“Where are you from!?” the newest strange stranger in my life called out from one of the sparsely shaded and sunlight scabbed green park benches on the east side of the boisterous resting place that is Vikotria Luise Platz. She looked like an out of time and place decrepit Hippie with shoulder length bouncy brown hair and was wearing a blue and white sundress to not match her bonnet-esque sunhat. She was shoeless, and flanking her on each side of her as she sat there (enamored with my aura I suppose), were two walking canes.
“Everywhere!” I answered.
It was another attempt to find my piece of peace in that place that I go to to find some semblance of that emotional and psychological Manifest Destiny. It is not always easy, and the summer months have proven to thwart the facility altogether. My Denkenplatz has been invaded by spritely familial gatherings, the unbearable likenesses of exhibitionists, the staccato roar of jovial dogs, the heinous presence of loving couples who have not yet known each other long enough to transcend to hate, the meandering and lowly bottle collectors, the mortality denying adamant elderly exercisers hellbent on paving a longer path to heaven, the school kids with their beer and grass grass sitting moments, the seen-it-all gaggles of retired early morning drinking folk, the surly manicurists of the lawn, the uptight business men and women screaming into their smartphones, the fastidious fountain, the bustling bycycles, the screaming strollers, the jarring joggers, the vociferous vamps, the before and aftermath of Berliners gone wild…Even when I found the only place afforded to me for slumber – those dark quiet nights of destitute luxury, even then, a fox usurped my lull of loneliness.
I tried and failed to find peace in other pieces of boisterous Berlin where at any hour day or night, in any kiez, on any strasse, you can find someone walking somewhere, perhaps aimlessly or right on target – but there is never a moment alone.
My first attempt at finding a new Denkenplatz was not too far away from the first one (the aforementioned Vikoria Luise Platz) housed centrally in Schöneberg. It was another bench, nestled under the umbrella of thick oak tress now in full bodied green bloom, near another quaint and loud platz bearing the moniker Winterfeldt, close to the rife with social accoutrement Maaßenstrasse where my “office” is located: that sweet little bistro café owned and operated by non-Germans, with their impeccable bedside manner and cheap and fulfilling coffee – where the smiles are not feigned or altogether absent, and the frequenting clientele are all giving knowing looks to each other about the autonomy of the place; we don’t want anyone to know about our secret and sacred space. It is the only place where I can spend hours doing all of my creative business, meet friends and colleagues without the burden of obnoxious choices in loud tasteless music nor the jarring frequency of gay cruising – and feel a little bit like home away from home.
The bench is not too far from Nollendorfplatz, for I wish not to stray away from the historic landmark where Christopher Isherwood lived. A necessity of mine is passing by the place every few days to remind myself of the reason for my sojourn here to the can’t-live-with-can’t-live-without Madonna and Whore that is the city of Berlin. I have found myself at this platz away from platz many times, for the the most part due in part for the need to escape (mostly the shackles of an impossible lover). There is where I chainsmoke and ponder new meanings of life, but it is nothing like my dearest Denkenplatz.
The last time I found refuge there, the rain came suddenly. And while normally this is a feat for me, an illustrious gift of peace, my peace, the city’s peace – with the sweet funky smell that comes from the first few drops along with the pungent sound of the tree leaves being slapped with random precipitation, sending all the denizens into a restless quiet, many of them being beckoned inside of businesses or under awnings, perhaps hoping that someone may come along and wait out the rain with them – a strange stranger who might help them piece back together their heart in an effort to finally find peace from the love they already lost…
It all ended (my peace) when someone sat next to me – someone who used words instead of silence. They asked my permission (in German) and I allowed them to break the barrier, the fourth wall of society, my attempt to ostracize the world for a few moments.
The next platz was not so close to the first and second. The fear of not being alone coerced me to try to find a place where I could see the world from afar without having to interact with it. While Viktoria Luise Platz allows me a view through the looking glass, the Nollendorf bench left much to be desired in the way of voyeurism so I made it over to the Kudamm, a popular stomping ground for people with money and the people who beg them for some of it.
