Category Archives: Berlin

Wide-eyed in Berlin…


Last September we spent 10 days in Berlin. It wasn’t my first time in this city and it certainly won’t be the last as it’s become one of my favourite European destinations. Every step you take feels as if you are walking on history, our history, the events that changed and shaped our world, changes which are still in evidence today.

Remnants of the Wall...
Remnants of the Wall…

I love the fact that Berlin is not a pretty city. It has some wonderful buildings and very pretty squares, but overall it has a gritty, urban, streetwise feel that doesn’t try to pander too much to mass tourism if you exclude the fact that Berlin has a museum on everything (Currywurst Museum anyone?), sometimes several (The Wall)…

And, of course, it’s a wonderfully cinematic city. As we walked around I thought of the angels in Wings of Desire, Wim Wender’s dreamy black and white depiction of West Berlin just before the Wall comes down, with Bruno Ganz as an angel who wants to be human, and Peter Falk (aka Columbo) as an already fallen angel…

Angels in Berlin...
Angels in Berlin…

One of the angels accompanies an old man as he wanders through the rubble and bare ground near the wall which can’t be built on (this site became the super futurist Potsdamer Platz, replacing a bombed square of the same name).

It’s a city of so many faces – Red Berlin, Hitler’s Berlin, Weimar Berlin, Bauhaus Berlin. In Aeon Flux, the sci-fi film starring Charlize Theron, the buildings look like an expensive Hollywood film set, but they were all filmed on location in Berlin, some old, most new – futuristic visions which mock Hitler and Speer’s dreams of a classical city.

The wind tunnel - Berlin/Adlershof
The wind tunnel – Berlin/Adlershof







We go on a guided walk to hear more about the extraordinary grafitti that covers any spare inch of blank space in the streets.

Graffiti - East Side Gallery
Graffiti – East Side Gallery






Suddenly, there, on Schlesischestrasse is  a complete blast from the past.  Barbie Deinhoff’s Fugidivafreundschaftclub. I visited this place years ago but feared it was one of those Berlin pop-ups (bars, cafes, squats) which are notoriously short-lived. But here it is, looking just the same although daubed in several more layers of thickly painted graffiti. I was so struck by this club that I wrote a poem about it – it’s in Kreuzberg, very near where the Wall would have been.

Barbie Deinhoff's Fugidiva Freundschaftsclub
Barbie Deinhoff’s Fugidiva Freundschaftsclub

The Divine Decadence of the Fugidiva Freundschaft Club, Berlin

Where East met West there’s a street of bars :
time-capsules of Wall-era deco.
At the fifth and final portico,
as the moon starts to sink,
a transvestite doorperson fondles us barwards.
Grubby Barbies impaled on the walls;
spangly pink t-shirts on plastic hangers
dangle like tarty chandeliers
in a smoky wonderland of pierced punks
perched on children’s chairs
and purple funfur ottomans.

There is no more vodka.

She drinks her tequila like a drunken angel,
laughs, and slowly licks my palm, and then
we, too, are divas for one fugitive night,
sealed with an unrepeatable kiss.

I insist on going to the street where the Coca Cola sign unfurls in Goodbye Lenin. Chris bravely shoots off with the camera to crouch on various traffic islands and gets a great shot.
goodbye leninI love this film, it’s so moving. Alex’s mother has a heart attack and goes into a coma just as the Wall comes down. She regains consciousness in a new Germany but mustn’t receive any shocks or she will die. Her son recreates East Berlin all around her, to save her life, for she has been a staunch but humane supporter of the regime. In tribute we go for a daytrip to Lübbenau so I can buy some Spreewald gherkins;  Alex searches the newly Westernised supermarkets for these as his mother is craving them, but ends up filling an old Spreewald jar with Western gherkins.

I start writing several poems but none of them are any good. I often write about places I’ve visited weeks or months after the event, letting the places ferment and settle until a line or two starts to rise to the surface.   And that brings me to the big question – what stimulates us to creativity? Silence? Coffee? Pots of tea? Nature? Absinthe!? I write best in cafes, it’s important for me to have a background buzz and to be able to observe everything that’s happening – I can spend all day doing this, ordering endless coffees and pots of tea (just as well given my upcoming Paris project of capturing Paris’s cinematic and literary legacy through poetry, as well as my decades long personal relationship with this city). My favourite local haunt is Peacock’s Café in Ely (around 100 loose-leaf teas to choose from…) – I’ve written so much there and the poems I write there all seem to get published – my lucky café!

Chris’s obsession with the third wave coffee movement (cafes which have a close relationship with growers and who brew using either aeropress or pourover methods which results in astoundingly tasty coffee) takes us to the wonderful Bonanza, right near the Mauerpark and, more importantly, right near the fantastic Mauerpark fleamarket where we discover Charity Children singing their wistful songs in what used to be no-man’s land in the Mauerpark.

