Do you ever walk down the streets, and the city makes you feel a rush of euphoria and sadness at the same time? That’s how Berlin feels to me. I don’t know if I live at different hours than most people here, but for a city with more than 3 million inhabitants - not counting tourists, the streets of Berlin look quite empty to me. The only noise is from the traffic.. and endless police sirens. Streets are wet now. Rain just stopped falling. It’s cold, and the wind is tossing the garbage down the street. Warm lights are reflecting on the wet pavement and every building seems dark, empty. Berlin.. broken to the core. No amount of flashy decoration or tourist attractions can cover that up. Even after almost everything was rebuilt, and all the rubble was shipped away from the city, the ghosts of its dark past still haunt the streets. I always loved being here. Made it a habit, a second home. I just hate coming here.
Flying to Berlin is always a nightmare, at least for me. See, I don’t hold one of those nice passports that wave you through border control, no. I have to stand in line and look at all those people who are asked to show how much money they have, to give their fingerprints, or even call their friends who live here. Luckily, I’m always prepared for this. At least with my passport I can’t be forced to take one of those automated passport gates.. This time it was fast. Even customs. The way I see it you should always smile and greet the officers. Be nice, they don’t have to know about that gunpowder on your boots, or the dark tech in the luggage. Maybe they just see that we come from a similar field, maybe it was just too late at night for them to care.. but anyways I’m out. I can finally smoke!
My contact is waiting at the airport, surprised that I got out so quickly. We get into the black SUV and head towards the city. It’s raining, and there’s barely anyone on the highway. As we officially enter Berlin, I can finally relax. Even if the city is within 100 kilometers of the inner border, you can’t be a subject to surprise customs searches…. Berlin here I am.
Have you ever noticed how the sky is never really dark in Berlin? Product of those flashy lights and tourist attractions. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” I quote Gibson softly. My contact not even hearing it.
We made it to the city in one piece. It’s already late, too late even for me. He drops me off, saying I shouldn’t forget to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow. I manage to get to the apartment, 25th floor, locking every possible lock behind me, take one look through the window, and crash on the couch. This place has unfinished walls.. looks broken but apparently it was very expensive to have them made. I stare at the ceiling for hours before falling asleep. It’s a long day tomorrow in cyberpunk Berlin.
I’m woken by the police sirens in front of the building. Looks like an elaborate drug gang is being busted. I make coffee and smoke at the window, wondering where did the gang go wrong.. but no time for high philosophy now. I have to get going. Cargo pants, leather jacket, sneakers and backpack.. all in black, fitting outfit for an embassy meeting, right? I think so too. My contact is waiting in front of the building, looking at me: “You look like an operative.”, “Didn’t you once say that cargo pants mean trouble?”. We take a taxi to the embassy, arriving “too early” according to the girl answering the intercom. At least they’re kind enough to let us wait inside. Security sucks at this place..
We’re finally out. After we finished our business, trying hard not to laugh at their “serious face” while checking passports, almost breaking their entrance doors by accident and ignoring the guy who wouldn’t stop looking at my butt we can go. Direction Alexander Platz, a place that makes me feel like being in the opening scenes of Babylon A.D. People are loud, broken, dirty.. some are trying to grab you by the hand just so you would look at what they’re selling, some are screaming, others drawing attention with loud drums and music. There’s an obese woman, sitting on the ground, begging for money.. her dog next to her. A dozen homeless people sitting together, trying to warm up, scraping some food. Girls taking selfies, probably to post on social media, to entertain their friends with an illusion of interesting lives. Everyone is pushing, passing.. like only they exist. I feel like in a slow motion montage, just the world playing out in front of my eyes, me not being there.
“Hurry!” My contact shouts, waking me up from my melancholic slumber. We walk into a tech shop, just to entertain ourselves until the next meeting. He seems to be very happy about curved monitors, while I’m trying to activate multiple “smart home” devices without success. “Why do they even put them out if they’re not working?!”. Groups of Asian kids at the gaming section, and handful of pretend-posh people at the Apple corner. And of course they sell e-scooters here… Drones section was mildly disappointing.. the consumer market is missing all the fun stuff.. “I’m really looking forward to drone powered dead drops.” my contact says while leaving the store.
