The apartment I’m in right now smells like cigarettes. Why does it smell like cigarettes? Because it’s directly above a bar that’s vaguely Mexican-themed and that allows smoking inside, and that smoke drifts — seeps rather (though seeping is usually associated with a downward motion) — into the apartment above it. When my friend Magda greeted me the other day I thought to myself, “Since when did Magda start smoking?” I was a bit intimidated, but as I soon learned neither Magda nor her brother, Alex, had been smoking, though they certainly smelled like it. “How many stars did this place have on Air Bnb?” I asked Magda, not being able to fathom how an apartment above a bar that has constant music pumping (they were doing karaoke last night; Germans can’t sing) and also a pungent cigarette smell could have more than two stars and she said, “I don’t know.”
This morning we went to breakfast at Cafe Bilderbuch, where we communicated with the waiter in German for the first four or so interactions. I was impressed, because Magda barely speaks German, and her brother even less. We got the Hansel and Gretel breakfast, which was a plate piled high with all sorts of meats and cheeses and spreads, smoked trout and smoked salmon, sweat cheese, paprika spread, grapes, melon, pineapple, deli meats, accompanied by a bread basket, accompanied by pots of tea and cups of coffee and glasses of orange juice. It was a festive affair. There was a baby that looked like Cousin It from The Adams Family sitting directly across from us and I wondered to myself, “Do these people know their baby is ugly? Like, do they realize people look at their baby and are terrified? Do they realize because they brought their baby out in public today my sleep is going to be troubled tonight?” We shared a table with two middle-aged gentlemen because I hadn’t made a reservation and when we walked into the back room, usually the best place to sit because the furniture is old and ornate and there’s the feeling of being in a mausoleum, the waitress said to me,” Wait you don’t have a reservation? That’s bad. Try the front.” So we went to the front, which was considerably livelier apart from the baby that looked like it was out of a Steven King novel, and the two men shared their table with us. Apart from a slight odor of sausage and feet, everything was perfect. We lingered over our meal and enjoyed each other’s company, saying we were full and then always going back for more.
Afterward we went for a walk and Magda and Alex were instantly soaked. It wasn’t a hard, but an insistent, rain. We stopped by a flea-market where they were selling everything from old shoes to VCR’s to, well, basically just old shoes and VCR’s. I wondered, “Who the hell buys this stuff?” I mean I can’t imagine any rational human being in the year 2017 walking up to a booth and seeing an old Samsung remote and thinking, “Score.” But obviously people are buying this stuff. I mean, if there are people selling it must be because people are buying, right?
The flea-market was right next to the entrance of Volkspark so we stood on the bridge above the Rathaus-Schöneberg station looking at a little pond where swans were dunking their heads underwater next to floating trash. Then we got on the U-Bahn, which never fails to fascinate me, I’m fascinated by trains and parks and eating, all of which we did today, and the U-Bahn brought us to Alexanderplatz which, if I’m not completely out of my mind, that is, if I’m not a complete fool, that is, if I’ve ever been to Berlin before or looked at a map of Berlin, that is, if geography even remotely interests me, that is, if I’m not mistaken, one of the most important landmarks in Berlin. We saw a massive nativity, at least 50ft high, that was waiting for the Christmas festivities. They were also putting up the stalls for the Christmas markets, and we discussed how if you’re going to come to Berlin at this time of year you should come in December, because snow is better than rain and then at least at that time you have the Christmas markets and festivities and everyone is guzzling hot chocolate and feeling merry. But November is just dreary. Granted, it wasn’t dreary for us, because we were in our own insular world of traveling happiness.
After Alexanderplatz Magda and Alex had to meet Magda’s friend Henrik, and I went with them even though I planned on leaving shortly thereafter to go back to the apartment to chill and do my physical therapy exercises and secondhand smoke through my pores. I had a day pass for the metro and buses, and felt immensely free because of it. I could get on any bus or train I wanted. I could get on a 100 buses or trains if I wanted. I could get on for one stop and then get right back off. Or I could just stand there and watch all the buses and trains going by, and never once get on any of them. The world felt like my oyster, or at the very least like my razor clam.