snapshot: Berlin

Picture this. In a leafy courtyard, a quiet avenue -
a young family stands with all the detruis of their house waiting for a removal van. They are moving. Their two children, blond like their mother. A loud thump announces the arrival of their rolled up carpet behind them. It looks ancient. The furniture looks like chipboard and veneer - nothing could possibly cost more than twenty euro.

Later in a street cafe I am approached by a homeless man. Some panhandling thing in German. After he leaves, I turn around and ask, "Okay, what did he want?
Cigarettes or money?" I am told that the man asked for our left over food. He is still squatting in a corner and since I have lost my appetite I take my goulash over to him, still cynical. He thanks me profusely and gobbles it all up.

I had thought he wanted to buy drugs. I haven't seen a poor person asking for food for years. Food. Something is wrong. This is Germany. Where incredible technology, a female chancellor, white sausages and all kinds of famous German things come from.

They protect their trees here. If the trees are kind of old. There are laws that don't allow you to cut trees. Every dustbin is in triplicate. Paper, plastic and glass.
Why was that guy hungry?

After that, I'm forced to look more carefully all around me.

I watch the buzzing clubs, the heat and laughter in the beer halls, the trading of second hand goods, drugs, the price of food, the peeling crackle of the veneer that I thought was happy Berlin. Watch the old lady take up a courgette, look at the price listed above then put it down again. Watch dressed up people drinking Caprinhas in a bar. Watch them go to a kebab shop and bolt down a kebab. Watch everybody standing in the street waiting for the night bus. Smell the marijuana in the air. People are smiling.

Something is wrong.

(words: Sharon Lim, Singapore; picture: Dorothee Lang, Germany)


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