Next task is a phone call.. Dirty McDonald’s terrace, overlooking train tracks. It’s loud and too bright. But hey, I get my much needed dose of caffeine and nicotine. We call the off-shore guy, but I keep getting distracted by the Russians in the background. Gotta practice my language skills somehow, I guess. Phone call done. Time to move on. We take the subway now. I know it must sound crazy to most, but I like the smell of the subway in Berlin - which is probably just rat piss mixed with oil. The station is crowded, dimly lit and too warm. One light is flickering, above a billboard that says DEEP WEB. “What’s that?” I ask. “No idea. Wanna check it out?” Of course I do. We change trains a few time, walk a bit in the rain to find ourselves in front of an old power plant, now used for another purpose. Next to the entrance there’s a huge billboard: DEEP WEB, and something in German, white on black. We enter.
We step into another dimension. Dark gray walls, high ceilings, and very sublime indirect lights. Somewhere in the back there’s Blade-Runner-Esque music playing, echoing through this monumental space. It resembles one of those abandoned factories used for ecstasy-fueled parties after the wall fell. It’s a light show installation, based on spheres moving up and down on strings, lit up by color changing lasers - creating a beautiful dance of light and darkness. It feels otherworldly, distant from our time. People are laying on the floor, half of them probably high, or standing to the sides. The music isn’t really that loud.. but there’s no voice to be heard. You could sit here for hours, and just look at the lasers playing with the darkness and mist. “I feel like we’re being brainwashed.. like in that movie Cipher. Remember?” “We probably are.” , my contact plays on my paranoia. I’m not even sure how long we’ve been here, it’s like a vacuum of time. “This is my world.” he says.
It’s time to go now. It’s already dark outside, and it looks like a storm is approaching. Time to hide out in the container TAZ. Took us a couple of trains to get there, and a stop for Vietnamese coffee. Container TAZ… a very special place. When you walk by you wouldn’t even know there’s anything there, but if you know where to look you’ll find the entrance. And once you push through the gate, you’ll find yourself surrounded by shipping containers, all outfitted for some purpose. There’s a white tarp between them and couple of red Chinese lamps under it, dancing in the wind. Solar panels and anti surveillance tech on the roof. Voices coming from the main container – a couple of people there, sipping their drinks and discussing dark tech. Some guy soldering in the Faraday cage, under a drone. The whiteboard being used to draw floor plans of a building in Prague that rents storage boxes - quite cheaply and anonymously if you know what you’re doing. Time to sit down, grab a drink and wait out the storm. Isn’t it poetic?
The wind is no longer loud, and the rain can be heard softly hitting the metal roof… it’s time to leave . The outside is wet, damp and the air smells like wet, rusty metal.. the smell of Berlin rain – and you, if you get soaked. It’s silent, calm, almost too calm. We can take the train from here.
It’s late, dark, and the streets are empty. Direction Hackesche Hoefe. There’s a nice bar there. At least by my definition of nice. It’s hidden behind a dark alley that’s covered in street art. Next to it is an independent cinema, weird metal sculptures and indirect neon lights. “No Photos”-sign on the door. “The bouncer once told me they don’t let cops in.” my contact says, “I told him not to insult me.”
The bar is decorated with macabre alien art. Almost everything is black, the walls, the furniture, clothes people wear.. Only a few soft, dim lights shining behind the bar. There’s an alien head, attached on a string, spinning above the bar corner. Dark wave music playing. Drunk goths laughing uncontrollably. You can feel invisible here. Everyone is minding their own business, only existing in their own little universes. We drink, mostly in silence. I fall into one of those slow motion montages, wondering how I got here, and where I’ll be in a year from now. “Do you ever feel like we’re taking on too much. And just when we finish something, another thing turns up. And it’s a never ending game?” “How else would one do it?” There’s no other way, if you really want to make a difference. I know that. I raise my glass.. “To those who make it out alive”. I pack up, I have to go. I’ll walk from here.
Do you ever walk down the streets, and the city makes you feel a rush of euphoria and sadness at the same time? The streets are wet now. Rain just stopped falling. It’s cold, and wind is tossing the garbage down the street. Warm lights are reflecting on the wet pavement and every building seems dark, empty.
Berlin.. broken to the core. No amount of flashy decoration or tourist attractions can cover that up. Even after almost everything was rebuilt, and all the rubble was shipped away from the city, the ghosts of its dark past still haunt the streets. You can feel it in the air, and see it everywhere you look - you can almost grab it with your hands. But I like it this way, I like how its flawed, fragmented, how hard it’s trying to change, without success. Places like this can make you whole, teach you to swim above the surface and not get lost in the noise. Or they can consume you. I’m not sure where I stand, but I know for certain I hope Berlin stays the same.