Two small incidents marked the beginning and the end of 2012.
My first weekend in Berlin, we went to a club which, like many clubs here, had a prominent NO PHOTOGRAPHY sign displayed. I was quite confused and disoriented there, iPhone in hand. What else to do on a night out, if not take photos of ourselves all together? And then, as I put the phone back into my bag, it slowly occurred to me: I suppose I’ll just have to be present and do stuff, participate, like the other people in this club, instead of taking photos of them doin’, and of myself among them.
My last weekend in Berlin, at NYE, we stood on the street for perhaps 40 minutes, firing rockets into the sky, screaming, sharing what explosives we had with whoever was around, all arush with adrenaline. And I thought, exhilarated: “WE DON’T WATCH NO FIREWORKS! IN THIS CITY WE MAKE OUR OWN FIREWORKS!”
Our German friends said this was normal, not even particular to Berlin. I was mesmerised: I am used to firecrackers, they’re common in Croatia for NYE, but I’ve never seen heavy-duty fireworks purchaseable, rocket by rocket, in a corner store, the way they are here. The ongoing paradox of Germany is how crazy things happen in this supposedly orderly country, crazy things by standards of both ‘civilised’ and ‘barbaric’ countries I know, and yet nobody seems to ever get hurt.
This has been Berlin’s one great gift to me: moving me from a position of watching life into a position of doing life. In a myriad different ways. In this city, people make their own street parties when and how they want, organise their own festivals (from Love Parade to May Day riots), invent their own folk rituals (such as the battle between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, occurring annually on the same Oberbaumbrücke from the video).
In 2012, I learned how much better things taste with freedom. I learned how much better beer tastes when drunk in a park as a part of a game of ping-pong; how much better going out is when you wear your worst, not your best clothes, because you know you will be dancing in a stuffy, mouldy, smokey basement for 8 hours, rubbing shoulders with sweaty men; how you don’t love any bike as much as the bike whose tire you’ve patched up a dozen times with your own hands; how five people and a mixing deck on a bike are enough for an open-air party, both under a bridge and in the middle of the city, in sunshine or rain; and that no fireworks are as special and meaningful as those you fire with your own hands.