April 21. 2012.
“Someone emailed us and said they have a place for us to stay,” Garth says.
We jump off our bench by the fountain, leap across the street, fly down the stairs and arrive on the platform just in time to miss the train to Berlin. The next one won’t arrive for 18 minutes.
We’re cutting it close, like always. Our phone is dying, the train ride will be at least 30 minutes and Pierre leaves for France in 50 minutes. If we don’t arrive at Hauptbahnhof Station to meet him and get the keys to his flat before he leaves, we’ll have no place to stay. Also, we will have wasted time and energy riding all the way into downtown Berlin for nothing. And that particular station is the size of a small town. If we do arrive in time and our phone has already died, we won’t be able to call Pierre to find out where to meet him. We may miss him by seconds.
I get out my laptop. Garth plugs the phone into it to keep it alive. Every second that ticks away is a bullet to one of my brain cells. I count down the stops as they crawl by. I’m not nervous about missing out on an apartment. Our spot in the woods is quite nice. I’ve enjoyed it. But if we can stay in the city, we can participate again in the project that drew us all the way to Germany in the first place.
We make it with two minutes to spare. Pierre stands next to a black suitcase, wearing an army green jacket with protest buttons clustered above his heart. He’s so international I’m never sure weather to kiss him on the cheek, give him a hug or shake his hand. We always do that stiffly smiling robot-dance combination of the three that ends up in a “Well, we’ll get to know each other eventually and you’re going to go live in my flat, so we may as well hug” type of thing.
He quickly scribbles instructions on a pink sticky note and hands over a set of keys. He’ll be gone until Tuesday. We’ll stay in his room for three nites. Hopefully, the Hall at the KW will be open for Occupiers by the time he returns home. Not that he would kick us out. We just don’t want to impose.
Pierre jumps on a train to the airport. He’s going to vote in the French Presidential Election. Garth and I jump on a train back to wherever we were. We’ll return to the woods and get our stuff.
Once there, we take our time, sitting in the treehouse, drinking our last two beers, eating our last two cheese sandwiches. I really like this camping spot. I feel relaxed here and I have a foreboding feeling about going back to the city, trying to get involved in the Occupied Biennale again.
I stuff the sap-sticky tent into my pack and zip the straps down tight. We traipse slowly thru the sunny woods and board the train for a third 30-minute ride. Fifteen minutes into it, for some unknown reason, Garth gets up to look at a rail system map and convinces himself we’re on the wrong train, going the wrong way. He shoos me out the door as we roll to a stop. We dash across the platform and hop onto a train going back the way we came. I take a look at the map myself. We weren’t going the wrong way at all. When the train stops, we rush out the door just in time to miss the train we should be on. The next one doesn’t come for ten minutes. Garth paces and fumes.
“Fuck! God damnit! I’m so sick of this shit! I’m so sick of riding trains and trying to do things!”
Garth hates waiting. He also hates public transportation. Subways, city buses, Greyhound buses and airplanes all strike an intense, irrational, anger-inducing panic in him. My best guess is that he hates being forced to rush and hurry. He doesn’t like being herded along in the Rat Race. He wants to move at a pace which is comfortable to him, so he has time to understand what’s going on. I get that. I’m the same way.
“I hate these transitions!” he says. “Next time we’re out, we’re out for good! I’m done!”
The transitions between hobo life and civilized life. Trying to live in two worlds at once rips you apart eventually. Garth and I need to pick one and stay put. I’ve been leaning more and more toward hobo lately. The woods. A slow, natural pace. There’s no place for me in the civilized world and my attempts to live in it despite being completely destitute are becoming increasingly depressing. We never have the resources to do what we’re trying to do. We don’t even have train fare. I’ve been looking over my shoulder all morning, scanning every platform for ticket checkers.
I hate the transitions too. And I’m sick of listening to Garth bitch and curse about the same shit every day. It doesn’t solve anything.
“Stop it!” I say. “Just shut up! Please!”
“Why!” he demands.
“Because I don’t wanna listen to that anymore!”
Pierre’s apartment is close to the KW. It’s an old building with a huge tree in the courtyard and two sets of massive, ornate double doors on each landing. The white living room ceiling is ringed with a crown of carved foliage and cherubs. A chandelier hangs down amongst orange art deco couches that are dusty as dumpster dive scores. In the kitchen, open bottles of olive oil and a pot of dried-up chili crowd the stove.
“I liked the other apartment because it felt like no one else lived there,” Garth says.
I’m already tip-toeing, wondering if it’s okay to sit there or move that, feeling hemmed in on all sides by someone else’s life.
In Pierre’s room, gray slacks, a burgundy sweater and a stack of neutral-colored t-shirts spill out of shelves stacked with books, photographs and a camouflage helmet. A cord tangles around an iron that sits atop a stack of papers on a wicker table. Garth and I perch on the very edge of the bed with it’s black and white Japanese comforter.
Even tho I like Pierre, even tho he’s probably my favorite of all the people we’ve met here so far, it still makes me nervous to live in his space.
I take a shower, my first in four or five days, and find a tic buried in my left calf muscle. I’m going to die of lyme disease someday.
When we go out to eat, Garth and I find nothing but hip restaurants and the kind of convenience stores that sell an apple for three euros. We have just over 100 euros left. We can’t afford any of it. There are no real grocery stores for miles. We pace up and down in a cold, gray wind, staring with painful indecision at chalkboard menus that mock us happily from between cafe picnic tables.
Finally, out of desperation, we settle on a corner bratwurst bar. A young kid with a black chef’s jacket and huge spacers in his ears gets annoyed as we try to order two fries and four bratwurst in our frightfully limited German. It’s amazing how many simple words you can take for granted every second when you’re conversing in your native tongue.
We sit on stools at a wooden bar that faces out the window. The bratwurst are plain. No buns, no sauce. The fries are plain as well. Altogether, they cost 9 euros. Eating an over-priced frugal dinner in a hip bar on a Saturday night, watching stylish people laugh and talk as they stride toward their exclusive good times in one if the most happening cities I’ve ever been to is quite depressing. And one of our bratwurst is cold. Completely uncooked. I can’t help but wonder if they did it on purpose. This only depresses me further.
Garth and I disappear from our stools, take the last two brats to the flat and microwave them. We eat them without speaking and go straight to bed.
I don’t know if we should’ve bothered coming back. Most of the people involved with the Occupied Biennale are self-absorbed. This isn’t going to be an Occupy encampment, a community. It’s going to be a bunch of hip posers putting themselves on display for connoisseurs of “discourse-based contemporary art.” With the exception of Carolina and Pierre, I feel nothing human emanating from this group and it’s killing my interest in the movement. There are too many people in the world, and most of them don’t have time to do anything but plaster cleverly applicable quotes from JFK and MLK all over facebook. Will enough “shares” and “likes” change the world eventually? I’m beginning to think the best I can do is get out. Disappear. Hide. Wait for the ice caps to melt and drown everyone.