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.
I don’t quite understand where time has gone. Old year, new year. London, Berlin. This year, I am turning fourty and although there is no reason to get nervous I don’t know how it could happen that just a moment ago, my life was all starting and now, has reached its mature middle (when I am lucky). When I was a child my grandfather once complained how short life was and being so young feeling time so vastly streched, I couldn’t find this remark anything but ridiculous. But now, every year gets shorter.
Life may get easier growing older; one benefits from experience. However, an aspect I can’t get used to is all these things passing by just to never return. And while remembering them, you even seem to lose your present.
There is much talk about the first time but never the last times we go through in life.
My first last time experienced intensely was in December 1989; I was sixteen and the political change in East Germany had just caused the end of the course of studies I had enrolled for a few months earlier. I still remember the heavy university door closing behind me. I was so young that I had never gone through the end of something and just knew about things starting. Another closing door is etched in my memory and belonged to my first sincere boyfriend who refused talking to me which then seemed to be an experience not to overcome. A shocking experience was also losing a close friend for the first time. One good aspect of growing older is certainly getting used to things ending and to feel less painful about it; the long row of things lying behind me now rather gives me a feeling of age than regret.
My last photo trip through London started in the spring like garden of Fenton House, led me to Soho and ended in Chinatown where I bumped into a Chinese wedding. On my way to the bus stop I took this image of two girls with ruffled hair which could be rather unspectacular if it hadn’t been the last subject I photographed before I left London.
When yesterday, while browsing around in a vintage shop, I re-discovered the song Somebody that I used toknow, I remembered that it is a long time, in fact a very long time ago that I suffered from someone, meaning that I was in love with someone.
I feel quite sentimental about my favourite London cinema, the Curzon Soho.
Several times in my life, whenever I had moved to a new city where I didn’t feel at home yet, I resorted to cinemas as safe places of which I knew how they worked and made me feel less strange. In London however and due to language issues, it took me months before I started watching films. Thus, it was rather a special event when I finally entered the Curzon’s largest room to watch a film in Australian English I hardly understood. Yet, this was the beginning of a cinema love. The Curzon didn’t just show ‘the good films’ but also conveyed the right atmosphere. There was the café in the ground floor offering rich cakes which one could eat while watching people out on Shaftesbury Avenue, and there was the cosy café in the first basement advertising the latest films released. There were film posters opposite the toilets in the second basement, The Class, Mad World, Lola rennt and there was a large poster in the box office of In the Mood for Lovewhich is one of my favourites ever. The months before I left London, my cinema trips to the Curzon – now taking place in wintery afternoons – intensified in frequency but also depth of experience. Strangely, I most remember the film Another Earth, beautifully shot in white and blue colours; by no means a perfect film but it somehow hit my feeling of futility. It was right before Christmas and the air dark and sweet, the Curzon café offered ginger bread men and an advertising prior the film played the overly sugary songs by Lana del Rey. I already knew it would be my last Advent season in London and it felt warm and melancholic and still reluctant that it wouldn’t happen what was going to happen.
The Curzon’s website is still bookmarked in my laptop and every now and then, I return to it and get a longing to escape my current world to its basement and feel at home.
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.
It appears to me that photography is most of all an expression of my relationship to the world – and more than an expression it is my relationship to the word. I can’t photograph what I haven’t got a relationship to. If I don’t get involved in the world I don’t get images of it. So if I want my pictures to express something I need to live the very something. And this is why photography is more than art but also a way of living.
While experiencing flashbacks of London – me sitting in the C2 bus to Camden, me passing by the Hampstead ponds, me strolling around on Brick Lane on a Sunday – I am trying to discover Berlin. How different it is; strikingly peaceful, relaxed, almost cosy. There is nothing of London’s hostility. When the sun is shining, parts of the city seem to turn into a beach; there is sand and striped beach chairs; everywhere there are street cafes filled with people having breakfast, lunch, smoking. There is normal life here which one recognizes first on the fact that children live in the city, children that play in groups in the streets, children that cycle around on bikes, children that play on playgrounds. Where in London is real poverty, here there is an exhibited bohemianism of doors colourfully scribbled with graffiti and walls with left-wing messages and gaps between buildings filled with rubbish. This deliberately keeping things run down is a statement more than a real lack of resources. Wherever you go, there are less people. Sometimes I miss the density of London and the connected intensity; then the only place I know to go is Alexanderplatz. – I still don’t know where to go in Berlin and thinking that all this here is fine, I wish I could go home now.
There is so much I owe to London. And now time has run out.
But never say good-bye. A while ago, I said good-bye to my favourite London musicians. However, everything comes back – in a new shape. I’ve always loved a particular song by the bearded singer with the cowboy hat whose warm voice sounded through the tunnels of the tube; recently I discovered it was a song by Jackson C. Frank, Carnival. So the song has returned to my world.
And this is how things meet in life. They are torn apart and yet connected through time. So I trust that London will come back in my life, in a different but nevertheless delightful shape.
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.