I’m sitting in a café on Neue Bahnhof Strasse in the Friedrichshain area of Berlin. The window is strung with miniature coloured lanterns and tea-lights placed in old teacups filled with coffee beans burn on every table. There is a blackboard balanced on a radiator that reads ‘kalte Tage warme Herzen’ (cold days, warm hearts) and the antique glass jug on my tiny table is filled with dried gypsophilia and pale lavender thistles.
There are just three tables here at the front and one at the back where there is also a black upright piano. A dish on the counter is filled with sweeties and a sign inviting me to indulge.
I landed here by accident, turning right at the end of a disappointingly short street. Outside Café Casero, two people, a man and a woman, stood in the doorway. It looked like they worked here. I was looking for Weserstrasse 191 and café Dots where Sam was working. I’d flown in from KL the day before and planned a few hours reading the latest Patti Smith memoir, M Train while catching glimpses of my son. It was a day of drizzle, the sky as drained of colour as fat free milk. I’d walked the length of the street and seen buildings numbered as high as 34 and then the road ended. I was confused.
“Ich suche Weserstrasse 191,” I began, struggling as my A level German (grade E) dredged itself up from three and a half decades of disuse followed by its all but disappearance into the guttural vestiges of a decade in the Netherlands. “Aber…” But. I stopped. I had no idea how to say ‘I went from one end of the street to the other and the highest number I’d found had been 35. I searched for words in the way I’d pick out the whites from the basket of dirty laundry. “Ich suche ein café das heist Dots?” I continued hopefully. Alleluia! He understood.
“Welche Weserstrasse?” he asked.
What? Was there more than one street of that name?
“Es gibt viele Dots in Berlin.”
It got worse. Not only were there several Weserstrasses it appeared but there were lots of Dots too. I looked helpless, unable to muster up the German that would inform him my phone was foreign so had data roaming switched off and that meant I couldn’t solve this without going online. Nevertheless I must have only looked helpless for a second or two before the chap brought his laptop out to the pavement and showed me that, indeed, there was a Dots at 191 Weserstrasse but it was an hour’s walk away.
“Haben sie kaffee?” I asked. “Und wifi?”
“Genau,” he replied. Exactly what I needed. I stepped into the warm to sort myself out.
Such a kind chap. He deserved my custom and anyway he reminded me of our German friend Matthias in KL. I thought how Matthias would also suit a ponytail.
And so I sit here, fortified by a very strong and very delicious cup of coffee and quickly decide to stay here for lunch too. The owner really does look like Matthias. I need to show Ian so I call in him over and tell him I’ll write a blog about the café and need his photograph. He grins, smooths down his thick grey hair and puts his arm round his assistant. Now I have to write that blog.
It’s only noon but Café Casero’s few tables fill and the air is thick with the smell of pasta pesto and homemade potato soup with sausages. I can’t resist a chilli wrap with a side salad and, like the coffee, it really is very good.
When my blog’s finished I take a few more photographs before placing my laptop back in my rucksack. Then I stand up, put on my anorak and take a chocolate flavoured toffee from the dish on the counter.
“Bitte kann ich bezahlen?” I ask and pay the €5.60 euro bill. The waitress smiles as I hand over the cash. She returns the Malaysian 20 sen coin that I give her by accident and asks if she can just check the photograph I took of her. I oblige and she smiles again. I ask for their Facebook page so I can link my blog when it goes live.
The cobbles are slick with rain and with my hood up I spend most of the walk back to our Airbnb apartment with my head down in a vain attempt to the keep the raindrops from my glasses. It’s grey in this part of town. No trees. No patches of green made bright with spring flowers as I’d hoped. Concrete walls are plastered with posters advertising albums and concerts. The windowsills are black with grime. Even the vans have been disfigured with graffiti. It’s good to be able to walk fast. I stop and buy a bunch of daffodils from the florist before walking up three flights of newly carpeted stairs to our cosy apartment. It is disconcertingly quiet. I realise it’s because there is no whirr of air-conditioning. I upload the photographs and post my blog. I wonder how many people will comment to correct my terrible German.