Streets, Lovers, and Crowded Marketplaces
I went down to Hackescher Markt, in Berlin. A corner where Rosenthaler Straße meets Oranienburger Straße. Tram lines, heavy traffic, and people on foot all mixed in together and doing their best not to bump into each other. It’s a bustling corner of town.
Markets and Crowds
There’s a big open market right next to the train station. Exotic food in a plastic bowl, steaming Arabic coffee, and jelly beans galore if you like. Clothes, shoes, secondhand stuff from Grandma’s wardrobe — not old fashioned, you understand, Grandma was always Vintage.
You can spend a lot of time browsing the market if you don’t mind being knocked about by groups of people marching towards the station. It’s the shortest way to platform 5.
It must be a noisy place. But whenever I go there, and then return, I can’t remember having heard noise. I think when you stroll through a city, you’re focused on the sights and smells more than noise. The noise that you can’t ignore, is the sound of a tram squealing its way through Hackescher Markt.
The tram goes into a tight curve, and if it’s heavily laden with passengers its steel wheels will tear into the tracks and the whole neighbourhood hears the ear splitting screech of a train in pain.
Another sensation is feet. There are more feet than cars, so that’s what I focus on. Feet can be nasty. Stepping on toes, and kicking shins. Seldom stopping and looking around to see who’s shin got kicked. The street is so crowded that it’s going to happen. An over eager pedestrian wants to get a move on, shove through the crowd, the heel of his foot will inevitably catch someone in the trousers.
A Peaceful Place
Take a left turn into the Hackescher Hof, and it all goes a bit quieter. That’s a relief after the madness of the market, and the two or three attempts to simply cross the street.
The Hackescher Hof (yard), is a small shopping zone, it was built in about 1902 for exactly that reason — vendors and buyers to meet and exchange. The entrance is about as wide as a horse and cart, and the buildings have been renovated to preserve the original look. When you walk in, you immediately feel that it’s safe to break down into a stroll — nobody’s going to barge into you from behind.
Architecture for Common People
I stood in the first courtyard and watched people, what they’re up to, how they change pace, and especially, I wanted to see if there was a common point of interest. The architecture is impressive, even for those who have no idea about it.
Bright Colors and Sunlight
It’s the color that grabs your attention, it stops you in your tracks and makes you look up at the tall walls. Bright happy colors that look good in winter and summer.
The Hackesche Höffe is a rare example of Berlin Art Nouveau Architecture.
I saw a few shards of sunlight splitting the vertical design of the facade, and took a snapshot with my mobile phone. When you look up, you realize that there’s a nice oblong of sky. It’s a well thought out oblong that fits the proportions of the courtyard, so the sky is a part of the whole impression. I don’t have a clue about architecture, but one thought leads to another and that’s what I felt. Architecture should make a person feel something — I know bad architecture does.
Buildings, shops, vendors, everybody doing business. That’s great for them, I’m always interested in what people are doing, though. So I took a peek into a second courtyard.
I saw a woman sitting down on a low wall, she was reading a book. It all looked nice and peaceful, and there were four low walls obviously designed for people to sit on. I sat down, and took out my notebook, wrote a few notes about what I’d seen.
I looked up and noticed a bust of Frederick the Great, “ Der Alte Fritz”. It was a good likeness as far as I knew, his one good eye squinting, looking out past the courtyard, his neck slightly stretched as if he were about to break into a run. I made a note of this with my highly practiced notebook skills, “Bust; fred great, squinty eyes and so forth”. Then I looked down and carried on writing.
An important point, I thought, was that in the courtyards people seemed to have forgotten about their Smartphone addictions. There were a few photos being taken, videos panned around the place, but I looked about and couldn’t see a single person standing in the “locked into my feed” position. Nobody with head bowed, flat phone on the palm, dribbling spittle down their shirt while in a trance. That was refreshing — something about these courtyards is healthy.
