When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.
At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.
But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.
At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise.
On a day like today, when the rain has shifted gears from friendly dribble to persistent prattle, you’re thankful for the ramshackle roof that covers a few long tables where you can sit and eat – with your fingers, of course – and watch the steam puff up from the hot, juicy chicken.
Back then, the Hühnerhaus was a place to come when the night was done, after the party, before the U-bahn trip home. It perfectly sated your belly, chasing out the last thumping strains of electro still chasing around your brain.
I haven’t been here in a long time – but that’s because my Berlin has changed.
These days, it’s more of a daytime city. I have my cafes and lunch spots, the nooks in which I like to sit and read or write. Even my park is cleaner; I go running there in the brisk early morning hours. Schöneberg is a different kind of neighborhood, more grown up. Being back around Schlesi, the first place in Berlin I felt connected to, I feel nostalgic, and also glad that I’ve moved on.
We brave the rain and leave the shelter of the Hühnerhaus to stretch out our overfed bellies and soothe them with whiskey. Down on the Wienerstr., there’s a small bar with a wall of whiskeys. Madonna-bar feels like old Kreuzberg, when it was still a little punky, a little dirty, dangerous – cities change too. We each let ourselves be poured a small glass and sit in the warm, empty gloom. It’s been an exhausting day. We’ve trekked from Prenzlauerberg to Kreuzberg to Neukölln and now back to Kreuzberg, walking most of the way. We’ve eaten far too much – and we’re both worn down by how hard it is to get me to speak naturally in front of a camera. But it feels good to be done. To sit down and sip a drink that warms us from the inside out.
We reflect on our day. I think about the way this neighborhood helped Berlin first feel like home. Even in the three years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen how much the city has changed. But I’m changing with it, and like a carousel, whose painted scenery flies around the circle with you, you never notice how fast you’re going until you look out and see the faces flying by.
This post is the second part in a three-part installment. Thanks to Jordi Garcia-Rodriguez of No Solo Travel Chronicles for his filmmaking skills. Read more about Jordi’s project here, watch part 1 of Eating Berlin here, and part 2 here.