The (next-)best thing June 14, 2007Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
…about going out on a spontaneous, all-night, post-work-rush bender, during which you have to hold up your friend and he nuzzles into you, as if you are his mother, and he wants you to make it all better, and you feed him water, which he imbibes with slightly less grace than Knut might, and you feel 15 again and remember a bender, which has created victims, when one of your co-15-year-olds would suddenly become the authoritative one and recommend the drinking of milk and the Heimlich manoeuvre – Heimlich? What’s heimlich about it? We all know it exists. And is ‘manoeuvre’ the only word which is written differently in British English and American English in TWO whole places? – and your parents pop their heads out the bedroom door and you explain that your friend has eaten something exotic – like pasta – which his delicate, English, 15-year-old stomach couldn’t cope with, and they settle for that, oddly, and disappear back into their bedroom in their M&S dressing-gowns, but then you remember that you and your current piss-up friend aren’t in fact 15 and have a combined age of 80, is taking a long tram-journey home just as Berlin is coming to life first thing.
Now it might have been the booze talking, as it were, but the city seemed a triumph of… something. Can’t say will, obviously, though it is slightly the word I mean… erm, humanity at about 6 in the morning. I have lived in five cities, four of which might all well put World War II as their historical low-points. London for the blitz. St. Petersburg for the blockade. Paris for the humiliation. And Berlin for how it all could have happened. Perhaps Stoke-on-Trent suffered too. Paris and St. Petersburg survived the war largely in tact, of course. (Have folk read tales of St. Petersburg’s blockade? When the war-time equivalent of memos would go out advising people where nutrition was to be found? Such as in the glue holding up wallpaper?) London suffered galore. And Berlin was smashed to fuck.
Darlings, I’m free-associating here, and may be spouting bollocks, for a change, but it seemed to me, drunk(ish), at 6 in the morning, that London and Berlin went about rebuilding in different ways. London’s destruction was, no doubt, more here and there. And not of such scale. And I imagine reconstruction was done in a roll-your-sleeves-up, practical, get-on-with-it way. Whereas Berlin’s reconstruction seems to have had more politics involved. Yes, so the slum-clearances which came later in London were examples of (I’m guessing) war-prompted social engineering. And, of course, Berlin, with its mythologised Trümmerfrauen, has more than enough examples of its roll-your-sleeves-up, practical, get-on-with-it stories too. But after the war the UK was still the same country it had been, at least politically. Whereas Germany got another couple of generations’ worth of political upheaval.
BiB, what are you on about? In London, they built tower-blocks. In Berlin, they built tower-blocks. A tower-block is a tower-block is a tower-block. But why, when I see tower-blocks in London, do I think quickish, cheapish, not-taking-up-much-space housing, yet, in Berlin, do I think quickish, cheapish, not-taking-up-much-space housing but with a huge sociopolitical twist? In London, a house seems like a house. In Berlin, it seems like a project.
Not that history ended in the post-war period, of course. Change went on. And as the wall came down and the East became part of the West, it was again time to tinker with the post-war housing (of which there’s more over here, in the East, though there’s plenty in the West too). London upgrades its housing estates too. In a practical way. Security issues. Ugliness issues. Of course there’s regret at having gone down the high-rise route in some quarters. Little houses looked nice. People had streets rather than walkways. But then what hope is there of reversing such decisions so far down the line in a city as crowded and expensive as London? But social snobbery isn’t as acute in Berlin as it is in London. Yes, there’s a preference for the Altbauten, but it’s not the end of the world living in a post-war block of flats.
And trundling back through the East at 6 in the morning, through Friedrichshain, Lichtenberg, Weißensee (then Prenzlauer Berg and Pankow), it all seemed like the (perhaps drink-fuelled) triumph I alluded to earlier. Yes, you can’t get too visually excited by one tower-block after another. By parallelogram after parallelogram. But it was all so fucking pretty. The greyness is being airbrushed away. Greenness does its best where it’s allowed to. And it all looks tended to. Call it the nanny-state if you will. It somehow made what could all be an endless bleakscape warm and soften the hardened cockles of my heart.
And all the men out at 6am, bar those post-bender, are wearing workmen’s dungarees with holsters for tools. I fancied every single damned one of them.