It is not so much about what a place is like but how one feels at a place. In many respects, life in Berlin is better and yet, I miss the intensity of London. The difference in feeling is that where Berlin is by all means interesting – London was a muse. Berlin doesn’t make me suffer as London did – but nothing compares with working behind those windows stating Dream the Dream offering a view to the mad nightlife of Chinatown and Soho.
These are times to rest and recover, it seems, not to be tested, not be challenged, not to be turned upside down.
Last night I returned from Dresden to Berlin on a two hours bus ride. While watching the sunset after a thunderstorm, I was listening to Beth Gibbons’ Tom the Model which took me back to a sad night when I was waiting on Oxford Street for bus 98 to go home to Willesden Green, listening to the same song in infinite loop. Of all places I lived in London, the one in Willesden Green was the shabbiest one, shared with a gentle guy from South Africa who carried around this relaxed sunny beach feeling and his miserable, misanthropic friend with eyes that indicated that he would have better kept in a mental hospital. The house could only be accessed from the backside via a path that came close a refuse dump. After heavy rainfalls, a giant puddle arose in front of the door; usually it was of such depth that accessing the house became basically impossible unless a friendly person had put pieces of surrounded rubbish in the water on which one could jump from one to the next. The next door neighbours led an illegal brothel and it could happen that its punters helped you getting through the puddle. – And yet, while listening to Tom the Model, I realized how much London was a genuine home to me. There is a deep wound the city caused by not allowing me to stay and settle. This is what I will never forgive London: that, instead of welcoming me, it rejected me.
When I was a child there was a popular fairy tale film “Das kalte Herz” (“Heart of Stone”) which was set in the Black Forest. However, because I grew up in East Germany, I had never heard of a Black Forest and hence, thought it must be some sort of fairy tale forest and certainly not a real place. – Now, thinking about London it quite feels the same. In Berlin, one is surrounded by images of London – on large advertising panels in the streets or on buses, in TV documentations, in magazines. I still remember exactly what these places feel like; I easily see myself passing by the places shown. And yet, while looking at them wistfully, they don’t seem to be real places but from a world far away behind an iron curtain.
It is strange to think that life in London will carry on without me. As if there was a double universe in which I could be too – but while everything and everyone else is still here, instead of me, there is an empty bubble.
I grew up in a high-rise building, in one of a group of three almost identical fifteen-floor buildings, all covered in blue and white tiles. It would have been nothing more than a place of people’s normal domestic lives if it hadn’t been for a certain notorious incident. The building I grew up in was called the suicide house. Actually, there was just one case a man used the building’s height to take his life, but this case was claimed to have triggered a chain reaction in the whole neighbourhood and indeed, hurling yourself off a high-rise building became for a while a somehow popular suicide method.
The tower of London is near Kings Cross in an area degenerated to an extent that one wouldn’t expect any human beings living there; however, the presence of cars shows that this is a residential area and indeed, occasionally people pass by. They look like ordinary people and in their faces and clothes you cannot recognize the inhospitality they are from. Just a few blocks further down one can even discover a small hotel and I wonder how tourists may feel about coming to visit a world metropolis and finding themselves in an urban desert.