A modest amount of sleep plus sworn promises to never drink that much ever again, no no not ever, and we get to see our neighbourhood in snowy daylight, and it‘s gorgeous. Prenzlauer Berg is old East Berlin. Kastanienalle and Zionskirchstrasse are the buzziest bits and Katie’s ingenuity has landed us right in the middle (for €25 a night each, danke kerching). Oderbergerstrasse is like a Parisian avenue with a park at one end where you can sit on a swing that takes you backwards and forwards across the Wall with childlike irreverence.
Today there is a flea market which is really an excuse to indulge in currywurst and gluhwein rather than splash out on kids clothes and old chairs and Michael Jackson picture discs, all of which are covered with snow. It’s a great opportunity to dog spot too, the dogs in Berlin are beautiful, the happiest and healthiest of beasts, especially in comparison to the rats on sticks in vogue in New York or Paris.
I decided ahead of time I wasn’t ready for the Libeskind Jewish Museum but we go to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is surely the most photographed thing on Facebook. It is interactive in the good old-fashioned sense you have to get in and walk around it. It’s moving in unexpected ways. When we were there the tops of the pillars were covered with snow, the sides were dusted on one side with flakes reflecting the direction of the wind and many had slim fingers of ice running down the sides, it was beautiful. I like to imagine teenagers sneaking in there at night and making frantic love between the pillars. It’s life.
The concrete was dark and wet and imposing and of course made me think of concentration camps and graves and gulags. I thought about people who perished from working outside in the temperatures we were walking around in. I thought about Primo Levi walking all the way back to Italy through empty villages after the liberation. There is no memorial big enough, but you have to try.
The gay and lesbian memorial in the park across the street is a defiant cube cast in the same lifeless concrete but in its heart runs a perpetual film of two timeless-looking men kissing tenderly. The writing on the plaque is actually more touching than the monument. I think about Uganda. I think about Larry Kramer saying ‘Homosexuality is hated everywhere in the world’ and I feel in my bones he’s right. There is no memorial big enough, but you have to try.
The Reichstag, closed for some political thing of course, all very nice but I didn’t really feel anything, or much care. I would liked to have seen it wrapped in plastic. There’s a Starbucks at Brandenburg Gate where the tours commence. I’m sure Berlin didn’t come all this way for so very little. There’s not much head-space there to mourn the death of a possible Socialist Europe, you might as well print up Stasi appreciation T shirts, but I do feel sad that Socialism is the dirty word it now is when it had so little to do with whatever that system was which buffered the Soviets from the rest of us.
Power nap then to Zionskircheplaz in search of a vegetarian Russian restaurant which is closed. It is fortuitous. We go to the next restaurant we see to get out of the cold and snow and the lovely proprietor explains to us thusly: there is a golden pig on the bar into which you place €2 to hire a wine glass. At the end of the bar are five open bottles of red wine which you taste and choose as you please. The deal is you order what you like from a menu of four courses and at the end of your meal you pay as much as you feel it was worth by putting your cash into a jar. Simple. Civilised. Difficult too.
A kind waitress translates the menu into English (cream of celery and gorgonzola soup, walnut and cheese ravioli, divine) before Katie and I embark on one of those Olympic conversations we specialise in that encompasses art, fashion, food, fucking, mortality, politics, children, God, hairy chests, you name it. It feels, to paraphrase, as if the conversation is having us. It is one of the nicest nights of my life. How can we possibly go to bed? A neighbourhood bar keeps us in Cosmopolitans and Manhattans until the wee small hours and we trudge home in the snow. In lieu of a stereo we stay up singing James Taylor and Ivor Novello and Suzanne Vega and Ella Fitzgerald to each other in the kitchen.
I can’t remember getting to bed.