Where do I start? Well let me start by telling you something that happened to me today on the Ubahn. My experience of public transport is almost universally accompanied by the dulcet tones of whichever podcast I have playing at the time. However, today, because of misplaced headphones I was without my usual sound track. So instead, when I walked on the train at around ten in the evening after work, I was almost immediately struck by harmonic twanging coming from the other end of the carriage. As I walked over to the source of the noise, I saw an old man sitting on the right hand side of the carriage in an empty four seat segment of the train, ferociously plucking at what looked a banjo but after some careful googling turned out to be a Greek Bouzouki.
With the guitar on his lap and the attention of the carriage on his fingers, he serenaded his fellow travellers. The tune was a mixture of upbeat tones and a melody laced with the nuance of nostalgia for another time. He also looked as if he was from another time. He wore a creased leather jacket, styled from the looks of it in the 1980s and worn through years of wear and tear; too big now for the shrunken shoulders that no longer filled its upper arm area. On top of his head he had a black leather cap that covered what little hair he had left. His shoes were those of a man serious about both comfort and keeping out the incredible cold of Berlin's winter.
It was just a few moments really - the moments Berlin offers its travellers between stops on the UBahn to look around and inspect the city through a lens of the people who have chosen to make this place their home. My first reaction was to get out my phone, capture this somehow through video or a photograph. But on second glance, I wondered what exactly I should take a picture of - these moments are impossible to capture in a 2D freeze frame of reality. Given the choice though, it strangely wouldn't have been the man playing, but instead, the woman and her teenage companion (daughter I presumed) sitting opposite me.
It seemed that I had entered that situation "in media res" in the midst of things. The man must have started playing some stations earlier, as the two women sitting opposite were already engrossed in the performance. As he plucked and trilled the notes of this beautiful melancholic folk tune, the older woman couldn't help but smile, her face betraying her efforts to keep her expression stoic and dignified - it seemed as if her body wouldn't allow her face to stay quiet so instead it lit up the whole carriage. Her eyes fixated on the player and her features softly caressing his hands.
The tune ended abruptly with a force conveying the command the old man had over his instrument. Clearly practiced in the art of performance, he lifted his head to accept the modest but distinct applause that had erupted in the carriage, and landing his gaze on the adoring face of the woman opposite me, he proclaimed in Greek the name of the song. "It's Greek you see, for sunrise" he added in a German that betrayed the number of years that he'd spent here. The woman nodded. We all nodded.
And then it was over. Hermannplatz had come on the U8 and the usual exodus occurred taking with it both the old man and the women who had sat opposite me. I was left alone - a smile planted firmly between my ears. My body it seems also refused to comply with my wish to not seem strange for smiling into the empty carriage in front of me.
I celebrated my fourth Berlin Birthday this month. Four years in this city that I have come to love so deeply. I cherish your richness Berlin. I cherish your plurality. I cherish the possibilities you offer to the people lucky enough to call you home. I cherish your history and the deep dark soul it has given you. As a tour guide I am paid to sell you to the world. But saying that, I feel a sense of camaraderie with you. You put me up, inspire me, offer me opportunities I never dreamed of and the happiness I have always aspired towards; and in return, I am your voice. I speak your past, your present and what part of your future I can guess at. A rather pitiful bargain on your end - but I live in your debt Berlin. Haven for all that is possible.
Your loyal subject,