beneath his, a baby bird so quietly tucked. Their fingertips touch, but only lightly.

This is Berlin. All levels of life with the obligation to choose to connect or not to connect. Or to struggle to connect. Fingertips that indeed touch, but only breifly.

They stay that way for a while before getting off at the next stop.

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