Prologue: Berlin to Dresden

Right now I am sitting in a cafe in Berlin, attempting to recover from jet-lag with copious amounts of coffee. I used to love this particular cafe – it was pretty well the center of my social life during my Berlin fieldwork several years ago. Toward the end of my time, the old owners left Berlin (a combination of increasing rents and lingering wanderlust, I suspect) and the place fell vacant. I was thrilled to discover a new cafe open in its place, although it doesn’t have the same vibe as it once did. It seems fussier somehow. There are chandeliers and potted palms and lots of old photos of Hollywood starlets on the walls. Peculiarly, Kristen Stewart also seems to get a decent amount of wall space. No accounting for taste, I guess, but Garbo she ain’t.

Tomorrow I catch a train for Dresden to begin several days of new fieldwork at a festival there. Its been even longer since I was in Dresden. As I look at the large new Bio-Company organic grocery across the road from my old Berlin flat (where once there was a pub with live music and a neighborhood restaurant), I hope that Dresden has remained off the gentrification radar.

I realize I sound like all those college alumni who believe that their alma mater should remain forever as it was when they graduated. Mea culpa. Obviously there’s a market for yet another organic grocery in the neighborhood, but it’s also taking business away from the little independent bakeries in the block, where they still make the bread fresh every morning. And the people who run those little bakeries increasingly live elsewhere, rather than pay the steep rents in the neighborhood. “Progress” is always uneven, and the speed of progress in Berlin makes that fact abundantly clear.

In the midst of all my preparations and packing, I lost the battery charger for my digital SLR camera. That would be the charger with the spare battery still in it. So I will be doing my photography old-school, on the Pentax K-1000 I got for Christmas when I was 16. It seemed an exorbitant gift at the time, and remains one of my prized possessions. Still, I hadn’t used it in a long time. The digital is just so damned convenient: I can take as many pictures as I want, see immediately if they are terrible, delete them, retake them, and have copies on my laptop the same day. The shots are automatically time- and date-stamped, so they can’t get out of order. At an even more basic level, everything is automatic. There’s no focusing, checking the light, or even advancing the film. The old Pentax is 100% manual. I need to buy, load, focus, advance, and send the pictures off to be developed…somewhere? Where does one get film developed anymore?

Pentax K1000
Hello, old friend…

Hello, old friend…

Still, it takes fantastic photos. And it makes a nice click when I open the shutter, and a really satisfying kerthock when I advance the film.

So, tomorrow I leave Berlin, a place that keeps getting fancier and fussier, and perhaps more convenient but also perhaps less like an old friend. I will go to my old neighborhood bakery, where the owners know me and used to give my son treats. I will get a milchkaffee and a pastry and people-watch from my stool by the window, as strangers walk in and out of the new Bio-Company. Then I will order a belegte Brötchen (zu mitnehmen)¹, and head east with my old, clunky, un-fussy camera. It can’t stop progress, but it can remember the things we lose.


¹(sandwich to go)


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