I sat very very very early in the morning, and this was my mistake. Although I was treated to the free theater of 6:00am drunks and one-party-after-another naïve tourists and jaded veteran Berliners, ogling everyone between conversations with themselves, it was an untimely moment due to the Teutonic efficiency of cleaning the fountains and chairs in the center square, where most of the city must bypass in order to make their way down the broad way of art and commerce.
A rather large man told me something I could not hear – the square is adjacent to two major thoroughfares and several long overdue construction sites that in typical Berlin fashion have been and stayed erected since I first came to visit in 2009, a quintessential and veritable analogy for the city’s laziness in all ways except for sex, drugs and
rock and roll techno music. I was prompted to move – to end my denken – and get up and out of the hard marble imitating concrete circular shaped seating area so he could get to work on cleaning it with his big loud water-pressure hose. I scoffed, rolled a cigarette, and huffed and puffed myself away from a little piece of peace.
The next platz was back in the direction of Nollendorfplatz, and again was another platz, this time named Wittenburgplatz. I sat in front of the beautiful on the outside, ugly and confusing on the inside (like so many transients here) Ubahn station, in order to get one of those life-like views of others, much like one would find at an airport (one of my favorite places to find my stories to write about).
There, there wasn’t much interruption but enough 100 people getting off of the train to keep my eyes and brain busy – in a most peaceful way, but it was not the peace of mind I was looking for – and then again I was so rudely interrupted by a large, fluorescent street cleaner that wiped my mind clean and incapable of any coherent thoughts. I had another idea…
I went closer to Eisenacherstrasse and considered the idea of sitting on the stairs of the big church there, a congregation place for many during all hours of the day. For a moment I walked towards the bronze and turquoise hued thing, but it was still morning and traffic was not flying at the right speed and also I didn’t want the beautiful bells of the church to remind me of Paris – a place long overdue for a visit.
I walked back to the piece of Nollendorplatz, closer to where it all began, and I found myself smoking at a bench that holds a monumental piece of my past, present and future.
Located in a playground and centrally located exactly in the center of the distance between two of the most outstanding lovers I’ve had in Berlin (both exactly opposite of each other in every way), the one I ran away from and the one I ran to, and then vice versa; both of their dwellings are equidistant from this bench and the last time I sat upon it was the last time that I knew that it would be the last time with one and maybe also the other. My head was weighed down then by the thought of these thoughts, putting together the pieces I needed to make peace. The good guy, the bad boy – the classic dichotomy of love and affection and terror and intrigue and everything else that sums up the amorphous meaning of the word “passion”.
It was where I sat, just once upon a time, with an iota of my belongings that I managed to grab, like a track runner reaching behind him for the baton in a relay race, falling out of my bags, along with the matching luggage of the bags under my eyes and the tears falling out of them. I was on my way to the good one, away from the bad one, and there I smoked, in disbelief of the unbelievable – and I made my way from slamming one door and then knocking on the next. No one answered.
I went to a bench that I never sat on but it has always fascinated me and struck me as a place that could have been my Denkenplatz when I lived in the middle-of-the-road Berliners love and hate community called Kreuzberg. It too sat on a main street, or in this case, a high way (pun seperation) – close to Görlitzer Park, a big knoll of nothingness that is always busy on account that the only grass that survives there is the kind that is purchased and smoked from the imported immigrants that hustle there.
This bench was/is adjacent to a church and I found myself in my old kiez with enough thoughts to bring me to peace, enough people to put me at a distance from them, enough noise and quiet to keep me calm, enough of everything but not too little or too much. And then someone asked to sit down next to me. I smoked and I left.
I’ve looked for other places, benches, platz, pieces in this city to find my place, my peace. More and more it seems I cannot be alone, I cannot escape. There is always a distraction of intimacy that robs me of that precious need for silence, or at least an obscured presence of vicarious experience, a precious tool for a writer that cannot be used properly when usurped and weilded by the pieces of others.