Memories of money and drug dealers in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg

For the past month, I’ve been out and about in Tokyo, where I neglected any blog writing in favour of drinking whisky and listening to jazz. Around a month before I headed to Japan, I found myself back in Berlin, a city that I used to frequent, but hadn’t done so for about five years. Berlin has its obvious charms (dark rooms in Berghain anyone?). It also has a creeping sense of gentrification, which meant that I ended up staying in Neukölln, a place that was never on the cards back in 2010. Unlike my hometown London, those living in Berlin seem to actively give a shit about rent increases and the blandness of yuppification. So I have faith that the city isn’t entirely doomed.

Mad money at Warschauer Straße

This trip to Berlin was tinted with nostalgia, as ostensible mundanity triggered strong memories. On my first night, I stay in an apartment much further east than I’d ever been before. The next day, I decide to take the train to Friedrichshain and follow my feet to wherever they lead me. I walk up the steps at Warschauer Straße main station and automatically turn left at the top, taking me past the S-Bahnhof. At once, I glance inside at the Sparkasse ATM and I’m brought back to the excitement of a trip to Melt! Festival in 2010 with a good friend from London. Prior to heading into Brandenburg for the music festival, I had checked this exact cash machine with an old German bank card, expecting to find a spare €20. Instead, I found something like €5000.

Cue a wild few days where I happily bought drinks for an assortment of Germans, Dutch and a particularly funny South African duo. Germans know how to run parties. They also know how to be really chill and how to not act like poser arseholes. But they also don’t entirely understand sarcasm – you win 5000, but you lose all the jokes.

Algerian hash in Görlitzer Park

As I approach the Oberbaumbrücke to cross the Spree, I spy the East Side Gallery, which brings me back to my first Berlin trip in 2008 with an early girlfriend. My mind replays this scenario – bad German skills at check-in, leading to communication in English that our room wasn’t ready and we could leave our bags – as my feet take me right back to where they wandered eight years ago: Görlitzer Park. I walk to the spot where, as a 19 year old, I responded to a German voice asking for a cigarette with the reply that I only had tobacco. Again, my poor accent betrayed a foreign nationality, as the voice in question called me over for a chat. To cut a long story short, me and my girlfriend at the time ended up chatting to an Algerian man in Görlitzer Park as he ate chicken, shared a hash joint with us and offered lashings of Pepsi Max. Future discussions and research would teach me that this specific Kreuzberg park has a reputation for dubious drug-dealing types. But I have to say, this gentleman was incredibly friendly and unassuming. He told us about his distant migration to Berlin, how much he loved the city and then wished us a safe and pleasant stay. Much nicer than those sketchy dudes who prey on teenagers at Camden Lock…

If you take the right (and a few wrong) turns in Berlin, there’s plenty of money, hospitality and memories for all.

 

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