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The guide says we’re lucky then goes sombre, giving us a second to feel lucky.
“Yesterday was so rainy we couldn’t take the boats out.”
The Spree gleams like glass; poky white clouds skate across it. Someone asks me if I want another beer. I squint into the sun bursting behind the waitress.
“Why not? Hell, it’s my birthday,” I say and wave at the crystal meth addicts mooning me from the bank.
It’s a kick-ass day to be in Berlin. So much green and graffiti.
“Greenest city in Europe,” the guide says as we pass the wall with the most graffiti in Berlin. I snap a photo. It’s blurry, and we’ve drifted too far away for another chance.
This part of the Spree divided East from West, I’m told—The East Side Gallery—“where children drowned,” the guide says, “fetching a ball or doll, while soldiers looked on, guns readied to protect East from West, West from East.”
My beer comes. It’s cool, amber against the bluest sky. The boat stops, absorbs a load of Eastern European tourists.
They soon drown out the guide, so I doze in the din of everything around me: a Slavic dialect, the breeze and ducks. But the guide’s voice sometimes breaks in. I learn this building, which was once used for something, is now used for something else. This quarter is multi-culti, has its social problems and prominent citizens—and it’s green. So much green.
“You can hop off here,” I hear, but I drift on and wave to people picnicking on the banks, passed out on lawns, spitting from bridges.
I stay on the boat all day. I tell myself I’m sailing the Berlin Wall, though I now know the Spree doesn’t divide
the city that way.
I wave at the crystal meth addicts again, shout, “I’m 21 today!”
They wave back and call me a capitalist pig tourist, which I like. It makes me feel political.
In the evening, the boat deposits me at the Jannowitzbrücke. It’s dark and I’ve forgotten which way my hotel is.
There’s much more graffiti than green now. Men curl in corners, in sleeping bags and moving boxes. I take the money from my wallet and put it in my shoe, my credit cards in my back pocket. It’s not my first time abroad.
I walk the wrong way fast, end up at the East Side Gallery where hundreds of people are dancing in protest. The city wants to demolish part of the Wall to build a hotel. I laugh, talk too loudly: “First you try to knock it down yourself, and then you get pissed because someone else wants to?” It’s a bad joke. A hand pushes me into the Spree. It’s not deep, but I’m drunk and flailing.
I lose the shoe with the money. The Spree pulls at me until an old man, all tattoos and piercings, pulls me out.
“You’re lucky,” he says, “it’s not 1985.”