The city is like a forest, when I want it to be. Other times, it can be a maze of dark and dangerous streets. It is always intriguing, it doesn’t have to be “nice” to be intriguing.
A place is always as much as you want it to be, it is a mixture of experience, connections you make, and thoughts, all of which taint what you hear and see. We create our own ideas about the places where we dwell. People’s paths cross all the time, new friends are made, and new love is found.
The magic of a city is found in your heart, not in its bright lights. The part of town I live in is full with the spices and salts of life. Musicians wander along the street, stop and play a few tunes for guests outside a restaurant, beggars sit in their everyday spots and smile with an outstretched hand. I often see people open a shopping bag and give a beggar food, showing them which foods have the vitamins and protein they need. Actions like this remind me of who my neighbours are.
A few years ago I lived in a different part of town, the middle-class neighbourhood where people parked their BMWs along the street, the council serviced the roads often, and people wore smart and expensive business clothes — like living on a film set.
Up in the posh part of town, people believed that the part of the city I live in now, was a dangerous place. Go down to Kreuzberg and you’ll get mugged, or murdered. “They have knives and guns, and they’re all thieves and blagards down there”.
Back in the Berlin Wall days, Kreuzberg was a part of the “American Sector”, US troops would patrol through Kreuzberg in a jeep — with a light machine gun stacked on the back. Sometimes, they’d train the gun muzzle on the hippie-types in the street. They got in big trouble for that, the gun was locked and loaded with a belt of ammunition.
Kreuzberg has always been working class, it’s full of artists, creatives, and people who are still trying to figure out what they might want to do in life. It’s a place where a beggar has more chance of getting a few coins put in his hand, a bag of food handed to him, and a smile from a passer-by.
When I was a taxi driver, I used to drive the night shift. I loved sweeping through the city, picking up the tired and drunk, the lonely, and occasionally, the confused in need of help. I always told myself, I have time for all these people. A cab driver meets a lot of sad people, broken people, spurned lovers, so often full of beer and tears.
In the posh part of town at 6. AM, waiting at a taxi rank alone, the sun rising, the night-life all gone home. I was waiting for the stragglers to stumble out of a bar called “Zwiebelfisch”, a well known artists bar. A place where slightly famous artists, could get drunk. Artists do that, it fires their imagination when they’re tired.
I was half listening to the calm midnight-voice on my taxi radio, and half eyeing the street in front of me; a man stood at the traffic lights. He wasn’t moving, he just stood with both hands in his pockets and stared across the street at the bar called Zwiebelfisch.
I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw a well-dressed couple walk out of the bar, they moved towards my cab, but passed and kept on towards the main street, where the man was waiting. He seemed to perk up, his hands shifted in his pockets, and he looked about himself for a moment. I could tell he was interested in the young couple, I didn’t know why. They were now standing at the traffic lights.
The pedestrian lights turned green, the couple stepped out into the street, and from their stride I could tell they were both pretty drunk. They leaned against each other as they walked, straightened up, laughed for a short moment. They didn’t seem to care for anything but each other. And then it happened.
I wasn’t sure what it was at first, I’d heard a noise, two noises in fact. I needed a moment to process it before my brain connected it with a quick metallic slide, and the snap-crack of a small handgun being fired, twice.
The man who had been waiting, shot them both in the heart. They fell together, and died quickly.
My taxi radio crackled with the voices of other cab drivers who had seen what happened. I jumped out of my cab and ran towards the two dead lovers.
The police and an ambulance were called. The man who killed the young couple had immediately run away. This was the posh part of town and nobody expects to witness a killing on the streets. Nobody chased him.
The police pushed everybody away, there was nothing we could do to help.
A day later, I read in the Berlin papers that a man had killed his wife and her lover.
That’s all I know. She fell in love with somebody else. He felt the pain of being left alone.
Cities are full with people crossing paths. Sometimes a passer-by will stop, and they become a friend, sometimes they fall in love with you.
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