Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tempelhof

There is something about Berlin that feels like the future. I don’t mean the shiny future; I don’t mean the Tokyo one of spaceships and retina scanners and tailored silicon. I mean the post-future future where the streets become wide instead of tall, a freeshop is planted on every corner, tendrils of smoke trickle back to the bars and the keys of the city are handed to a team of shamanistic allstars. Perhaps, I am talking about Utopia.

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We cycled to the abandoned airport, Tempelhof. Our bikes were solid and upright and moved with all the grace of a young drum major on her way to her first parade. We needed them. At the end of the runway, we revved our feet to the sun.

It was late in the afternoon and the light was golden and piercing, a light specific to the first cold snap of autumn (my favourite moment in the year). The sky was studded with kites of every colour so far away they looked like holes snipped out of the fabric of the world. Some of them were attached to skateboards and the kite-flyers swung their strings and danced across the runway: a foxtrot led by the wind.

At one end of the runways, two or three kilometres away, stood the airport building. It was a horseshoe shape, proud, sprawling; like the Toronto subway font, it seemed part of the past and the future all at once. But the Nazis built it, and these days the building is closed.

At the other end, in the tufts of grass between where the planes turned, the ground is taken over by ramshackle allotments. Broken bathtubs overgrown with cabbages. Packing crates wrenched apart and hammered into freestanding doorframes. CDs winking to the crows and the largest crop of parsley I’d ever seen. James said, When we live here, I’ll build you one. We talked about sugar snap peas and green tomato chutney and the thirty-five year waiting list we were handed by the London council. We turned towards the setting sun.

The wind was pelting down the runway but we three turned our bikes and revved our feet and hammered towards a horizon where sunbeams bounced like the arcades. Panting, thighs pumping, the wind hollering expletives. The Nazi building grew closer, infinitesimally, the kites had our backs. Then we got to the top and we turned.

There was something about Berlin that felt like the future. There, then, at that exact moment: suddenly the wind behind me, the airport given over to a post-apocalyptic utopia, plants tended in the cracks. I kept my tire to the white line. I pedalled. Faster. The world whipped past my peripheries and the hefty palms of the gales shoved in the small of my back. I cycled as far and as fast as I could, until the end of the runway where I stopped and circled and waited for the boys.

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