11 September 2013

Out of Element in Görlitzer Park

The following events happened back in August, when I realized that as much as I love Berlin for its diversity, there are parts of it that I simply cannot stomach. One of them happens to be Kreuzberg, especially the area known as Görlitzer Park. I happened to be there two days in a row and somehow my system just cannot handle it. I guess I don't belong to the punk/anarchist counterculture.

See, on August 1, I was with a couchsurfer. She was staying with me for two nights. After work, we went to dinner, and after dinner, we went to Kreuzberg because she knew someone (the brother of a couchsurfer that her sister once hosted in the United States) who lives there, and she could potentially borrow a bicycle for her use while exploring Berlin. So we headed there after dinner, and while everything went okay, I really felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb.

See, the buildings were disgusting. There was graffiti everywhere. The buildings here in Berlin typically feature a doorbell with the names of the tenants, and mailboxes with names as well. The doorbells were all broken and painted over, and the mailboxes really do not show who owns who. I could only imagine the headache this causes for the postal service. If I were living here, I would probably get a post box.

See, the restaurant scene here is great. There are plenty of options, and young people are everywhere eating. But I don't think I could live here. This is also the place where you can see plenty of people walking barefoot. When we found the guy with the bike, one of his roommates had a guest, a girl, and she was walking barefoot as well. And here I was, dressed business casual, as I came directly after work, mingling with these punk and anarchist folks, and somehow I just want to disappear. They were introduced to me, and I felt like some novelty exhibit.

But there is something worse.

The following day, August 2, I met up with a friend. She used to be in academia (we actually went to school together for a little bit), but now she is a performance artist. She invited me to join her that evening, and as it was summer, the sun was still out even at 7:00 PM. She has a Question Booth. She sets up a booth, and for 0,50 EUR, you can buy a question. You can do anything with that question. You can answer the question, you can ask my friend (or since I was with her, me as well) the question, or you could simply keep the question and ponder about the answer yourself. It's like being an anti-concierge.

So I met her at 7:00 PM, and we then strolled into Görlitzer Park, found a place by the footpath, and set up shop. Soon enough, some people approached us and bought questions. Some were interesting discussions. There was a girl who asked my friend why she was selling the questions, and whether she had the right to sell the questions. It looked like she had problems with the concept of selling.

Anyway, little by little, I slowly realized I am out of my element. I am so glad I didn't go directly from work, wearing business casual clothes. I'd probably be stoned by these punks and anarchists and other counterculture folk for being the effigy of the system they are trying to go against. Intead, I just was wearing a shirt, short pants, and flip-flops.

After about an hour, we both wanted beer. So I left my friend at the booth, and went to a späti to get two bottles of hefeweizen. As I was getting out of the park, three guys sort of zoomed on me, trying to do a synchronized walk with me while trying to sell me some weed. I just shouted at them Geh weg! and walked away.

Needless to say, when I brought the beers back into the park, I used a different entrance.

Anyway, all of this made me realize that I really am not in my element here. Don't get me wrong. I love Berlin for its diversity; I am not saying I want Görlitzer Park to be demolished. What I am simply saying is that this is not the subculture I identify with, and as much as I don't mind mingling with them every now and then, I do have a quota, and when I reach that quota, I would feel the need to get away and escape. Hence, Kreuzberg is definitely not a neighborhood I could see myself living in.

See, as I was in Görlitzer Park, I was wondering about the social composition of the people there. It was mostly young people, from their 20s to their early 30s. Sometimes, I cannot but think that this whole punk and anarchist movement is just a phase for people. People will walk barefoot only to a certain degree. People will dumpster dive by choice only to a certain extent. People will rebel against commercialization and advocate sharing only to a certain amount. There is the system that people rebel against, but sooner or later, these rebels grow old and then join the system they used to make war against.

The girl who had issues with the act of selling really got me the most. I still believe that humans are inherently selfish. And these people seem to think that they are saving the planet by sharing, by hugging trees, by being vegan, by being punks and anarchists. But I just have a hard time thinking that this is a sustainable attitude. I wonder what would happen once they have kids. Maybe they'll be less radical and move out of Kreuzberg and into Prenzlauer Berg.

Don't get me wrong, I do think we should save the planet. But at the same time, as I believe that humans are inherently selfish, the desire to profit is still there. I have no issues against selling and commercialization. As much as sharing is a good idea, it is too utopian and I think it will be too hard to enforce, when humans inherently want them to be better than their neighbors. Hence, saving the planet is not undertaken as a result of an altruistic behavior, but because of a selfish behavior. If we don't save the planet, we will have no place to live.

Oh well, it was a crazy two days, as this rant has shown. The U1 is my least-favorite line in the Berlin metro, because I always encounter these folks, and their subculture is just hard for me to comprehend. That being said, I still like this city, for the fact that there are immense examples of diversity, from the anarchists in Kreuzberg, to the hipsters in Prenzlauer Berg, to the gayborhood in Schöneberg, and the rich folks in Zehlendorf. There is something for everyone.

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