It’s dark in the park in Berlin

O\'HortenI approached the theatre and saw there were posters along the wall at street-level, with the movie theatre entrance up a flight of stairs and the theatre towering several stories above that. The posters showed Australia—a Nicole Kidman pic whose posters I’d seen everywhere, including Amsterdam, Prague, and Berlin. Very Hollywood! But look—an offbeat poster showing a man with a moustache holding a very large dog in his arms, with the the words “Cannes Selection something something.” The movie was called O’Horten, by Bent Hamer, the director of Kitchen Stories (a weird Norwegian movie which I’d seen and loved). My kind of movie! The other posters showed a selection of horror movies, action flicks, and kids films. I left satisfied, knowing there was something I would enjoy seeing, here in Berlin. This was comforting to me—the familiar world of movies still existed in this strange place.

I ran on through the rain and came to another corner, Danziger, where there was a Mobil station set off in the Volkspark Friedrichshain. This struck me as odd, but I noted the price—1.09 Euros per litre (about $1.80 Canadian) and continued along Danziger, always keeping the park at my right. It was 35 minutes into the run now, and I was sure I was coming near to the starting point. The next corner was Landsberger Allee, and it was more commercial. The park disappeared and there was a giant sports complex called SEZ on my right. I didn’t know if anyone used it, for it was dark (closed at this hour on Christmas Eve), and the building had a lot of graffitti on it. But I saw there was a blowling alley—10 Euros—ball sports, massage. After the end of the building there was a little street going right, back towards the park, so I followed it, through a desolate area with tram tracks carved into the pavement, between bleak-looking apartment buildings, and then came to a road with a T sign. 

I followed this, passing a woman walking a small dog, and came back to the park. The way led into the park now—which I had hoped to avoid—but I also hoped it would lead straight back to the starting point. The paved path was lined with orange street lights, and I kept to the left whenever the walkway branched, so as to keep the bulk of the park to my right. There were some ominous-looking buildings looming in the darkness on my left, which I later learned was a Krankenhaus (krank means sick, and this was a hospital).

I seemed to have entered a very unfamiliar area that looked nothing like the brightly-lit boulevard I had started out on. At the next turn in the path the street lights changed to white globes. The path cut between wooded hills and as I descended between them I felt I had entered Narnia. After another minute or so my tolerance for the unknown reached its limit. It was 45 minutes into the run. With each step I was increasing the distance back to Kirsten’s apartment. I lost my trust in my sense of direction that this road would lead back to where I’d started. I was afraid I’d entered the twilight zone, and everything had changed and I’d never find my way back. So I turned around and went back the way I came.

Coming out of the park I was worried I’d lose my way and be lost running around the park all night, so I was very relieved to come back to the T sign and the tram tracks. I read all the street signs as I retraced my route, alarmed to discover an entire segment of road between Danziger and Friedrichshain that I’d failed to note. The rain had stopped now, and I noticed the cheer of the apartments along Friedrichshain, lit by strings of Christmas lights. On the ground floor was a restaurant, glowing orange, each table lit with candles, a server looking out the window. Not a single patron had come to eat there on Christmas Eve, but perhaps they’d just opened and were expecting a big reservation. People got into parked cars with packages, and suddenly there was a more festive holiday feeling in the air.

Monument to Frederick the GreatIt’s amazing how much more quickly the second half of a run in a new place feels, when I am retracing the journey and some things feel familiar—the movie theatre, a brick paved half-circle park entrance, the steet sign at the corner of Friedrichshain and Friedenstrasse, the pink concession stand building. Without fear and uncertainty slowing my steps I made it back to Kirsten’s in just 31 minutes!

Later I checked her map and found that in another 200 meters or so the park path I was on rejoined Landsberger Allee and from there it was just a few hundred meters to the starting point. The side trip into the park was a loop that went into the park and rejoined Landsberger farther up. Fear had stopped me from completing the circuit—which was not an even rectangle but more like a diamond shape—but I finished it a few days later, in the daylight, when we returned from our Christmas excursion to Prague. The seond time it took 40 minutes to do the complete journey from Kirsten’s to the park, all the way around the park, and back to Kirsten’s.

Looking back from the safety and comfort of my home in Vancouver, where Statuaryeverything is quite familiar, it seems that runs in a new place are the most fun and exciting. Everything is unknown and fresh, and it is great when things get a little scary at times. I feel a curiousity and aliveness about discovering the new place, whether in a city or in the wilderness. And running allows me to cover a good distance fairly quickly, so I can really get a sense of the terrain, and learn the land with my feet. But let me tell you, when I was afraid I was lost, in the dark in a scary park in East Berlin, I felt like a fool, not a wild woman.

Returning home I also found out that what I expected to be a minor park, covering one city block, is the oldest and second-largest park in Berlin, covering 52 hectares, and built in 1840 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Frederick the Great’s accession to the Prussian throne. Although I couldn’t see this in the dark, it is filled with statuary, monuments, playgrounds, and delightful vistas. It is really true that we create our own reality, based on our history. And this might not always be such a bad thing—I guess I like the feeling of being afraid in the unknown, my imagination running away with me. I’m glad I hadn’t read all about the park on the web site first, and seen it on a map. It was good to discover it on my own, directly with my senses, even if I was viewing it through the filters of my history.

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