2nd, October, Berlin, 15:41, on Friday we watched a movie called “A Bigger Splash”. We chose this one because a few months ago we came across “Call Me By Your Name” from the same director, Luca Guadagnino, which was a great summer entertainment for us.
“A Bigger Splash” had the same qualities of a sexy European summer as his later movie. A small Italian town, local festivals, spati looking local joints for playing cards, enjoying karaoke, dancing clubs for hot and sweaty nights, and lots of sexual tension between the characters of the movie. It starts with a young couple having a slow vacation in a gorgeous villa with a pool. Then they get a phone call from an ex-colleague, and soon we’ll learn, an ex-lover, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes. He enters the screen with the warmest smile and continues to burn the frame with inexhaustible energy. We were so dazzled by him that we had to look up his age at the time of the shooting of the movie, and learned that he was 52. Physically he looks amazing too. Later, seeing the amount of naked shots he had, I understood the reason for his ripped shape. At one moment he was dancing with utter bliss in the open air, a warm breeze on his face, and I found myself hoping to be in the same shape his was and relish life when I’ll be 52 as he was relishing at that moment.
Somehow we predicted the second part of the movie which contains a tragedy. Maybe it was a curious look that gave it away, or the unnatural moves and dialogs the characters were having I cannot tell for certain. And after that the vibe of the movie completely changed. I actually thought it ruined the whole thing. We were frustrated because we were looking for an emotional drama, a more subtle message. When we looked for other criticism on the net, we realised this movie was a remake of an old classic called “La Piscine”, which explained the story structure and the director’s next movie without the big tragedy.
Yesterday, we went brunching with friends at a lovely place called Turnhalle. It’s like a big sports court with a high ceiling where a huge chandelier is hanging. I was sitting right under the dead centre of the chandelier, its tip hanging over my head, which provoked a conversation around trusting technology and individual control over our lives. In that instant, I had to trust the people who installed the chandelier to be able to enjoy my food and the company of my friends. Like taking a plane to anywhere, we have no choice but to trust the engineers and the pilot and the ground control. Then our friends told us about their vacation and their adventures in an amusement park where one of them fainted during a ride on a roller coaster. For her it’s impossible to understand how anyone can enjoy that dangerous machine. For us who can enjoy it, it’s hard to understand how not to let go of the fear and trust the machine.
But she was right, safety is an illusion. Last week I was going to my physical therapy session for my shoulder and I was at a wide crossing in Alexanderplatz. Because it’s the same traffic lights I’ve been crossing for the last two years, I know the exact timing of the green light, which I use for my benefit to cut the crowd and step into the road before everyone else. This time, when I was in the middle of the road and was leading the pack, I heard terrifying exclamations coming behind me; someone drawing in breath in a shock or half a scream. The same second, a car buzzed past me a few centimetres away. I was frozen in place and a huge doze of adrenaline was released in my bloodstream. It is rare in Berlin for anyone to break the rules of the traffic this way, but it was a reminder of how much we are not in control of our fate, even though we have every kind of order and education, and how close we are to death at any moment.
After the brunch, my girlfriend surprised me by taking us to an escape room, which she planned and coordinated with our friends. It was a nice birthday present. We went into a spaceship themed challenge and nearly failed due to the misdirections of the helper girl on the other end of the walkie talkie. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just her English was not so good. But we had fun overall.
Then we joined our friends in the demonstration regarding the violence that’s going on in Iran. People are sick of the islamic system of rule and the enforcement of head cover for women. There were many catchy chants both in farsi and deutsch. People’s favourite was “weg, weg,weg, Mulla muss weg”, probably due to its simplicity and musicality. It was a big gathering, several thousands. We heard that there would be a march towards Brandenburg Gate but we left before the march.
Three years ago, before I got hired by unu and came to Berlin, I had an interview, the fourth and the last one, called the “culture interview”, done by employees that are not going to be working in the same department with me, so that they are not biassed about the hiring decision. They asked me questions totally unrelated to software, common sense questions designed to evaluate my creativity, my humbleness, and my connectedness to the city I was living in, which was Istanbul at the time. When I arrived in Berlin and joined our Friday all hands meetings, I saw the benefit of having a culture interview. There was a strong sense of like-mindedness, almost a general frequency everyone was vibrating to and was keenly aware of.
