leaving Venice, some ads, arriving Berlin

Little time to bid goodbye to Venezia this morning, our itinerary requiring that we take a bus boat to Piazzale Roma, thence a bus bus to the airport, to check in with Air Berlin for an 11:30 flight to … Berlin. Check-in time stated as 9:00, so arising at dawn, when only the tourists and the market stall-holders are up, rolling luggage through the narrow cobbled alleys, through tunnels, under overhangs, through campi and piazzi. Everything altering in its perspective relative to the angle of approach so that even quite familiar parts of Venice become suddenly unfamiliar, wrong turnings made, doublings back and re-orientation according to the nearest canal, in this instance the Grand.

The airport mad in the particularly Italian way of maximising confusion through multiplying queues … and folding them around bollarded labyrinths. Of course, no check-in for Air Berlin available until 9:30. Enough time for a bite, excellent panino con prosciutto di Parma e bocconcini, formaggio, called a VIP, and Q. a cotelleta – chicken schnitzel in a bun. Some confusion over the latte in bicchiero, because “white” as requested came back as – what else but – a glass of milk. An odd flashback of panic over dispensing with coins, then the realisation striking that we would be remaining in Europe – a land of one currency.

The check-in queues by this time had made it impossible to cross the concourse, although the valiant kept on trying, parents ferrying first luggage then children from place to place in relay, several coach-loads of the superannuated waiting like sheep in the run, as stubborn as sheep when it came to trying to move through them, like sheep too nervously sniffing the breeze for any whiff of news, but uncomprehending, unembarrassed by incomprehension, patient and anxious, at the British Airways counter; a handful, if you have very large hands, of fat German women travelling as a party, five of them, a hand with five chubby fingers; a queue for destination Dublin; confused light-travellers trying to negotiate the Lufthansa self-check-in machines; the whole melee presided over by a giant scoreboard of arrivals and departures with equally giant ads on either side of it advertising Intimissimi, bras, above, in fact, the longest queue of all, security.

Our check-in finally lit up and no sooner lit up than queued in front of at 9:45. Although barely functioning. Still, we were through by just after ten, and relieved of larger luggage shuffling along with the rest, including some very obnoxious Northern English queue-jumpers braying that they’d got away with it, into the security gates, where I was frisked because I hadn’t taken off my belt. And out into… paradise.

Space and air and light. Justified by shopping. The largest part of the terminal over two floors with windows out over the tarmac. Boasting even a Ferrari shop. And a deli where they offered to vacuum your cheese or salami or olives – pack, I assume. But even in this commercial heaven after the hell before the maddening nature of Italian systems: a chocolate counter, unattended; can I buy some chocolate? There’s a girl. But she isn’t here. I know. That’s why I’m asking you. No. I can only do this. Work the tills. Ask that girl over there.

I do. She says, There’s a girl. I know there’s a girl. How do we buy chocolate? You can only buy it off the table. Not from the counter. Why not? There’s a girl. But you’re a girl. No. No. I stack the shelves. There’s a girl!

Now Berlin. Now. And the temperature drops further, having over our stay in Venice fallen from 25 degrees to 17, with the rain, now 13. The Berliners complain about not having had a summer. Maybe a week when it was far too hot. In the mid to late thirties. Then rain. Now wintery grey.

For some reason the shift is enormous this time. The weather no doubt adding to it. And the fact that we are staying with friends. As I write this, the morning after our arrival, I am looking out into the hof, the courtyard, of a typical apartment building, typical to the new old East Berlin. We are not in tourist-land any more.

The street culture suddenly different. Despite being told that the area attracts many tourists and short-term visitors, there is a degree of uniformity to the people, just in the little circuit we take around the neighbourhood, the sort of people, borne of an acclimatisation. The people and place sitting comfortably together. The broad tree-lined streets and low-rise buildings where people live. On the ground floors clothes shops. Lots of down-dressing retro-chic. Cafes and restaurants and bars. The occasional theatre. Broken by parks, set up, in a further accommodation or fitness to the people here, local, for children. For parents with children. Contoured soft ‘hills’ to roll over. Roundabouts with sand underneath. Bars to climb. Permanent miniature football fields. On the hard. But netted around.

This area we are in has the highest of childbirth in Europe. But acknowledges it. Has evolved to suit the lifestyles of young families.

Perhaps it is this aspect that makes for such a shift of perspective in arriving here after Italy. There there is no question that the city exists for itself. Rome, the people were stage-managers. Cinque Terre, they were on display in an environment rendered increasingly alien by tourism. Venice, again, they were in the service of the city’s major industry. Engineers of tourism. While in Hong Kong, what the lives of ordinary people consisted in was almost impossible to imagine.

If there is any aspect that is forced about the city evolving to suit the needs of its inhabitants it probably lies therein that this evolution takes place at all, that it is historically sanctioned, by a city made malleable in its fabric by a history commemorated but not necessarily preserved, not being wanted to be. An evolution in alliance with a certain uneasiness about the place the city’s past ought to take in its present. Whereby its future is secure, however. An overeagerness to embrace the present as a result.

There is also the relation to observe between the city and the advertisement.

We visited a supermarket on flirt night. Techno and a reception committee handing out cocktail vouchers to singles with flashing heart badges to advertise availability? or the urgent imminence of flirtation? a desperate ploy, to enter into the spirit of which demanded, at least as far as its promoters were concerned, that we not be in a family group. Ten years too late for this part of Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg. They passed over us with their love hearts and free offers. Hilarious.