#22 FIRST IMPRESSIONS

DANIEL LOWE

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Berlin Schoneneld airport was to me both non-descript and efficient. The workers at the desks spoke English without so much as a blink of an eye and directed me to a bus stop, which fortuitously had a final destination of Kreuzberg – all this information was imparted to me in a swift couple of sentences. The price of the bus was reasonable and it was a modest handful of passengers that accompanied me as we snaked our way through the flat urban expanse of outer Berlin.

The roads were long and straight and each block did not have much distinct character as I looked out hungrily for my first impressions of the capital. Whilst no landmarks presented themselves willingly what I did notice immediately was the people and their manner. They were not shy in any respect. Their clothes were individual and their voices loud and clear – should I have spoken German, I would have been party to many a conversation. Additionally there was no hesitation in taking a seat next to me that there perhaps might have been in the UK out of ‘politeness’ or different social etiquette.

A couple of stops into the journey and I regretted my choice of seat, I was sat low down in the middle of the bus and had relegated my view to a mere glance at what passed by on the left. I much preferred the look of the front seat next to the driver which was an individual perch at a higher level and from which I could gain much more of an impression of the surroundings. The roads with their traffic ran smoothly and soon I began to become bored with the samey detached housing plots. Then I was shaken out of my boredom by a gentleman with what can only be described as a sceptre like wooden stick of considerable thickness who loudly barked a couple of lines of German at the driver and stopped in front of me, looking at me with an expression that said – what are you doing in my seat? My natural reaction was to surrender it and the man took it off me without a second thought. I sat for a while wondering whether I had just been manhandled out of a decent seat for no apparent reason because of my lack of German or if this was the expected norm. Better to be safe than sorry.

The bus stop location meant a walk to the flat, how much of a walk was yet to be determined, as I did not yet have my sense of scale or proportion. So wheeling my luggage behind me I set off along a long seemingly never-ending main road. The pavements were wide enough and incorporated a cycle path in their midst. The texture of the small cobbles caused a rattle as my suitcase ran over them, the cycle path was smoother but I ran the risk of being accosted by cyclists who passed at regular intervals. I started to believe that the distance I was covering seemed longer in my head because of the monotony of my journey, there was nothing particularly to draw the eye and the constant stream of traffic and wide mostly empty pavement meant the experience seemed quite alien and non intimate. However, having said that, there were the occasional impressive church buildings which were looming brick builds in good condition and which acted as vista stoppers on a number of occasions. The roads were straight but ran at angles just off parallel so if you made a wrong turn you would walk for miles before you had a chance to put yourself straight and would have to walk a long way again to right yourself. On the entire walk I passed two members of the public urinating in the street which I found most unusual but which fitted with the smell I had noticed on a couple of occasions. This supplemented by the graffiti which daubed almost every building for a considerable length gave the city a ‘dirty’ feel and yet contradictorily there was little to no rubbish or litter to be seen anywhere on the streets or pavements. The type of graffiti it is worth mentioning was not the beautiful creative kind, which I can easily appreciate, rather a rough, quick and lawless kind. It became apparent that the area I was to stay in was a gentrified area of relative wealth; the graffiti became less frequent, the buildings stacked higher and the typology changed to a tenement block. One which often and in most cases featured balconies, some of which were ornate and all were five or six stories high. A height noticeably taller than the tenement blocks I was familiar with in Glasgow and a height which was frustrating in the specific instance I arrived because the sunset looked to be a colourful one. I could catch tantalising glimpses of the purple yellow orange sky and the wisps of golden cloud and yet could not find a view from which to fully appreciate the situation due to the length of the streets and the height of the block.

Ultimately, I had to be satisfied with just that as the light had faded by the time I finally arrived at my destination on Williberg-Alexis Strasse – number 12 which was a ground floor flat. The entrance to the street was a heavy wooden door, which opened into a private close, through another of the same type and across an open internal courtyard, which was dark and had no hint of the sunset due to the height of the surroundings and the close quarters. I reached my quarters where I was to stay and planned to explore the city properly with a greater sense of direction at next light.

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