Rosenthaler Straße 39
Whenever I’m in Berlin, I like to stay in the Ostbahnhof area.
I sit on a bench in the park across the street, watching the people coming in and out of the station hauling their luggage. Commuters in suits, laborers in overalls, immigrants, little kids holding beer cans, girls on bicycles, couples walking hand in hand, a few junkies sheltered underneath the nearby bridge.
Kreuzberg, just a short walk away, still has some of the best eateries in town, as well as immigrant-owned grocery stores selling cheap beer, and is ideal for evening strolls along the wet pavements, under the colored lights of the bars and the neon signs of the doner shops.
Mitte, a little further away, has lost its edge – and my interest – a long time ago. All the places I used to know aren’t there anymore: C/O Berlin has moved out, the Tacheles has closed, and the pharaonic newly-built hotels and shopping malls feel suffocating. The openness of the vast Alexanderplatz square and the old regime buildings in Karl Marx Allee are the only reminders of the past.
I take the S-Bahn, and in less than 3 minutes I am at the Hackescher Markt. Seeing the brick walls of the station is like having a reunion with an old friend. The cobblestoned street outside the station is filled with chairs and tables from tourist-trap restaurants. The eye wanders around instinctively, encountering the same homogenized aesthetic everywhere, irrespective of direction.
It’s now well into the night.
I cross the square and enter Rosenthaler Strasse. After a dozen or so paces, I can feel something pulling me.
I freak out for a moment, but then I see that I’m OK; everything is alright, I’m still on my feet.
Just as my heart stops pounding, I feel another pull, stronger this time. I lose my footing and stagger into an alley with the number “39” at its entrance.
A cool draught hits me in the face – like opening a fridge door in the heat of the summer.
Wherever I look, the walls, the doors, the ground, the stairs, even the archway ceiling, all are covered in overlapping layers of paint, aerosol spray and stencils. It’s as if all the graffiti in Berlin has sought refuge here, to escape from the forces of rationalization and avoid being whitewashed.
I walk in slowly, with careful steps, checking out the designs and the colors, like Alice on the other side of the looking glass, when a door opens with a slow creaking, and the pale, almost ghostly figure of a tall, thin man comes out, beckoning me to come closer.
As soon as I notice his unmatching colored eyes, he leans to whisper in my ear:
“Would you like to hear a story about a boy and a girl who wanted to be heroes?
What do you say? I think you’ll like it…”
English translation by Panos Tomaras