Friday, 2 August 2013

Europe 2013 - A Glut Of Sin & Beauty

A Glut Of Sin & Beauty… Long Walks In A Small City… Fast Train To A Communist Stronghold… A City Of Ruin & Boom…

The acrid smell of burning weed permeates the air. Sweat and fried meat. Piss on street corners. Shysters hocking their wares. Hobos and street types hustling and yelling… fat Americans, packs of English lads, Spanish boys, well-to-do and skin-of-the-teeth; a roaring, seething, shouting mass.

Amsterdam Street Scape
Two streets over and flesh is yr watchword, bared and On Display, under red neon on dark streets, in alley ways and dead ends, smoking cigarettes, on mobile phones, sitting on beds in windows looking glum, indifferent, happy (?), life goes on and they don’t care about the stare, it’s why they’re there, no?

A living tide of human flotsam bubbles and churns by on the sidewalk, they ogle and stare, families with small children neck deep with the barrel-bottom elite… yr blinded by yellow and green neon – pubs and bars – there’s nowhere to turn and so we try to find a vantage point but there are none and so we leave the glut of sin behind – the Red Light. The Tourist Spots. With the coffee shops and the smells and all.

The Calm Before The Amsterdam Storm
We have an oasis, on a boat, just north of the city centre, permanently moored with a private garden where one can sit and think about the world, its  associated seedy underbelly, before stepping out the door, catching a three minute ferry and being amongst it, in all its fetid glory. What a town.

We sit at a Bistro in Dam Square, drink a beer, people watching, a short, expensive exercise before a directionless ramble through back alleys out of the tourist quarter into actual Amsterdam. A local’s bar. No English. Quiet, cheap, real beer. We sit and watch and make up stories about people walking past, sitting near us, the couple kissing on the street corner for a good, solid twenty minutes – what’s their deal? Who are they? How do they fit into this old, placid city with its winding canals, its ancient European architecture, its wealth of sin and salvation? Who knows? Not I.

SJF - Wishful Thinking
We walk a lot, the city is quite small. We walk south and find museums – Van Gogh, Rejks et al. We sit on the grass and eat small salads and bread rolls in the sunshine, smoking cigarettes and downing water. Looking and listening, taking it all in. A city built before our country was born, a beautiful place of order and calm. Elegant and sophisticated, which one would never know should one not venture any further from their hotel than Dam Square or the Blues Brothers coffeeshop… indeed, this is a city that pulsates with a vibrancy you just don’t find at home. The people are unflappable. Serene almost. It’s intense in its lack of intensity.

Come Thursday morning we board a fast train westward. Into the unknown. No English. No real order. A change at Hanover. Reading and watching countryside rush by like it has somewhere else to be. Six hours, they rush by like life outside the big windows and we pull into a gargantuan station, levels upon levels with the people to match, outside into a vast nothingness. Like we’re in the desert. Wide spaces as far as you can see with hot dust coating all and sundry. A rip-roaring cab into Kruezberg, down a derelict street to our door which has seen better days. We find our humble digs, read the note left by the owner, he mentions beer gardens. We’re thirsty. Hot. Time to unwind.

Berlin - The Digs
Berlin is a chronically under-populated city, a town in permanent ruin and boom. It seems so tired. Old and tired. It’s been through more than most, the weight of world history piled on its weary shoulders. It’s paint is cracking and the weeds grow wild, unwieldy pavements and roadways, almost like the entire city is a slum – and yet it also has a vibrancy, definitely not apparent at first glance. You need to peel back layers, so many layers, you wander through streets where you fear for yr safety then you turn a corner and are confronted by a myriad hip, cool, trendy bars, restaurants, people, music. It’s conflicted, it confuses me and leaves me unsettled, a feeling which remains for the whole five days we’re there.

The Wall
We walk through town in the stinking heat – that’s the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony. Sixteen metres below our feet, in a carpark, was Hitler’s bunker, where he committed suicide – they don’t mark the spot, lest Nazi sympathisers turn it into a shrine. Parts of the Wall are still standing, decrepit, fading, the best thing to be fading in this city.

Tourists throng about, the heat bounces off cement and cremates yr face. It’s hazy. It’s old, so old, so tired. Back to the beer garden where the girl behind the bar knows our names and writes lists of things she thinks we should go and see. We get lost and so have to use the train which we master. We walk a lot. We find things that we learnt about at school. We want to learn more.

SJF - A Dark Corner In A Sunny Room
The apartment is bare and white, German minimal, stylish, clean. We lie in Viktoriapark and read in the shade. Eat German sausage and sample their beer. It’s not cold enough but it comes in mugs bigger than yr face, so you can’t complain too much. The Germans sit in the sun and soak it up as we huddle in small slivers of shadow trying to cool down. Hot. Dusty. Bare. Derelict. Ruined. But secretly booming. A very interesting place.

A cab to the airport come Monday afternoon, an oven of sluggish, slow lined proportions, a wait which seems eternal, through the snaking rope to the desk, check in, up stairs, down stairs, airport lounge, like a prison cell, people squatting on floors, sweat running. Out onto the tarmac finally. Onto a plane. Settle back. Take off. To Paris. Paris indeed.

Samuel J. Fell

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