On a scorching Sunday afternoon we catch the U-Bahn to Eberswalder Straβe, walk a short ten minutes past camper vans and buggies and empty restaurants to a bustling park. Patchy ground, sand, dry grass, a hill overlooking crowds of people clumped in groups watching singers, performers, bands. Next door a flea market – we wander through it, aimless, occasionally flipping record sleeves (John the Wolfking is here, somewhere) and trying on sunglasses, drinking Coke out of a glass bottle. People everywhere – legs, vests, carrying bottles of beer and cocktails, modelling clothes, wandering.
Rows of boxes of trinkets and stuff, stuff, stuff. Old stuff – cameras from before we were born, rings, tapes, coffee tables, old written postcards and letters and books. Furniture from every decade sitting in the shade of a white gazebo.
We find a spot on the hill and watch a Russian band play for a lark. A guy with a hat thrashing at his guitar – he must be roasting – a trumpeter, two singers jumping up and down, yelling and jazzing the crowd. The music courses through the park – frantic, loud, fun. We buy beers in the shop across the road and lie in the sun, shoes off, grass between our toes and in our ears and on our necks. The bulbous needle sits sweltering on the skyline. Around us groups of friends, couples, people. Old hippies sharing a cigarette. Two girls sunbathing, tight knots of hair, round John Lennon sunglasses.
A friend joins us with his bike, takes his top off and slathers himself in suncream. He has two beers in a bag. He sits with us and tells us about his life. He’s been around – Australia, Amsterdam and the States and back home to Donegal. Last summer he asked his girlfriend to run away with him to New Zealand; they drove from town to town and he busked while she watched and they scraped a living on the road, ‘like mongrels’. They spent months wandering but in the end they have settled here. A lot of people do, he says.
Nearby, an amphitheatre. A thousand or fifteen hundred people sit in a big tiered circle around two girls and a microphone, everyone cheering and whooping and clapping and laughing as the two girls sing. A thousand people singing with them. Girls and guys like us walk around with crates of beer and trays of cocktails, a guy passes around a collection tin for the fun.
It is a lark, but it’s also something else. A sense of sharing something. You get your kicks and we get ours and we enjoy it all together. This music is your music and mine – it’s easy and fair and no one is stopping anything for anyone. Walk around barefoot. Talk to me. Eat lots, eat well. There is so much food: paella, falafel, burgers, pasta, big spit kebabs and salads and doughnuts. We choose our nourishment and whatever we choose it’s good. Beside the tents the Legendary Strawberry Man preaches affirmations to cross-legged acolytes before him. A girl lies face down, still, in the tall grass.
We find a crowd of people standing in a circle around a drum kit and fifty hair-flying gyrating dancers, jerking shoulders and elbows to the beat, asses roundly circling the air, no self-consciousness, no cameras, just boom boom boom. As I’m sitting watching I see a boy with an afro running barefoot, chasing bubbles conjured from a paddling pool. The crowd in the distance sings raucously: Hey, yeah, yeah, yeah, what’s going on. He catches one and stops for a second, staring at the spot where it disappeared, thinking, contemplating, realising, a brief glimpse of what we’ve escaped from, of what is ahead of him. I want to tell him it’s OK, look around you, you are one of many; but there’s no need. A dozen more bubbles float past him, and he is running again.
This is Mauerpark, and this is Berlin.