In the summer the no-man’s-land by the S-Bahn tracks is a secret garden. Follow the path off the main road, through the thick undergrowth, past a derelict building and eventually you emerge into a sunlit oasis – Berlin invisible behind the dense trees. White sand has been imported, a makeshift bar constructed and music drifts across the 16 beach volleyball courts – every now and then an S-Bahn train rumbling past on its way to the centre.
Now though chunks of ice have been lying on the pavement for weeks. I’ve never thought of water as a proper solid before – ice is supposed to be something that is there in the morning or comes from the fridge – a fragile temporary condition not a stable rock form… I’ve seen ice landscapes in far-flung places but never seen it take over a city.
The hard sun slants through the windows of the station – two storeys above the Nollendorfplatz intersection. Down the centre of the wide streets, above Kreuzberg and Schöneberg, the elevated U1 railway rattles its way through the four storey buildings
With their backs to the view out over the city, the waiting Berliners gaze at the tracks or people opposite – their breath forming back-lit clouds evaporating in the sharp light.
Berlin is a shrinking city. A taxi driver tells me that before WW1 the metropolis had 5 million inhabitants and now it only has three. The town feels half empty and even the rush hour fails to rush.
One of my favourite words is ‘Auspuff’. German words have this ridiculous way of sounding like the things they describe. ‘Auspuff’ means exhaust pipe and its no nonsense poetry feels strangely beautiful.
I love being wrong and misunderstood. I have new eyes and a fancy dress tongue. Its hilarious that I can speak these sensuous, gurgling words and people act as if they understand – words that are so bodily they feel like you should only speak them in private.
Nobody likes Moabit. Its right next to Tiergarten, the large park right in the centre of the city, but somehow it’s cursed. With so much space, so few people and so little work there’s no pressure to fill the void. In London a disused underground toilette will get redeveloped into flats – in Moabit it will just remain a disused toilette.
The sun is a milky white behind icy clouds but it feels much warmer. Dressing for cycling is a careful process. The extremities of the body (toes, fingers and nose) need careful padding but the torso is prone to getting too hot.
It’s a revelation that after minus 22°C it’s possible that minus 4°C feels balmy.
There isn’t much left to tell you when you’ve crossed the border. People tell you stories of the wasteland patrolled by dogs that were attached to overhead wires – running up and down the no-man’s land between the two super-powers.
Now though, it’s only when you see the tram tracks in the road that you know you’ve entered east. The west modernised years ago, ripping them all out, and now its too expensive to put them back.
N.52°31.745, E.13° 24.614
The German moon is oblong. I cycle at night with its light at the edge of my vision, skimming above the roofs. In fact it is the illuminated sign on another crane – balancing itself above the rapidly changing skyline of the east.
Friedrichshain is the new Prinzlauerberg, which was the new Mitte. In the east everything is changing even the Plattenbau. Literally meaning ‘plate buildings’ these prefabricated soviet monsters are becoming sort after. The beautiful lumps of Stalinist concrete that line Karl Marx Allee still house the original tenants. With a special key, though, the lift now goes up one more floor to the glass penthouses that have landed on the roof.
The Nebelkrähe or fog-crows are flying beneath the low clouds. You see the birds everywhere in Berlin – hopping, surly silhouettes against the snow. They seem bolder than their London counterparts, they stop to look at you and hunch their foggy-silver shoulders.
The Palast der Republik is being demolished. The futuristic DDR parliament is being levelled to make way, first for the world cup and then to rebuild an ornate replica of a lost Prussian palace. The future turned out to be riddled with asbestos and now its being replaced with past.