On the Streets I Ran

Berlin Wall. Photograph by Lola Abrera.

Has it really been six years? Has it really been six years since I was wandering the streets, getting lost, riding trains, and hunting down vintage trash, sex and sleaze, and graffiti grit?  I was so different then.

I fell out of a train and into Berlin—literally—in May 2007. And soon, in May, I’ll be heading back there. It will only be for a few days, but…

Berlin is like a lover that I will never ever get over. It’s the city that shaped me, that changed me, that taught me not just how to be alive, but how to be alone. Just knowing that I’ll be heading back to the only place that has ever come close to feeling like home—especially for someone who has always felt like an outsider even to the outsiders—is overwhelming. It’s exciting. It is scary. Maybe I’ll be on my own for the rest of my life. I’ve accepted that. But Berlin. Berlin is my one true love. I found love and it was a city—a city that, for the most part, loved me back.

I dreamt about returning, even before the opportunity to visit materialized. I dreamt that I was back in Berlin. I didn’t have much time. I knew exactly where I wanted to go: My favorite book shop. It was a small space, but every Wednesdays, crowds would gather and cram themselves in the tiny room, because for 2 Euros you could watch two free movies and enjoy a glass of wine or beer. The staff usually played jazz. There’s a large, well-worn leather couch where you can sit and read as long as you want—or until closing time, at least. I think that because it was so calm and easy and simple that I always felt at peace there. It was as if I could quiet the chaos and confusion in my head and escape—escape from myself. I would trek over to the shop, even when it was cold, or when I was broke, or when I was tired, to catch the Wednesday films or even just to read—and feel so much better afterwards. I suppose it was that feeling of peace–that I had a haven in the city–that seeped into my dreams. I knew that I had to get there. The streets were familiar, but also not. The city had changed somehow, but it was still Berlin.  I was walking and walking and walking. I was almost there. I saw a coffee shop. An old partner from another life—another chapter. I didn’t know what he was doing there or why. He was trying to sell me something, but I refused. I was almost there. I was trying to savor being there, being in Berlin. I was saving the best for last. Somehow I knew that I had to just pass one more street and I would be there. I could feel my heart race and my breath quicken. I was near. I was ready. I was on my way.

Then I woke up.

I tried to will the dream back in my life. To go back to sleep—or better yet, to wake up. I wanted my life to be the dream, and the dream to be my life.

It was all so vivid. The dream haunted me for months. Then the opportunity to visit came up. And now, as I think about what it would be like—to see a city that has followed me even if I’m thousands of miles away—I am gripped with fear, flooded with emotion.

I think about the pictures that I’ll take, the steps that I’ll retrace.

This is what reading in the parked looked like…

Photo by Lola Abrera.

Photo by Lola Abrera.

This is what my train looked like…

U-Bahn. Photo by Lola Abrera.

U-Bahn. Photo by Lola Abrera.

These are what apartment stairs looked like…

Berlin graffiti. Photo by Lola Abrera.

Berlin graffiti. Photo by Lola Abrera.

This was what the street of my very first apartment in Berlin looked like…

Gleimstrasse. Photo by Kristin Mueller (Flickr). Click to see original image.

Where I moved to next…

Pannierstrasse, Neukolln. Photo by Johnny Whitlam (http://jonnywhitlamphotography.com/tag/deutschland/page/2/)

And next…

Dunkerstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg. Photo from jurkun.de

And next…

Marienburger Strasse, Prenzlauer Berg. Photo from panoramio.com (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/50655381)

And next…

Stromstrasse, Moabit. Photo by Lola Abrera.

This is how people enjoyed themselves…

Dr. Pongs. Photo from Peter Flat (http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterflat/218733931/)

What streets looked like…

Moabit. Photo by Lola Abrera.

Moabit. Photo by Lola Abrera.

What trendy bars looked like…

Beach bar. Photo by Lola Abrera.

Beach bar. Photo by Lola Abrera.

What hipster bars looked like…

Escolorach. Photo by Lola Abrera.

Escolorach. Photo by Lola Abrera.

What coffee shops looked like…

Photo by Lola Abrera.

Photo by Lola Abrera.

This is what the Mauer Park swings looked like…

Mauer Park Swings. Photo by solitary wanderer. (http://www.solitarywanderer.com/2012/06/graffiti-art-in-mauerpark-berlin/)

And this is what the sky looked like…

Photo by Lola Abrera.

Photo by Lola Abrera.

I have no regrets, but at the same time, knowing what I know now, I would do things differently.

I would take more pictures. I would stop trying so hard and just try to feel and hear and see everything. I would ride a bike. I wouldn’t give in to self-doubt. I wouldn’t spend my money on the wrong things. I would make more friends. I would be braver. I would lie on the grass more often. I would try to learn German. Really commit to learning it. I would take pictures of everything: the trains that flowed like glow worms under that lonely bridge.I’d memorize how to get to that apocalyptic garden where flowers lay frozen inside tin cans. I’d capture images of those that I loved, the places that I lived. I would draw and paint and run and sing and dance. I would swing on those giant swings in Mauer Park more often. I would ride a bike. I would get a goddamned dog.

I remember during one of my regular weekend walks. I was cold. It was autumn. My very first autumn. I remember noticing how quickly the skies would darken and how the wind would nip at my cheek—it seemed so strange to me, coming from a tropical country and all. But right before the sky would turn a deep, dark indigo, it would burst into a tangerine and  pink grapefruit hue. And as just shades of purple would seep into the sky and notes of orange and pink would fizzle away, I remember seeing the figures and faces of people turn into mere silhouettes. Music from the band “Explosions in the Sky” was blasting in my ear. I was overcome with something that I had never felt before—unencumbered happiness. There was no real reason—not because I won the lottery, met Mark Ruffalo, or suddenly had six-pack abs. I just felt…good. Happy. For no reason at all. And the moment that I realized that I felt sublime and that the world was at rest, I was arrested by another emotion—panic. I thought that I was going to die. I was so happy that I became afraid that my next step would be my last: I would get hit by a speeding biker, bump into serial killer on his first day out, or simply that my then-20something heart would just stop. Then, the fear faded. And I realized that I was ok. I was still alive. Nothing bad had happened. I was so happy that I could just die. Then, I kept on walking.

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