It Works Wonders For The Poor: (2 in 1 package : struggling artist diary entries + semi-enjoyment guidelines for the city of effin’ Berlin)
by Boris Paillard
Lift these crusty eyelids, it’s 3 p.m. Sniff your nails, that’s yesterday night’s Döner-scent. It’s about time to stumble out onto the sun-baked sidewalk and hop on your excuse for a bike. Yes, then storm through the city like a bad-ass that everybody must be looking at in awe, but inevitably invisible in the urban chaos. Oh, how i wish they knew I was currently headbanging to Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna.
Kneel down on the first patch of grass you’ll encounter and pray not to be, or become, one of these American/Australian expats, with a cap screwed on the skull and a cigarette glued on yellowed lips, who likes to believe this is how Brooklyn must have felt in 2001. Most importantly, don’t mind the clusters of t-shirted tourists stopping to take thousands of gorgeous pictures of each other in front of plastic bears, broken walls and anything else that has to be remembered forever on an external hard-drive gathering dust in a closet.
When the sweet tooth kicks in, buy a chocolate with coffee in it, which is a flavour you absolutely loathe… because you lied to yourself when you thought you understood whatever the german word on the label meant. Eat the whole thing anyway through a slideshow of grimaces because you’re hungry and too broke to go get a “regular” chocolate bar. There must lie one of the big tragedies of indigence : whatever it is, eat it if you got it.
They say that underground culture is very much alive and kicking here. It seems that whatever is subterranean or alternative is a bunch of punks who don’t want to be photographed in their messy squats. Some are even successful entrepreneurs and sell hideous necklaces, paintings or anything that can be hand-made in less than five minutes at the many fleamarkets. “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck about capitalist society, you white-bread tourists can suck on my hairy balls, but please purchase this 5 € ashtray made of recycled vinyl, I just did it two minutes ago and ain’t it just lovely ?”.
It feels like the true teenage attitude lies in all these cranky Berlin-born and braised people who have a historical issue with any kind of authority – the mucho-feared “Berliner Schnauze”. Watch them in awe giving the finger to cops when caught talking on the phone while driving, or laughing out loud at the law when smoking indoors in bars and restaurants. My favourite paradox of the year : very often is the “smoking room” in clubs the place where non-smokers take shelter to breathe. Oh, and yes of course, there is a crazy-lot of “political” street art of inconsistent quality. When there is no room on the Berlin walls and doors to express the artists’ graffiti urges, will they come and tag “Peace & Love & Unity” on my body ? I hear that Berlin, because of that constant re-building atmosphere, feels like “tout est à faire”. Hmm, no-one seems to want the job, but they sure use a lot of paint.
Things I’ve been told repeatedly : “You’re too late, man. Rent used to be cheaper, the music scene more vibrant, the atmostphere more laissez-faire and women more beautiful.” I usually answer a very thoughtful : “Mmh”. I love spotting one of the bezillion Spielcasinos with their über-tacky window displays concealing the depressing inside, always involving some sort of pixellised roulette picture and some combination of dice, flames, skulls, boobs, coins and bills. Sit outside a Spätkauf all-night or get stranded in side streets, the city offers a never-ending cast of colourful characters. One of my faves are the bearded dudes who windsurf on skateboards on the lanes of Tempelhofer Feld, a gigantic deserted airport turned into massive public park.
Tell people you’re an exiled artist working on huge mind-fucking projects, and then hide and play video-games all night. Buy vegetables to trick yourself into someone with healthy habits but let them rot in the lower fridge compartment until that day you find them again and go : “Oh that’s really too bad, I could have used them just now, but they’re not good anymore, damn”, and blame it on your bad luck or terrible memory.
Watch your odd job get weirder as shifts go. “You have to respect them because they’re rich”, my boss said unashamedly about the Hilton hotel customers. Ok, I’ll just go on and do that then. Eat at work this saucey salad filled with nauseating colours because it’s only 1,60€, to finally vomit this foul rainbow a few hours later. Quitting feels like stepping out of jail, except no-one was waiting for me outside to pick me up. It still only solves one problem on the dreaded list, and leaves me frazzled. But they say feeling lost comes with being free. Return your busboy outfit (including an humiliating black bow-tie and name-pin no-one ever cared to read) and celebrate with yourself in front of a Curry Boulette floating in a sea of animal blood & ketchup. It’s starting to rain on my French Fries and I’m too bored to go home. How much can one man do alone ?
This sounded negative, I know. But I thought I’d give you a tour.
One thing about this city though : it does work wonders for the poor.