Graffiti, heartbreak and American preachers

Up the cool echoing stairs from the U-bahn, pausing to lay a cigarette between my lips, to light, to inhale, to light again, and to take a long,  off-work-for-the-day drag off that cigarette—basically, a nicotine sigh—I turned the corner out into the bright of daylight, walking toward Alexander Square, across which I was headed to catch my tram home.

The American voice immediately got my attention.

“Hey, thanks a lot for your patience you guys,” the voice said with naïve sincerity. Beaver Cleaver sincerity.

Patience? Berliners?

I couldn’t yet see most of the square, but he seemed to be on the far side, speaking loud and clear over loudspeakers. His voice whining in a youthful high pitch, but it had a certain touch of trained conviction. An annoyingly familiar tone…either a Bible Beater or a Greenpeace campaigner.

Then another teen voice, a German native, gave translation:“Thanks for your patience.”

I laughed.

“Patience”  is not an adjective one usually uses to speak about Berliners. They would know immediately Beaver was bullshitting them. But a crowd somewhere answered with a happy shouts.

He obviously brought his own crowd with him.

That I heard the speaker at all was a credit to his sound system. Alexander Square is not a quiet place at 3pm.

Half of Berlin moves through the Alexander Square Station in the hours between 3 and 6, and while it is a big roomy open square with no motor traffic except a tram line running to one side, during rush hour on a sunny day, the square fills from end to end. Adults commuting home from work or stopping to shop or still lingering, having spent the day sitting around the square drinking booze with no work. Kids coming to hang out after school. Old people strolling about.

 As in any city, where the people congregate, so do the musicians, street performers, preachers, political rallies, snake oil salesmen, swindlers, panhandlers, and even maybe a few straight pickpockets.

Alex is the East’s former main public square, and in Berlin’s dual downtown history, was the protelarian compliment to the bourgeoisie Kurfurstendamm in the city’s west, and since then, only the facades have changed.

At four o’clock on a weekday Alex is a din of people talking, singing, laughing, of tram bells ringing to warn pedestrians out of the way, of usually at least three bands playing simultaneously, of performers calling to the crowd.

If you can hear an individual crowd among the larger crowd…that must be a lot of folks.

I was curious to see what this was about.

To start with, I am keenly sensitive to any goings on in the German-American relationship and I felt compelled to listen to what my fellow countryman was going on about. And second, I can’t help critiquing a translation.

Rallies were more than typical on Alexandersquare: a day without a rally, a carnival or some event was seldom.

If he was a rabble rausing leftist, he might have a chance…but he better quit with the niceties.

Berlin doesn’t care for niceties.

I was thinking how the crowd would probably boo the poor lad, and as if on queue someone to my right yelled, “Lick my ass, you pussy!”

No..except the accent,that wasn’t typical Berlin. That was just crass.

I wondered if the translator was relating to Beaver the replies. Probably not.

I looked back to see a rough-looking young gent sprawled  against the wall on the pavement with a red fan of hair, with his arm around his  equally rough-looking lady, with the other arm he held up a bottle of beer, which  he shook, spilling it, causing several passersby to move wide around him. One of the passersby shouted, “hey, watch it, idiot!” to  which the punk-rock girl stuck out her swollen and rather long tongue and then extended a certain finger.

Such language.

Luckily my mohawked friend was well out of  earshot of Beaver Cleaver.

Anyway, what sounded like a pretty large crowd whistled and cheered their approval at the young speaker and I hurried along to see what  was the hubbub.

Who was this foolish American and his imported crowd risking their lives?

“How is everyone out there on this beautiful day?” Beaver asked.

I was thinking to myself what witty return your everyday Berliner  would have to such a rosey-eyed fool question.

The Berliner didn’t suffer such fool  questions gladly. A complete stranger asking“how are you?” was already putting  a strain on ther patience, let’s not mention how they would  react to the ‘beautiful day’ part.

How goes it for ye all today…on so a fine day?” echoed the German translator.

None of thou shit business, thou little shit, but now that thou ask, I’m heavily drunk and  urgently horny…wanna fuck, or what?”

Yea, Beaver was going to have a time of it, reaching this crowd.

I decided I had to been on my way…I didn’t want to watch the ugly scene that was sure to follow….and besides, a beer was waiting for me at  home fridge.

(If you’re wondering about the ‘heartbreak’ check out the slideshow below.)

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About Andrew Flohr-Spence

Something about the sound and the word. Was a singer/bassist for five years, a German major for five, an English teacher in Germany for another five, then a journalism major in Denver for 5 more, and now I'm back in Berlin (for a while, I intend).
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