It’s spring in Berlin now, early summer really. Such a green city, so many big trees, and on the traffic islands and empty sections, there will be knee-high weeds. Our stereotype of Germans is controlled and anal, and in many ways that’s true. But Berlin is so laid back.
A classic Berlin footpath is several metres wide, with room for people on bikes, people pushing strollers and walking dogs. There’ll be dogshit and broken glass: both are ubiquitous in the city.
And there’s graffiti everywhere. When I was ‘walking’ the streets on Google earth before I left New Zealand, I thought our apartment was in quite a run-down part of town. It wasn’t, it was just the graffiti. For us it signals urban decay, but in Berlin it’s part of the city’s character. It has a noble history too, of course, because the western side of the Berlin wall was covered in graffiti and murals.
What do I miss about Berlin, apart from the luxury of all that writing time? I miss riding my bike, on the flat, with no helmet. I miss the horse chestnut tree in the courtyard of our building, filling up the kitchen window with its flowers, its leaves, or its snow-covered black-and-white branches. I miss the sense of achievement that comes from ordering a taxi, getting your shoes resoled, or buying a bra, in a foreign language. I miss the U Bahn saying, ausstieg links.
When I look at the poems in Snow White’s Coffin I can see the influence of Germany, not so much in the subject matter, but in their thinkiness, their willingness to talk about ideas. That’s something I’ve always skirted around – in New Zealand it feels like a bit of a wank. Apart from a plastic cuckoo clock, a slightly less sensitive wank meter may be the best thing I brought back from Berlin.
Kate Camp, May 2013.------------------
Victoria University Press warmly invite you to hear Kate Camp discuss her time in Berlin and read from her new collection Snow White's Coffin at the City Gallery, Wellington.
Kate held the Creative New Zealand Berlin Residency between September 2011 and October 2012.
Thursday 23rd May, 6pm
Civic Square, 101 Wakefield Street
Snow White’s Coffin is published by Victoria University Press, paperback $25.00
Seats are limited so get in early to avoid disappointment.
With the support of The City Gallery, NZ Book Council and the Goethe-Institut.