Diary of an Expat, Part 47
Tiergarten, biking, the Berlin punk scene
One of the unique pleasures of living in Berlin is biking down the the Strasse des 17 Juni, which is the massive straight thoroughfare that runs through old West Berlin, from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to the Charlottenburg Gate in the west.

Monumental constructions like this are an advantage of living in a nation's capital, I suspect; there is no equivalent in Denver and there was no equivalent in San Francisco. It's a very, very lovely experience.

Unter den Linden around the Brandenburg Gate is always kind of a shit show, to be honest. It's where the tourists go — Germans have no reason to hang out with that crowd and it's packed with ridiculous things. You can have your picture taken with people dressed up as Soviet or American soldiers. You can see people made up like statues. You can drink a lot of beer and buy a lot of pretzels.

Or you could step through the Brandenburg Gate into the Tiergarten, and discover that it's eminently possible for the city to disappear entirely.

I've been to the Tiergarten twice and both times it was pretty quiet, for being a massive park right in the heart of Berlin. The traffic noise largely vanishes, and it's replaced by the tranquility of old trees and reasonably well tended grounds.

Berlin is not always tranquil.

I heard about an incident down towards Jannowitzbruck earlier in the week. Somebody told their group of friends that they were going to shove someone into traffic, and then they did — running up to someone on a bicycle and shoving them into a moving car. As it happened this was fortunate; it meant they avoided being hit by a bus, and they're pretty much okay.

There's a tendency to "few bad apple" that — the same way that a lot of Americans don't want to link violent killing sprees with their own culture, a lot of Berliners don't want to link that kind of reckless sociopathy with Berlin's. Points can be made either way; I'll be the first to admit that.

But there is a "fuck you older/wealthier/smarter/employed/foreign person" culture here; it borders on punkish anarchy. It's what leads people to cover every building in Berlin with graffiti, to transform Berlin's vacant apartments into art galleries and squatter havens, to shut down the streets with meandering protests, to vandalize trains and set cars on fire and detonate illegal fireworks in the middle of a busy fucking street.

I don't see a whole lot of it. I see a lot of disregard for casual things — a lot of people tossing their cigarettes aimlessly at the ground, a lot of people 'taking care' of beer bottles by dropping them in place. Every morning when I bike to work, every business owner on Brunnenstrasse and Torstrasse is out there with a heavy broom sweeping up the detritus of the "urban! vivacious! unapologetic! radical!" youth culture of Berlin.

I'm not quite square. I'm pretty bent, actually. A squircle, maybe. Or a hexagon, which is what I really want to be. Anyway I'm not quite square, so I'll admit that I do like the parties, and the energy at night . I guess that's part and parcel of the youth asshole thing? I don't know. I don't like to think that it is.

Because of course, most Germans aren't really like that. Most Germans are friendly; civic-minded, willing to help out, willing to do what they can. I lost a key today, down one of the department stores. I asked at the front desk. I asked first if she spoke English, and see said "only a little," so I explained in German what I had lost, and when, and she spent some time on the phone and trying to help me figure out where it might've gone. Just some random act of helpfulness.

(helpfulness, as a callback to a previous post, and not obsequiousness. She didn't ask how I was doing or make small-talk about my day whilst we were brainstorming this particular issue)

Maybe it's part of a desire for escape, and quiet, that drives me to the parks. These last few days have had the feel of a waning summer — the kind of days that grab you by the shirt and draw you outside to say: "this is it, this is your last chance." September is warm enough; I'm sure there are days yet.

And you should take advantage of them while you can. It's a chaotic world we live in; it's so easy — too easy — to assume that opportunities will reemerge that we lose sight of how fickle they really are.

So I'll try to spend more time outdoors tomorrow. Anyway I've nothing more pressing to do than a summer afternoon...
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