Alone in Berlin: Part 1


At first it was exhilarating.

I wanted the hostel, where I stayed the first few nights, to be my home forever. I loved the anonymity of the place – the backpackers waiting for a leftover packet of pasta to boil, the discarded tea bags, the little laminated signs asking travellers to consider the environment before throwing away their rubbish.

There were two Asian-looking girls in the kitchen one evening. One had an American accent, the other was British. They had met at the hostel and now they were friends. The American wanted to go to “school” in Europe. The other nodded and made dinner.

Alone in Berlin, reading Alone in Berlin

In the evenings I bought a falafel sandwich or a slice of pizza on the main street which was soon to become my neighbourhood.

One morning — my first in Berlin, I took a bus tour of the city. On the top deck, a round lady with red-painted lips and peroxide hair gripped a microphone and gave a commentary of the city in English that was so broken that a tourist behind me muttered that he had more chance of understanding German. Her smile was fixed to her face like a stubborn mole, her face was wrinkled. If she had had no folds on her face, she would have looked like a doll. I knew she had grown up in east Germany. She learnt Russian at school. No west German tour guide would speak so little English.

I scribbled down the names of places that looked interesting from the bus. I saw pink water pipes all over the city, the president’s house, the parks, and a beautiful square.

I found my workplace and my heart jumped when I saw that it was five minutes away from the Brandenburg Gate. I found a little photo booth and got a picture taken for my student travel card. I followed the instructions for getting a passport photograph taken. “Don’t smile” said the machine. “You must not tilt your head, or obscure your face with your hair.”

I look so stony in the picture that weeks later, when the secretary at Spiegel looked at the card she said “but you are so cross!”

After I checked into my hostel on that first night, I went out to try to find the apartment I would be moving in to.
It wasn’t far from the hostel. It was late February and it was dark. I approached the flat from a direction I never walk now. I found the shoe shop and the children’s book store that Google Maps had promised me. The street was quiet and I was alone.

Obeying The Machine

I found the number and glanced up at the building. It was too dark to see anything.

I walked past a church, back to the main street. Next to my hostel was a photocopying shop and a video store. All rentals one euro. There was a large adult movie section on display in the window.

The day before I moved into my new flat, I met a book vendor outside Humboldt University. He had wild white hair and a black hat. He said: “You don’t think I have mornings when I wake up and say ‘Fuck this shit. I don’t want to stand at this fucking table selling books all day? And then you know what? I see children laughing and playing and nothing matters any more.”

I nodded at him, I think I smiled. I thought we were the only two people in the city. The sky turned midnight blue and the TV tower was lit up in the distance. I bought a book called “Der Steppenwolf”. The cover is blue and there are bits of paper still stuffed inside a page in the middle of the book, where I stopped reading it.

As the lights came on and I got into a grubby underground train, something danced in my brain. Now I realise it was the taste of freedom.

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11 thoughts on “Alone in Berlin: Part 1

  1. What a wonderful post! You really get a sense of being on the cusp of new beginnings. Expectation, adventure, a little bit of unknown…you’ve captured it perfectly!

    • Thank you so much, Janyaa! I can really only see it for what it was now as my time here nears a close.I’m going to try to write a few posts looking back at everything in the next few days. It certainly has been a life-defining experience!

  2. I enjoy the suspense with it – though at the risk of sounding naggy – it’s worth a shot for a novel – entitled Mongrel In Berlin – Top seller of 2013/2014 😀

    It’s your descriptive scenes – I am not good at that – seeing the small things and reflecting. Usually I see the general overview and use my emotions to write.So I am hoping to gain some skills in this area by reading more of yours 🙂
    Freedom – I can identify with that. It’s how I felt when I first arrive in London as well, making your own decisions, ability to have more control of your life and suddenly you realise you are helming your own ship – need to be aware of incoming storms, the changing tides. Exciting times indeed!

    Looking forward to part 2!

    • It’s a dream of mine to write a novel, Clariice but I simply don’t know how! I’m just going to keep writing and then maybe one day, I will spit one out!
      Did the feeling of freedom die away after some time in London? I am sad to have lost some of my initial excitement here in Berlin. But on the other hand, my future is so up in the air at the moment, I could be anywhere in two months time. Thats a different kind of (often frightening) freedom again!

      I do notice little things, but I tend to overlook the obvious. We could learn from each other 🙂 Part 2 is up! xx

      • You are writing your biography – does that count as a novel? The feeling of freedom doesnt die away – it’s there, just not a new feeling anymore. It’s become routine a little. Try to recall and compare – imagine yourself – what will you be doing now? And what are you actually doing now? Which do you prefer? If it’s the latter, that’s freedom spelt out for you 🙂

        Going to have a read on part 2 in a bit!

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