Berlin (click for larger image)
Thursday 1st April, 2010.
As always, the apartment wasn’t quite the way it had been pictured in the advert we’d booked it from on the website, but it’s fine. It’s a one-room flat on the eighth floor, with a view of blocky rooftops and satellite dishes and, if you look to the West, glamorous hotels. It’s tempting to pretend to be some kind of architectural psychometrist and imagine some kind of narrative about the people who lived here before it was bought up to be used as a tourist flat.
The journey was, as journeys are, desperately long at the time and then instantly forgotten. As always, we balked at how much we had to spend to get to the airport, which was almost what we spent on the flights, then spent even more money on unsatisfying food in a restaurant we probably wouldn’t have been to otherwise and then went book shopping for our holiday reads.
Jonathan picked up Wicked and The Art of Concentration. I’d passed on my copy of Wicked ages ago and he’d meant to read it, so it seemed like a good call to pick up another copy and it was such a surprise to see his cousin’s book in the bookshop ahead of the launch that we picked it up so we’d be able to talk to her about it when we next saw her.
My books were The Heretic’s Daughter and The Solitude of Prime Numbers, both of which I’d heard good things about, although I did consider picking up Kafka’s The Trial but thought that perhaps it wasn’t holiday material. Besides which, for some bizarre reason, WH Smiths at the airport didn’t have any Herman Hesse, which would have been my first choice for philosophical novels, although I’m not sure if there’s any I’ve yet to read from him. I was also a bit surprised that they didn’t have anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I was almost willing to give another try to after I’d been really dismissive of after reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was thinking about that which reminded me of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, so I settled for that.
I’m so glad I did; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s loss is my serendipitous gain. Paolo Giordano’s novel is a gloriously understated and introspected chronicle of the caustic consequences of moments in the lives that ripple through their teenage years and echo through their adult lives. It’s a brilliantly perceptive tale of how damaged people look for other damaged people, as though their scars might be the jigsaw parts that make them whole.
I devoured the book; the translation from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside is lucid and effortless. I opened the book when I sat down on the plane and I closed it, with a contented sigh, halfway along the u-bahn from the airport to the city centre. The ending itself is so elegant that I can’t speak of it for fear of breaking the carefully woven spell.
However, the one thing that did cause me to stumble with the book was the typesetting. As early in as page 15, there was a space missing between a full stop and a capital T and later in the book, the missing space seems to have reappeared.
I know it’s utterly pedantic of me to mention this but it seems to be coming up in a lot of books I’m reading at the moment and I’m wondering if it’s because they’re relying on spell-checking rather than human proof-reading or if it’s because they’re not re-checking the whole document after amending points earlier on in it, but it really jars in a novel where the language flows so effortlessly otherwise and I know how embarrassed I am about knowing there’s a similar typo in one of the dinosaur postcards I just made, but I’ll amend that on the next set I get printed and we’ll never speak of it again.
Would it be wrong of me to email Black Swan to point it out to them?
Anyway, a travelogue through vague allusions to the contents of books and the typesetting therein isn’t much of a record of me being in Berlin, so perhaps I shouldn’t just ramble about that stuff and instead I should tell you about something else.
In contrast to it costing about £30 to get us to the airport in London, it cost us €5.60 to get from the airport to town in Berlin, with the journey time being about the same. The U-Bahn is juddering and has a surprisingly abrupt braking speed, but let’s not start to anthropomorphise and say that everything in Berlin’s the same way, all slamming doors and swift brakes, ja?
We had to pick up the key for the apartment from a hotel a little distance from here from a surly Russian man who was watching a TV programme about cutting sausages at 10:30 at night. He wasn’t too pleased about us arriving after the reception hours closed at ten, but what could we do?
“I’m sorry you had to stay behind because our flight was delayed. Easyjet are rubbish, but at least you got my email, eh?”
“There’s a twenty-five euro charge for cleaning at the end of the stay, please sign here.”
Well, perhaps the brakes are a little abrupt.
The taxi driver who took us to the apartment was friendly and relatively chatty, which I think was to distract us from taking us the long way round on a pretty short journey.
The apartment’s perfunctory, a decent enough sized room with a bed that seems designed to make it as difficult as possible to be a couple on holiday – two single mattresses and two single quilts on a very squeaky double bed frame, and no door between that room and the kitchenette with the noisy fridge buzzing through the night.
Still, it’s cheap and it’s hardly like you go on holiday to spend all your time in the apartment, is it?
One lesson learned, though, is that we didn’t check that there would be an internet connection here and so we had a little panic when we first got in while I was unpacking, Jonathan was hacking to see if anyone was kind enough to have left a default password set up so we could get a map loaded onto our phones.
Tiny oversight there, whoops!
A closet full of clothes and strange discoveries – instead of a Gideon’s Bible, there’s a airport copy of A Thousand Distant Suns, which, sadly, I’ve already read (it’s brilliant, I will steal it and pass it on to someone else) a grubby towel with suspicious marks on it and a rogue fingerless mitten in cheap yarn.
I don’t think I’ll be bored enough to pull the mitten apart to make it into something else while I’m here, though, but that might be fun to leave a forgotten item as a different item by the time we leave.
It was midnight by the time we’d abandoned attempts at wifi piracy and ventured out to see if there was any way of finding food, only to discover we are staying about two minutes’ walk from where Jonathan stayed the last time he was here, so he could take us by the kind of circuitous route only a tourist knows to a late-night American diner where he ate enchiladas and I had vegetarian pasta and ginger ale and – thank god – they had wifi.
So, we loaded up maps and checked emails and then thought it might be funny to see who was on Grindr and, oh my, yes, Berlin seems to have some characters who have iPhones. Once I’d waded through some rather peculiar photos and considered changing my plans from going to the zoo to seeing an altogether different kind of bestiary, I was quickly interrogating people about places to go and things to do. Mostly their recommendations seemed to revolve around cruise bars and bear clubs and things like that, though, which isn’t quite what I was after.
Perhaps I’ll have another look at Lonely Planet and see what’s what with art galleries, rather than rely on the arse galleries that using Grindr in Berlin at one in the morning seemed to throw at me. However, there’s some kind of modern magic about the fact we could just turn up in a new city and within a couple of hours there were people offering to meet up with us, some wanting me to put my delicate artist hands in them right up to where my surgery scar might disappear, but also offers to show us cool places and interesting stuff in the city, which speaks volumes about the people of the city and the pride they take in this place.
Anyway, now my little bear is awake and I think it’s time we went and explored this crazy city a little bit, so I’ll catch up with you later!