Charity Children 2

Bonanza is too cool to write in, as you can see from the minimalist, slightly mad professor lab feel in the picture below. I’m too short to be comfortable on a bar stall and narrow counter arrangement and can’t effectively drink a coffee without spilling it, let alone wield a pen successfully, but it’s a great place and the staff were delighted at our enthusiasm for their coffee, plying us with the very expensive coffee rejected by a departing customer.


I’m still bringing up lines of possible poetry and am hoping to write a prose poem sequence about Berlin. Prose poetry has been an absolute breath of fresh air for me (move over Baudelaire!) and for the past two or three years I’ve been exploring the possibilities of this form and falling more and more in love with it.

But more of that next month as preparations for my five-week stay in Paris loom…

In the beginning…


Sue at Impala Cafe, Schonhauserallee, Berlin
Sue at Impala Cafe, Schönhauserallee, Berlin

It was as I wandered, over-stimulated, heart in-mouth-excited, through the gritty and graffitied streets of Berlin that I realised I could combine my three loves – strong coffee, cinema and poetry into one supremely self-indulgent blog post a month. More of Berlin later, but first, of course, in true storyteller tradition, once upon a time…

…there was a girl, a girl who loved to travel and who ended up doing international marketing for her university department as well as going on exotic far-flung holidays back in the days when she was a salaried lecturer and not a struggling poet …

One of my earliest published poems (Mslexia issue 31) was a meditation on the endless souvenirs I would buy on my travels, beginning with a stolen artefact when I was very young and very irresponsible. It was probably worthless, but I still feel a flush of shame decades later when I relive this moment, can still feel my guilty hand closing over the terracotta shape in the original bat-black darkness…

My Life in Souvenirs

A rough terracotta pot from a cavetomb in Luxor,
disturbed bats streaming behind me as I sprint
on blistering red sand, back to the river.

A necklace of coins from the souk in Jerusalem
spreading its heaviness around my throat,
my collarbones, like a shackle,
in less than a week the clasp has broken.

A skinny child in Guatemala sells me ceramic animals:
a perky, spotted dog
clenching a stolen tortilla, round as the moon, in his jaws;
A bird of prehistoric proportions;
A portly pig with flowery markings;
A tortoise flattened by the weight of the world.

A blue and white cotton yukata from Kyoto
transforms me into a giant geisha.

Japanese mask
Japanese mask

Even though it’s Autumn, I buy a waxy parasol
for blossom-viewing days, and a happiness mask.

The stone Buddha-head from Vietnam
fits perfectly in my cupped palms.
I sink slowly to sit among the long shadows,
close my eyes in perfect imitation and,
with a serene half-smile,
wait for the sun to set.

As I began to teach film studies in ever greater depth as a freelancer my interest in film locations grew and I currently teach a series of day schools, for Cinema City in Norwich and evenings for the King’s Lynn Community Cinema Club, on films set in London, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin… hopefully the list is endless. So, yes, I have drunk whisky (Suntory, of course!) in the New York Bar at the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on more or less the same seats as Bill Pullman and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation

I even went back for a blossom cocktail during the day so I could actually see Tokyo rather than being all moody and jazzy in the dark… I’m not sure what it is about being in the place where scenes from my favourite films have been shot but the feeling is totally inexplicable – one of connection and the vicarious excitement of being part of this very exclusive world for a few minutes (or hours in this case…)

So, what can you expect from this blog? Thanks to a very generous grant from the Arts Council I’ll be spending five weeks in Paris researching and writing a poetry collection which explores Parisian film locations as well as the culture and cafes of Paris, so there’ll be at least a couple of postings from there as well as postings about zombie encounters in Hebden Bridge, dodgy divas in Berlin, City Lights in San Francisco and so on.   And prepare to share our (husband Chris will have guest appearances) increasing obsession with the third wave coffee experience that is taking over the coffee-lovers’ world.

I’ll be posting on the last day of every month and if you join me I can guarantee you’ll increase your dvd collection, your taste for coffee and café culture in general and pick up some great urban travelling tips.   And I’ll be sharing my poetic finds as well as my own poetry, written on the move.  Poets (I’m sure I don’t speak just for myself here…) are often found in cafes, scribbling on plain serviettes with borrowed biros as we live up to our absent-minded reputation and realise that all those gorgeous notebooks we got from supportive friends for Christmas are still under the tree…

Travelling Through Bookshop


And finally, a place which brings everything in this blog together – the marvellous Travelling Through Bookshop in Lower Marsh Lane near Waterloo which has shelf after shelf of books about travel, a great café with fabulous cakes and really good coffee and that’s not all!  It regularly hosts workshops organised by the fantastic Hercules Editions   I recently did a day workshop with brilliant poet and tutor Claire Crowther on writing a horror poem which included a screening of “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”, one of my favourite German Expressionist films.  So next month’s post has to be a focus on Berlin!

Dr Caligari and Cesare the Somnambulist
Dr Caligari and Cesare the Somnambulist