For those who might miss my recent posts in German: I have moved them to a new site, Icksberg61, a site in German language only.
Announcement for a rally in Kreuzberg
Mietwahnsinn stoppen!“ – „Stop the insane rent increase!“ Two posters pop out from the immaculate, fresh painted walls beneath our entrance door. That’s nothing new. It’s the way they’re fixed, that catches my eye: Normally they use twos stripes of Scotch Tape. These were fixed by several smashes of glue out of a presumably huge bucket.
„Wow”, I thought. “Now it’s getting serious!”
To Put things straight: I share the opinion of these people and have joined their rallies on several occasions. It’s an anouncement for another rally and I’ll be there, of course.
Yesterday evening, the door bell rang. Our neighbour, an English teacher, had some questions about this and that, and then he turned to the major topic:
Did you receive an announcement of a rent increase as well?” We agreed.
Normally smiling day in and dayout he now turned bloody serious. “I can calculate when I’ll have to leave Kreuzberg and move to Marzahn or any remote place in the country side. Oh this is horrific…”<
This sentence you can hear from many of the old Kreuzbergians these days. The – let’s call them – “money makers” have discovered the district some years ago, bought the tenement houses for cheap and started to propagate Kreuzberg in the media. This district has been famous beforeq, but now it’s kind of a hype. What happens? Living in Kreuzberg becomes popular, the rents increase a lot and the old Kreuzbergians cannot afford the rents anymore.
The district always has been changing, people moved in and moved out, shops opened and closed again, creating a vivid and colorful atmosphere. But this one is different. Kreuzberg always has been a district of working class people, students and migrants, that is, people of little money. When they have to move out, the social structure will change. A fundamental change and a dramatic one:
First, it’s a bad thing for the inhabitants, who are practically forced to move away from the place they have lived for many years and loved so much.
Number two, it’s absoluteley clear that soon the atmosphere of the district will change, too. For it’s the people, that make the atmosphere. In maybe 10 years from now, Kreuzberg will be similar to – let’s say – Zehlendorf: Quiet, “sober and clean”. No life in the streets anymore. The uniqueness will be gone, and the “money makers” will shrug their shoulders and move to another location. Absurd indeed: those who renovated Kreuzberg in the mean time destroy it by doing so.
In the 1980ies, Kreuzberg used to be famous for the high level of political activity of it’s inhabitants. Many have left, but a lot of the “old guard” still lives here. In 2015, the activists launched a party to gain new members: The kids from the 70ies and 80ies partying the way they did back then, with the same music, the same food. You can describe the whole scene with one word: greyish. Where are the new kids? Do they take the inspiring environment for granted? Don’t they know that their creativity needs a spark to evolve?
Grey the old Kreuzbergians may be, but at least they’re there. So hand me that damn bucket and I’ll glue the whole city!
There are two kinds of city districts and two kinds of colordesigns: preplanned, well calculated ones and others that just happen – designs that are made by life itself , if you will: traces of the people living here, marks of their specific taste. These mixes may not match aesthetical standards. They may be too loud, or they sit down side by side with the „unspeakables“: with Rubbish, or with people that failed in life. They do not belong to “ the good, the true and the beautiful“ people like to stand on their mantelpiece.
City districts and color mixes that just grow are like the real life striking back against the preplanners.
Like Kreuzberg. Condemned to be torn down and rebuilt as concrete based tenement buildings it had been the People who took to the streets, squatted houses and – prevailed. Nowadays
„Hot town, summer in the city….“ The voice of Joe Cocker echoes through the streets, competing with the noise of the crowd in front of the pub next door and the cars of young Turks in the streets. They’re cruising through Kreuzberg to impress other young male Turks, standing on every corner and pretending they don’t need beer or girls to have fun.
The city never gets as close to you as in hot summer. Everybody drops clothes, opens up the window, and when the night falls: there she is, the city, having changed her business suite for her best „acoustic gown“. Hypnotizing you. Making you come out and walk the streets all night. Me too.
The People in the street have changed. The „night people“ have come out, looking for fun and pleasure. They’re talking louder, the girls with higher pitched voices. That’s what they’re living for. At night they can unfold to their natural size.
Strange faces of strange people, only lit in part. An endless stream. They pass by, they’re too many to remember. They do not insist to be looked at closely, for several minutes or more. They’re happy to be forgotten at once, what they do or wear. It’s sort of a code of conduct. And maybe if you’d take one out of the stream and look at him, introduce yourself: I’m sure he’d disappear go up in smoke.For night people aren’t real. They are like ghosts who’d never interfere.
Neon lights create an artficial world, also by drawing your attention away from all that’s weary during daytime. A different way to get rid of the dirt. I love night outs. The best thing is: it’s timeless. No change of light means no feeling that time passes, means maybe there is no end to this. And that’s how people behave. At night normal people dream in their beds – and night people live a dream! Everything is possible now. I feel like swimming through the streets, there is no ground, I don’t feel the earth anymore.
I’m totally sober, but I feel like I’m on a trip: Berlin’s a drug! And on every corner there is an old man or woman smiling at you. And you can tell from their smile that they know all secrets of mankind from the beginning of the world. Or maybe they know it’s no more than ten secrets, but they’re not allowed to tell the people. For if they did, all running in pursuit of happiness would end, all research. Everybody would stop snd remain where he is. A catastrophy, for it’s the restless feet of men that make the world spin round.
