The first time I learnt her surname was from the back of an identity card for the Film Biennial. That’s where they had met. Story checks out I thought as I hunkered down in to her wicker armchair shoes off legs swinging idly. I watched Annina move around the room silently like an insect with a headache whilst Layla got (un)dressed in to clean clothes. She had stayed the night on the flat floor on a semi-thin mattress and her knees were well-swollen in the morning; we had now completed the hunt for aspirin for Annina’s aching head. It was Sunday.
All our clothes stank from the night before of stale cigarette smoke. The bars in Berlin still allow people to light cigarettes indoors, and what’s nice is that most seem to be smoking and enjoying it rather than vaping in consternation. I felt more relaxed there than here, maybe because of the lack of language skills I possess around Germans (less pressure to be understood) or maybe because they do generally have a more relaxed attitude about city stuff. They ride a lot more bikes and everything is graffitied but runs on time. That’s cool efficiency for you: muck without stress. Amen.
Saturday we had been on a hunt for sauerkraut. Annina, my ever dear host and mythical shapeshifting cat moved to Berlin months ago and yet still we are on the hunt for sauerkraut. I can’t pronounce any of the stations or street names so have to make up an anglicised-equivalent to etch a trace of where we have wandered in memory. Once at Hamburger Hobanof [sic.] art gallery each of us wondered about the Manifesto exhibition with most sides agreeing afterward that it was post-ironic-pop-art-wank that involved Cate Blanchett thirteen times. I thought it was worthy because it was funny, Annina thought it was a bit much and if “new companion” Layla had been given the task to take it of leave she would have left it. Not a barge pole.
We traversed a street called Shoos de Yunga [sic.] where a traditional restaurant supposedly lay but it was closed because it was the weekend; and the story of its name goes something like a young man who sold or cobbled shoes did something with the shoes and that was it. The morning after when Annina had told me this shoe-based history she had felt sickly and I was still blurry from the beers the night before that we had drunk amply from the bottle in a bar that Layla called Bar (Untitled Two).
I found the sauerkraut of my dreams! Jumping off and on U-bahn carriages - an urgent blinking red light like eyelids - snap to. This one word I’d learnt: ampere menschen (the little man in the lights).
One, two, three weeks on and the memory is so disparate. It has been squidged inelegantly between northern parts of England, fireplaces and chocolate eggs. Easter has come and gone and although it is a completely forgettable holiday for me each year, these last two I have been spoilt by a newfound family. I have to apologise to Annina for being so tardy in my writings and being so ineffectual in my rantings. Yesterday I celebrated 6 months of having stayed in one place, yipee! with my lodgemum whom everyone tells me to call my landlady but I think that’s not what she is because she’s more that that. The wise words from this woman were, ‘You should know it goes by in an instant.’ It rings in my ears as love laced with fear. This goes by in an instant. O no.
My favourite part is Prince Lower Berg [sic.] which is where Annina grew up and it feels somehow familiar, perhaps my subconscious pretends to be her in Berlin to steadfast itself. That’s where we found the sauerkraut and after the slap-up meal us three drank smooth beers in Bar (Untitled). The super-bar-man served us by sitting at our table and chatting whilst not really taking our orders but occasionally returning full-handed with delicious pitchers. There's old moustachioed men in the corner laughing and bellowing and sometimes sniffling; smoking cigarettes that looked like they had no filters and one big dog and a jaunty navy blue cap atop a brush of hair. Some women joined them and they sloshed about baring teeth to laugh and cry and the night had set in and I was still highly dubious of this thing called Spring.
They serve a tofu sandwich. Shops are closed on Sundays. Emergency pharmacists speak through locked glass doors (port holes to peer through at little cuts and bruises). Bikes are ridden everywhere, cycle lanes on pavements.
Whilst scoffing gherkins and pre-cooked wieners larking about on the streets in the nighttime we heard a bicycle bell and then something - boof - turn around to see Layla on the floor she'd been crashed in to by a cyclist who looked like, it doesn’t matter what he looked like, he stood up apologising to tough sweet Layla who had cut her hand. The sausages were poking out from between his spokes. No severe damage done, at least. The next morning after the successful aspirin hunt and the unsuccessful bandaging of her hand the pair took me to a covered market filled with East Londoners serving me eggs benedict. I must have had 5 or 6 oysters, Annina examined, tasted and deliberated over some chocolate and we had coffees that sparked thoughts off about the future.