After a few moments of writing I realised something was annoying me. The woman close by was snorting through her nose. I could see that she was so engrossed in her half-pound of book, that she didn’t realize how annoying and loud she was being. Normally, a few glances at a person causes them to pay attention, but I couldn’t get her to look up. She continued to snort and disturb the peaceful atmosphere in this city courtyard. I stood up, walked over to Old Fred the Great, inspected his pointed nose and squinty eye and moved on to the next courtyard.
Poor old Frederick the Great. He was born to be shaped into a ruler, had a father who brought him up with extremely harsh punishment — the father was a psycho-sadist for sure. Frederick withstood as much as he could.
A friend of mine is a film director, he’s made a few films, and is successful. He has a script which he wrote about Frederick the Great. One day, I’m sure, he’ll make the movie.
With research it’s not difficult to discover that Old Fritz was not cut out to be a ladies man. He was deeply in love with his closest friend who we know as Lieutenant von Katte. Frederick’s psychopathic father, suspicious of their relationship, forced his son to watch the gruesome execution of Von Katte. Needless to say, this broke Frederick’s heart, yet gave him the resolve to stand up to his father and be more of the man he knew he was; gay, and a great soldier who built the Prussian army.
Much of Frederick’s life is accounted for as a military man, a brutal soldier, and a tough but fair leader — his personal life is found in letters and poems that he wrote to his friend, von Katte.
After a short jaunt through the courtyards, I decided to risk it on the streets again. I walked into Sophienstrasse, a long narrow side street that is known for small cafes and backyards that hide artist’s studios. Up ahead, I could see the main road, Rosenthaler Strasse. It was bustling with quickly moving passersby, so I walked slowly and watched other people. Couples walking hand in hand, groups of young Americans briskly walking along this lovely street as if they couldn’t wait to be somewhere else fast. Some French people, and two Englishmen wearing Brexit tee shirts, sauntered past as I gazed about the street.
I’m always trying to find a point of reference, something that will cause me to stop. It’ll be there, somewhere, and when that thing makes me stop it’ll grab my mind, and a thought will develop into another thought. Or a, “what does that mean?”, thought. I saw a pot of flowers on a ledge. It grabbed me.
It’s nearly spring, but not quite. Flowers are beautiful at any time of year, the pot of flowers repeated along the window ledges of Sophienstrasse to create a colorful line of sight that brightens anybody’s heart on a cold day. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to put them there. That was a good thing.
I was looking at the flowers. They were planted too many seeds to a pot, leaning into each other, petals bright, and only separated by color and form.
I followed the line of pots along the street, then it broke at the window of a restaurant. The restaurant seemed darkened inside, but there were two people sitting close to the window. I looked, and saw a man and woman sitting at a small square table. The darkened room created a backdrop that perfectly isolated them, their faces reflected the light from the street. The man leaned in and smiled at the woman, she laughed. She raised her hand and touched his face.
I imagined that she had said something so loving that it caused the man to want to kiss her, but the table blocked them. He leaned towards her, hesitated for a moment, then gently placed his hand on her bare arm. Their eyes, their smiles and hand movements, were powerful expressions of feeling.
They appeared very relaxed, I watched the movement of their mouths as they talked to each other, silent gestures that portrayed a moment between two people. They were not in private, and they probably didn’t care about the rest of the world at that moment. Two people in love, who cares?
I hoped they were in love, because that’s a good thing.
It was just flash of thought, a prompt from the street that I should observe, without gawking. The moment passed.
I wandered along the Sophienstrasse and decided that I’m cold, and the person I love is at home. So I headed for the market, cut through the crowds, avoided being kicked or run over by bikes, and made it into the train.
On the station platform I saw a group of security personnel. Two of them inspecting a backpack that somebody had left outside a cafe, four other security people stood at a distance, and a group of passengers had stopped to watch as the first two people opened the bag. It reminded me of the old days in England, the 1970s, when a bag like that could be a bomb — plenty of bags filled with gelignite exploded in those days.
I thought these security people’s actions were foolhardy, so my mind made up jokes; the crowd of people standing clear of the bag with tensed faces, their eyes tightly pressed together, just in case. The other security people, watching wide eyed, but with their fingers stuck into their ears — it might go “bang!”.