The Old Man Who Couldn’t Stop Falling

I’m back: reanimated, restored, relieved! I’m still showering in the dark and when I came home from work in the early hours of this morning, I had to take care not to stumble over the enormous extension cable that snakes its way from a socket in the hallway all the way to the fridge.  But I can deal with fumbling for shampoo bottles and peeing by torchlight if I have the means to share the experience with the world.

Last week I told you about a spindly old man and his giant dog.  Today’s story is not so empowering. It’s about an old man, without a dog.

I was walking home from work the other evening.  It was dark and I was on a quiet, dimly lit road. In the distance I could make out the shadow of a figure  on the ground. Their arms were jerking and outstretched as if having a seizure.

As I got closer, I found an old man with his chin slumped to his chest, trying to hoist himself up without success. I stopped, as did the man who had been walking a few paces in front of me.

I came closer. “Is everything okay?” I asked redundantly.

The old man’s eyes slowly turned to me. They were pale blue and very round. It took him some time to register the question and when he did his expression became pained and he said slowly “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. What have I done now?”

I was gentle. “It happens to all of us.”

“Oh shit, oh shit. I always mess everything up. My whole life is a mess.”

I tried to find out whether he was hurt.

He couldn’t answer my question and kept saying  “I’ve messed it all up. My whole life is a misery.”

“Do you live near here?” I asked him.


“Do you live in this house?” I said, pointing to number 23, which he was leaned against.

Berlin can be the loneliest of places too. I took this picture after spending St Patrick’s Day alone last year.

“Yeah.” His gaze wandered slowly around.

“Do you have a key?”


He swayed a little.

Suddenly, with a bolt of energy that came from nowhere the old man sprung to his feet. He stumbled wildly and before I could get to him, fell forward with full force. I could hear a crack as his head hit the pavement.

Miraculously, the fall seemed not to affect him. My heart was beating very fast. I brought him over to sit on the doorstep. The old man smelt of vodka.

I called an ambulance.

The other man who’d stopped was about eighteen or nineteen. He was hovering uncomfortably and said very little. He might not have know it, but I was immensely grateful for his presence.

The old man made more wild attempts to get to his feet and fell again. While we were waiting for the ambulance to come, a young couple stopped to see if they could help. The girl was very pretty and very kind. She put her arm around the old man. Her boyfriend was more detached and said simply and without judgement, “Alcohol’s not the answer to your problems, is it?”

“You’re right,” said the old man. “You’re right.”

He sighed. “I’ve messed up my relationships. I’ve messed up my life.”

His gaze flitted intermittently to each of our faces.

“And then this happens,” he said. “And you meet people.”

The ambulance came promptly and a big man in a security vest said cheerfully,

“Now, what’s the problem here?”

It was a question which would take the sad old man years to answer.

The ambulance man hoisted him up.

The old man was so unsteady on his feet that it looked as if they were dancing all the way to the ambulance.

The Art of Being Alone

I’ve got what many of you might envy: a tonne of free time in Berlin.

Just imagine: I’m at leisure in one of the most exciting cities in the world. I’ve no one to answer to, no pressing business to attend to and no  miscreant alarm clock  ripping me from my slumbers.

Kate Katharina: a lady of leisure? image source:


Not so much. The exhilaration I felt the first time I arrived in the city has dissipated. I know my way around and though I’m still impressed by the public transport, travelling on the underground no longer gives me butterflies.

My days are clumsily punctuated by grocery shopping, small errands and the quest for personal improvement.

When I go grocery shopping, I invest a lot of energy into not falling  for any of the tricks I learnt about in the Psychology of Economics class I took at college. I evaluate the price of items per kilogram, I immediately avoid all products at eye level and cast my gaze downwards to where the discounted goods tend to be displayed. After all, if there’s one thing I remember from that course, it’s the mantra, “Eye level is buy level.”

Shortly before my life began to be defined by trips to my local discounters, I organised my days around navigating German bureaucracy. It was so horrifying that I considered dedicating a series of posts to it but I’ve since concluded that writing about it might trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In summary, German bureaucracy is a delightful contrivance, designed to test the upper limits of patience, sanity and cognition. Now that I am officially registered extant, have been issued with a tax number and opened a bank account, I feel equipped to take on any challenge.

If only one would present itself.

Since I am unemployed (happily only temporarily), and know very few people here, I am trying desperately to channel my social deficit into intellectual pursuit.

I’ve re-ignited my passion for Arabic.  I sit at my desk with a little notebook and take down the Arabic word of the day on Youtube and practise making guttural sounds when I am sure my flatmates aren’t within hearing distance. I’m getting better.

I’ve read a few books.

I’ve got out at underground stops I select on a whim to explore new parts of town.

I’ve even started running and enrolled in a yoga class. And the other day, I went on a picnic alone. I thought it would be idyllic.

My destination was a historical palace with beautiful gardens that border a colossal park. On the day of my picnic it was very warm. I packed my Pocahontas towel along with a lunch box full of grapes and a tofu sandwich.

I found a beautiful spot beside a little lake. I rolled up my hippy pants, took out my food and began to read my book. Beautiful solitude, I was thinking to myself. How lucky I am to be wedged between a palace and a lake, munching on a soggy but delicious tofu sandwich.

Suddenly I sensed a presence behind me.  “Good Afternoon” said a voice.

I turned around to find a self-important middle-aged man on a bicycle pointing at me. “Sie befinden sich jetzt im Barock Garten, junge Dame!” Since I find it amusing to translate German literally and will be fired if I do it when working in TV, I’ll do so now. What the man said was “You are now situated in the Baroque garden, young Madam.”

I lost a piece of tofu in my fright. He continued. “You are not permitted to lounge in such an area.”

Since I am by nature irrationally apologetic, I said I was terribly sorry. I gathered up my stuff and made my way through the park. He nodded at me grimly and cycled away.

I set up camp on a little patch of grass beside a bench and close to the river Spree. I was there for about half and hour and I was ripping through my book. The sun was making me sleepy.

My picnic spot. Image source:

Tyres ground to a halt behind me. “Good Afternoon, young Madam.” Dread shot through me. I turned around. We recognised each other instantly. “You again!”

I nodded.

“You find yourself at this time in the Louisen Garten, officially attached to the palace of Charlottenburg. This is a restricted area, unsuited to lounging. You must move along.”

“Where to?” I asked. This time I was not as apologetic.

“Beyond that far bridge, you will find an area dedicated to the general public.”

I packed up my things and made my way to the bridge.

On the way I spotted several other people enjoying the sun. The park warden called over to me from his bicycle. “Don’t get any ideas from these loungers, young Madam. They are also in prohibited areas and will be moving along shortly.”

He cycled up to a mother feeding her baby. “Young mother, you find yourself in the Luisen Garten!”

She looked bewildered. As did the other people he approached. I was close enough to see him point at me and call out, “Follow that young lady, who will lead you to an acceptable lounging area.”

Suddenly I was leading a pack of transgressors. When I had crossed the bridge, I found the “lounging area.” The grass rose up to my knees. It was an unpromising destination for the pilgrims I was guiding but it was sanctioned by the park warden. I sighed and laid down my Pocahontas towel for a third time.

And then I thought that maybe what I’m learning here has nothing to do with Arabic, or fitness or journalism. With every empty day that passes, I’m being schooled in the art of being alone.