Berlin Wall

In a fitting end to the latest chapter in my research on subcultures of resistance and debauchery, I escaped this morning from a rock club in Berlin.

I awoke at dawn, fully clothed and still drunk, curled cosily into the depths of the very last stop on my own personal tour of Filthy Couches of Central Europe. I had been to three countries, filled five notebooks, seen ten shows and climbed two mountains. I had gained new insights, or at least come to see old insights through differently colored liquors. I learned neither German nor how to roll those big cone-shaped European-style joints I’ve always so greatly admired, but still and all, it was a good trip. I had come to know things I didn’t know before, and was now sufficiently tired and dirty and bruised and cumulatively intoxicated to think that going home would not in fact be death to all wanderlust and vice but instead maybe a novelty of cleanliness and soft bedding. Or so I told myself when I realized that I was about to leave a world in which getting inebriated all day in a non-judgmental environment while furtively taking notes on the behavior of other inebriated people was widely accepted, if not actively encouraged. For me this life is a form of unparalleled happiness, hangovers, filthy couches and all.

The parking lot and backstage of the club were unnaturally still in the morning light. Places like that are meant to be seen in motion and shadows, piles of furniture making interesting shapes, people in silhouette, burning tips of cigarettes floating disembodied to their lips. Having seen the whole vista teeming with bodies just a few hours ago, I had the strange sensation of watching a time-lapsed movie, ghostly figures slowly disappearing as the stars went out and the sun came up.

Since I had stopped making any concessions to sleep other than removing my boots and any concessions to hygiene other than brushing my teeth, it didn’t take me long to get ready to go. I hoisted my bags and settled into the counterbalance of their dual weight. Beyond the green metal gates of the club was Berlin, a city I would see from a train window and wonder about, and beyond Berlin, airports and beyond the airports, home. Directly beyond the green metal gates of the club was a neighborhood that so closely resembled home I considered just staying put, edging up to this population of hipsters and waiting for them to take me to their yoga classes, bars and bistros. Walking in the area the previous night, I had seen in a matter of minutes the same concentration of Thai restaurants, yoga centers, record stores, cafes, natural food stores and expensive t-shirt shops that define my home environs of Williamsburg. This had immediately cured me of my lingering desire to see the city, just as now one of those cafes I had seen would cure me of my lingering desire to drink an espresso. Beyond the green metal gates of the club was Berlin, espresso, New York, and more espresso. It was time to walk through the green metal gates and go home.

Except the green metal gates were locked. There was a padlock on the outside and two clever little armholes through which someone could reach with a key and unlock it. Or alternately, two clever little armholes through which someone could reach with no key and say, quietly, “Fuck.”

It had finally happened. I was trapped on tour with a punk rock band.

This would have been marvelous news if not for several mitigating circumstances. First, their European tour was about to end. Second, I had been wearing the same all-black outfit for over a week and desperately wanted to put on a clean t-shirt with amusing verbiage on it. Third, there was the pesky matter of staying financially afloat to fund further research in international debauchery. And finally, I could see where it was all going from here, and while that place beckoned to me most appealingly, I wanted to put it off until after the New Year, or maybe my thirties.

“I have to go,” I said to no one in particular, to the air of the courtyard of the rock club in Berlin, the last filthy couch of central Europe, the empty bottles, the morning sun.

But how to get out? The green gates connected two portions of a cement wall. The gates and the wall were each about eight feet high. The gates were topped with metal spikes and the cement wall was topped with barbed wire. This rock club was heavily fortified.

The whole place was surrounded by a wall and the green gates were definitely the only exit. There was no one here except a few sleeping band members, none of whom had the keys to anything but their next bottle of wine. The manager was sleeping in the van, which itself was outside the gates. The rest of the band was sleeping in a hostel I had declined to visit for precisely the reason that I wanted to facilitate my quick getaway to the airport.

I collected some chairs from the courtyard, stacked them up and stood on them to survey the situation. Marshalling all my powers of observation and innovation, I made an informed and educated decision. The thing to do, I decided, was to throw my bags over the gates and the wall and then throw myself over the gates and the wall. And then get some espresso, because with each passing minute of pondering and dragging of things around the courtyard of the club, I was coming to the conclusion that I was neither awake nor sober.

I gently lowered my bags over the wall by their straps, right into the path of a surprised pedestrian. The clock was now ticking, my bags sitting vulnerably in the street outside the green gates. Peeking over the wall, I could see a few early-morning hipsters walking their dogs and jogging. They didn’t look like thieves, but then again, I didn’t know anything about Berlin and its dogwalking bag-robbers, it’s jogging purse-snatchers, and its general hipster criminal culture. I needed to get over the wall before some evil German hipster took my out-of-date iPod and more importantly, my notebooks, the loss of which would render a two-week fact-finding drinking binge simply a two-week drinking binge. That simply would not do. I was going to have to join my bags, my notebooks, my facts and my fictions on the other side of that wall, where the espresso was, not to mention Berlin, and New York.

Before I went over the top, I said a brief prayer for my coat. I had brought a black, fur-trimmed coat on tour, one that I saw in a thrift store and fell deeply in love with. Several people had advised me not to bring the coat, saying it was too nice, it would get destroyed in the squats and the clubs, but somehow it had survived the tour intact, keeping me warm and well-stocked with the many essentials I kept in its deep pockets. It should have been impractical, as the shaggy lambswool at the neck and wrists tended to collect ash and crumbs and other detritus, but it turned out to be perfect for a myriad of purposes. Some nights I slept under it. Other nights I stroked the fur like a pet, sighing with stoned contentedness. By now The Coat and I were friends, good friends–maybe even more like family. The Coat had consented not only to touring with a punk rock band but also hiking in the Swiss Alps, and it had proved itself just as well-suited to the wilderness as it was to the edges of civilization.

The prospect of destroying The Coat hovered above the whole trip, lending it a doomed excitement. Before I left, my roommate admonished me ominously, “Don’t you vomit on that coat, Emily!” Her warning proved both blessing and curse. The very first night in Vienna I did indeed vomit, but just before I did, I heard her voice in my spinning head and whipped off the coat just in time, holding it daintily at arm’s length while I retched in the alleyway.

It had been two weeks since I vomited in Vienna. Now that I had made it to the end of the tour without barfing in Berlin, I could see all of The Coat’s and my safe travels done in by one errant snag of barbed wire.

I could have dropped it to the ground with my bags, but in my sleepy morning drunkenness I maintained some delusion that the Coat was in fact protecting me from harm. No, the Coat and I were going over that barbed-wired wall together. That was just how it had to go down.

I climbed up on a recycling bin, then hoisted myself up onto the cement wall. It was too high to jump from, so I sat there for a moment, dangling my legs over the side, thinking about how pleasant it would be to sit here and swig from a bottle of wine, maybe nibble on a sandwich, maybe hold a fishing pole and bait German hipsters with cigarettes. Some joggers went by and looked at me quizzically. I could have asked them for help in my descent, but that would have required a knowledge of German, and the willingness to admit I wasn’t sitting on top of this cement wall out of my own free will. So I nodded coolly and kicked at the wall in a festive manner that said, “Good morning, Berliners! I was just sitting here on top of this cement wall enjoying the sunshine and I know just how I’m going to get down!”

The thing to do, I realized, was to walk along the cement wall until I came to some other sort of fence or post or pipe that I could climb down. I stood up and gingerly straddled the barbed wire, walking along either side of it until I came to a fence full of footholds with no spikes on top. I swung myself to the ground, dusted myself off, picked up my bags and walked off in a direction I was fairly certain led to an espresso.

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