The outside world is not changing, but you are! I’m getting tired, I feel the reality returning in my neck. My walk turns into an attempt to escape. I speed up, stop once in a while to buy a drink. Alcohol maybe prolongs the joy, prolongs my stay in the happy crowd. But then an idea comes to my mind: that a night out is comparable to the course of life. And getting old means Your no longer part of the joyful crowd.
I’m slowing down. I feel the earth underneath my feet. I have landed. It’s not bothering me, that the sun is about to rise now. I see the night people run. They seek a hide. The guys from the sanitation department are hunting them with huge brooms. It’s their job to sweep the streets from unruly people before the busy ones return. They make the money needed to pay the bills. They cannot stand magic, or unexplainable things. Natural science is a fairy tale written for busy people. It makes them calm and keep on going to work. And dream about a world, where everything is calculated, preplanned. Visible in bright daylight. The day is for the fearful.
My favourite unisex barber shop is named after his owner, “Giorgio’s”, a half Italian hairdresser with an explosive temperament. It’s located outside of Kreuzberg, hidden behind 24 railroad tracks crossing the street on bridges one right beneath the other.
It’s a small room and it‘s cramped with selfmade furniture, hundreds of polaroids, postcards and pictures cut out of magazines, showing people from South America, gay people, Catholic saints or the Mother of God. A massive visual information overload. Entering this room may cause numbness and disorientation, the General Surgeon warns. But what seems like a creative mess is very well planned and carefully decorated, and of course the music in the back is latin music and fits right in. But after a while you realize: Not all things stick to the plan. There is some disharmony, but where and what? Now I know.
I am just entering one of these chairs to get my hair cut, when the music stopps. Giorgio returns from the CD-Player and starts snipping. The music now playing is different. It sounds like a Punkrock Soul crossover, and the singer seems to be undecided what he is singing about and how. After three verses he ends up screaming, and the guitarist joins him and then the rest of the band, too. The whole thing erupts into an acoustic mess everyone who ever has played in a band knows too well, but noone ever would think of recording or even publish it!
“That’s me together with my band”, Giorgio, says, interrupting his combing and snipping with his looks-like-a-toy-but-isn’t scissors. He looks into the mirror to check his work and he ends up checking himself. He seems disturbed, all of a sudden a dark cloud shades his eyes! He straightens his back, lifts up his chin – looks better!
“Uhm, the music is interesting…”, I start a small talk in order to distract him.
“We have made a CD, I can sell you a copy if you want…”, he says rather automatically. For Christ’s sake he still was so fascinated by his own looks, that he didn’t notice whether I answered or not. I did not.
Giorgio is half Italian and from his looks in his younger years he might have won a Tim Curry look alike contest. The years have made him gain some weight and taken away hair and he still can‘t stand it. Well, who would? As a hairdresser he is surrounded by mirrors, so he is confronted with his outward appeareance practically every minute of the day. Normal people would adapt after a while, buy a convertible car or climb a mountain to get back in balance, but not Giorgio! Not with his temperament!
He can lose his temper in a dramatic way, in Shakespearean dimensions, and I remember one day seeing a customer flee from the tiny little salon with having the cape on. But for now the danger of an eruption is over, and Giorgio starts singing a tune from an old German movie. And n-o-w he has a voice!
Giorgio continues snipping and the music in the back changes to a soft latin tune you don’t understand the lyrics even if it’s English, but there are images in front of your eyes of South America and of a singer with a smile – oh, it’s a contagious smile!
Giorgio seems to have discovered the fine arts recently. Several – modestly sized – oil paintings already have conquered one wall, but there is one huge painting showing a guy with a dark tan getting crucified. You didn’t need much fantasy to discover similarities with a young guy sitting in the back.
Last year, Giorgio spent his holidays in Cuba and picked up a young mulatto in a gay bar in Havanna. He looks so soft – put him in a dress and you‘d never guess he’s a boy.
“That’s Xaime. He is my family”, Giorgio says with a sigh. Xaime, sitting on a chair in the back and reading a magazine, sends him a tender smile.
But this is really all he ever does: Sitting in the back and reading. He doesn‘t clean up the floor with the broom when a customer is finished, he doesn‘t wash the customers hair or bring them a cup of tea. He just doesn’t want to! He wants to sit in the back and read. period.
His family he may be, but why does Giorgio bring him into the shop when he’s no help, I asked myself?
The music is changing to some fast Rhumba and three female customers on a small wooden bench in the back with crackling stripes of aluminium in their hair, waiting for the color-goo to dry and their beauty to return, turn the pages of their magazines.
The master starts to dance a little with a smile, and during one of his turns the catastrophee took it’s way. He must have touched a small table with a plastic bowl full of hair dye – black hair dye. And now his white linen pants look like the fur of a dalmatian dog!
“Noooo!”, he yells, and all the pidgeons of Berlin rise into the sky and the people stop and listen in fear. The female customers already grab their handbags. But all of a sudden, Xaime jumps up from his chair, throws away the magazine and rushes to Giorgio – who is trembling like volcano ready to erupt – to give him a hug. And a tender and innocent smile. And a kiss onto the tip of the nose. And whispers something Spanish in his ears.
The trembling stops. Still the size of a volcano, Giorgio looks down on him – another smile – then you can hear a deep sigh. They keep hugging for a moment, then both return to their work: Giorgio continues to cut my hair, singing an old Hans Albers song, and Xaime returns to his chair, which in reality is a watchtower. A mood guard he is, or even life guard? That’s his job, and he is good at it. And the pidgeons land again, and women in the back return to their magazines, and everything is nice and easy again.
Then Giorgio stops:
“You said you’d like to buy a copy of our CD, didn’t you?”
Well, not everything…