Later I learned that I almost failed the culture interview because my interviewers didn’t think I was connected enough to my city. One of the questions was to describe my city as if describing a person. I can’t remember my exact words, but I always thought of Istanbul as a chaotic place, suffocating, painful to navigate, a cutthroat environment. So, I probably didn’t paint it in the most complimentary light. Then they asked me where I’d take them if they were visiting Istanbul and I was their host. I think I’ve mentioned some historical places, a hamam my friends and I frequented, a restaurant with a Bosphorus view I liked to patronise in those days. Thinking back, they must’ve found my choices pretty dull or ordinary touristic spots you can find in any travel website, nothing special for someone who lived in Istanbul for 18 years. And they wouldn’t be wrong in their assessment.
I started questioning what it means to be connected to a city. How can you understand an enormous context such as a city? In three years in Berlin, I have visited its parks, its lakes, museums, theatres, cinemas, favourite breakfast places, local markets, christmas markets, malls, U-bahns, S-bahns, regional trains, hiking routes, concert halls, art exhibitions, graveyards, second hand bookshops and watched book launches, read the books about Berlin, read the giant tome of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the country’s and the city’s history, joined writing courses, made friends, formed writing groups that meet in the city’s most cosy cafes or the stairs of Alte Museum, marched in demonstrations, parades, feasted in its beer gardens, witnessed the bloom of the cherry avenues, played chess in its streets. Does all of this make me connected to Berlin? If not, what else should I do?
As I was searching for the meaning of connectedness to a city, I decided to take a closer look at my old friend’s blog I mentioned in my previous sessions. His blog started in 2010 when we were 29 years old, when we were hot headed, running around the city like daredevils. We were both curious and excited about our adult lives, our freedom, spending our own hard earned money on whatever we liked. Now, through his blog, I recognise a different perspective, paying attention to different things. Now I realise while I was an introspective person trying to understand myself, he was deeply observing the city.
For example, a post from September 2010; he took pictures inside an old and empty stadium which was demolished a year later. The pictures show how worn out the stadium was. It belonged to Galatasaray, a football club with a long history, a club who won a European cup once. But my friend is a big fan of another football club, Galatasaray’s biggest opponent at the time. But still, in his post he acknowledges the history of this stadium that is marked for destruction, and he is clearly sad about the memories of legendary games that are going to be swept away with it. He was paying his respects to the place that played an important role in the lives of millions of sport fans.
This stadium, Ali Sami Yen, is the same place I watched my first concert as a young boy when Metallica first visited Istanbul. I also knew it was going to be demolished, but I wasn’t as sentimental about it in those days. I vaguely remember thinking that it was actually a good decision because the stadium was in the middle of the city, in the middle of an important traffic network, and every time there was a football game or a concert it would create horrible congestion and the whole traffic in Istanbul would come to a halt, resulting in the misery of millions for the pleasure of a lucky few.
Maybe football and fanaticism is overrated, maybe the problem was the way the roads were built without regulation, but one thing is certain; my friend was sensitive to the changes in the city while I was careless. After the stadium was gone, the neighbourhood was not the same. The excited crowd’s enthusiasm was taken to the outskirts of the city, no longer rippling from the heart of the city.
Another interesting post from September 2010; a sticker we started to see on the ATM machines, almost mimicking the branding of the bank, but with a critique of the new bonus system the bank was employing. My friend was reporting in which neighbourhoods the sticker started to pop up, closely tracking the visibility of a single sticker. Then he finds a similarity between the design of the sticker and certain stencils around the same area, claiming that it’s produced by the same artist. Not stopping there he finds the nickname of the artist and thanks him for his efforts.
One of the first things I noticed in Berlin was the explosion of stickers and street art in every corner of the city. I felt blessed to live in a city where creativity was so abundant. But I never got curious about the distribution of the same sticker in the city. I never wonder who made a sticker or a graffiti I liked. Once we got lost and found ourselves in a back alley where a few artists were painting the walls, but we didn’t think of stopping and appreciating their art and maybe shaking their hands.
But now, after reading my friend’s blog post from 12 years ago, I decided to look closer, get more curious, not take the street art for granted but appreciate every piece of creation with more care, take pictures, take notes, and try to research the artists behind the art that makes Berlin a more beautiful place to live. Perhaps, that would make me more connected to my city.
Stream recording: https://youtu.be/5m12yFuVdoM