Monday, October 26, 2009

Night Walk

Today is beautiful. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. Simple, declarative.

Most days have been cloudy and drizzly over the last four weeks. They too have beauty in the constant changes of tones and patterns in the sky and the strangely intense light that seems to come from no where in particular.

Today is different and the difference alone makes beauty.

Last evening, after supping on Lemongrass Tofu at a local Thai restaurant and feeling invigorated from the spicy, tangy sauce, I thought to go for a small walk, perhaps to the next train stop north, where there is a mall, and then maybe into the neighborhood to make my way back. I had heard there was an open mic for electronic music at a cafe in that neighborhood on the other side of Danziger Straße and thought maybe I would go, just as a fun way to pass an evening among people with live music.

I set out walking, my legs churning the distance, as if that way time could thicken faster. Schönhauser Allee, up which I walked, has an elevated train down its middle in this section. They say it was a grand avenue in East Berlin, and it is grand, but the elevated train dominates so much that the grandeur is sometimes hard to appreciate.

Lined with small shops, cafes and restaurants the street plunges on and on. People came towards me and passed. Most spoke German, but occasionally English would tickle my ear, or Spanish snake out an embrace. I am always amazed at how international the population of Berlin seems. Of course as a major capital in a polyglot continent it should be that way. Our big cities are too.

But I suppose that the diversity is not evenly distributed. It probably clumps and this neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg probably has far more than most neighborhoods.

I passed a grandly lit Vietnamese Restaurant with gentle music and enticing scents drifting from it. Inside, every table was filled. That was unusual, it seemed to me. In fact, I wondered how all the small businesses survived since they never seemed full. I have read that a lot of expats, especially young, college aged expats, seek server jobs at restaurants or cafes. They seem abundant, but the pay is very low. And, here there is not a custom to tip, so the pay is what it is, not what it could be if customers were pleased.

Some expats say, in these jobs, they make maybe four hundred Euros a month. That comes to about six hundred dollars a month. Berlin is not cheap, and it is filled with luxury, like all the shops down the Ku’dam or on Unter den Lindens, or up and down Friedrichstraße, where blue jeans begin at 100 euros. And, it is also poor, as these wages indicate. In fact, I think parts of it must be very poor and struggling. I wish I knew more about median incomes and how they vary in all these neighborhoods of five or six story housing blocks, and a few neighborhoods of single homes and others of new high rises.

But I am striding down Schönhauser Allee, further north and further into the heart of residential East Berlin. The buildings, though similar to ones in my neighborhood, are newer and not as nicely restored. Fewer BMWs claim the streets and more smaller cars, even some Fords. They don’t gleam as much in the night light.

I reach the mall. People still swing its doors. My plan had been to turn right into the neighborhood here and then make my way to the cafe, but it was early. I had been walking fast, so i kept walking. I passed one large street with rows of trees on a double path of grass in the middle, and three lanes of traffic on either side. Right in the center of the grass were train tracks. Berlin is known for its public transport system, with subway, many different kinds of trains, and busses, much of which runs all day and all night. Just the frequency changes. I love being able to go somewhere and still count on getting home, even though it is very late.

The elevated tracks of the U-Bahn start dropping. I wonder if I am getting close to Pankow, the municipality into which Prenzlauer Berg was folded following reunification and urban restructuring. Neither it nor Pancow was especially happy with the arrangement, I have read.

I pulled out my ipod, which I am using as a watch since I left my cell phone at home, and yikes, somewhere an hour had passed. I had been walking for almost an hour. My legs must have slowed down. I arrived at another large street, similar to the other, crossed it, thinking I might just go to the next subway stop and catch a train back. But I was getting tired and did not know how far it was to the stop. OIf course I could have turned back, but I still felt adventurous.

Instead, confusion surrounded me, so I turned into the neighborhood, thinking I would walk to the parallel street and then back to the cafe and the open mic.

I walked, and walked, but there was no parallel street to turn down. This street was dark, lined with cars, simple cars, and, although there light from some windows, there was no one in the street. Worry hit me. Did I make a mistake, was it safe to walk in a place where there were no people on the street?

Furthermore, there were no boutiques, no cafes. It was just house-block after house-block, and no people. Not even any graffiti. What to do?

I figured I would keep churning onward. I figured eventually I had to run into the big street of Prenzlauer Allee that ran in the same direction as Schönhauser, just maybe a mile apart.

But, finally a side street, just after I walked past a large clinic with its offerings of various medical services and its doors closed. I turned down it fearing I was becoming lost though reminding myself of how I had walked and the bearing of the streets. I was making a map in my mind so I could calm myself down and keep walking.

My legs began tiring. I was feeling hot, though it was only fifty degrees outside. Still that was warmer than it had been recently and I had been walking, a lot. I took off my jacked and carried it in my arms. The cold laved me. At first it was good, then I had to put my coat back on as I began to shiver.

I walked past St. Joseph’s Old Folks home, barred and closed to the night. A few men came towards me. I actually straightened up and tried to look aggressive and big, though I was nervous and felt really out of place.

Man, if they challenge me, what would I say. I don’t know that German? They walked by and never said anything.

I passed a bar, with two men smoking in front and speaking a rough, hard German. Again I tensed as I realized strangely that I did not feel comfortable that there were no women on the street. I felt fight or flight.

But I walked on. They paid me no heed in the dark. They were too involved in their conversation.

I walked and walked and walked, as the night thickened. It was much later than I anticipated and I began to realize I had probably walked some four miles already and would do five or more before I was done. My legs were tired since already today I had walked from Eberswalder Straße to Unter den Lindens Ave, across Museum Island, before going to the Stadtmitte subway stop. I had walked a lot.

Up ahead I saw some cafes and bars. There were people on the street. The neighborhood looked vaguely familiar, but it did not fit the map I had going in my head. I could not recognize it. So I kept walking and came on a Korean restaurant that was closing for the night. Yum Korean food. I stopped to look at their menu board and then reminded myself to check the map in the morning, to see where I was because I would like to have some Korean food. I love Korean food.

Though tired, I kept walking.

Suddenly I became aware of my surroundings. The raised subway line opened before me, along with the Eberswalder stop. I was back where I had started. The street I had been on was Papelallee but it did not have that name when I first started walking down it. I would have noticed.

I know this area and have walked it before. How come I never saw the Korean restaurant, until tonight?

But I had passed the street the open mic was on. I was tired. My legs were feeling a little weak. Should I just go home. The thought of more walking and then four flights of stairs was intimidating.

Still, I had gone out tonight to go to the open mic. The walk was supposed to be just a diversion, a wasting of some time. So I turned back, found the right street, walked down it for quite a ways, looking for the cafe. I had memorized its street number, 16.

Sixteen was an apartment building.

Oh, ok the cafe was right next to entrance to the apartments. It was a big, shiny, Middle eastern Restaurant and Hookah bar. I could see some people inside, sitting and talking, but no open mic. I walked to the side, around the corner. There was a kebab and shawarma place, but no open mic, so I walked home, a little disappointed.

Still my legs were very tired. After climbing my flights of stairs, and entering the dark of my apartment, realizing Frank wasn’t there though it was late, I sank to my bed. My clothes came off at the same time I sank. It was so wonderful to be supine, on my bed, to let my legs rest.

Now, though, it is a sunny day. The sky is blue. My camera is in my bag. I think I shall go walking some more, just because it is such a beautiful day for a walk.

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