Bard Takes Berlin: A Collaborative Poem

September 2014 — Sunset over Rosenthaler Platz, Berlin.
Sunset over Rosenthaler Platz. Photo by the author.

How can one convey a complete upheaval of comfort and routine, a loss of language and comprehension and direction? Is it possible to put into words the magic of discovering a new place for the first time? So have we, the Bard in Berlin cohort, experienced a complete cycle of disorientation and reorientation in moving to Berlin for this fall semester. The sixteen of us hail from Bard College, Al-Quds, Simon’s Rock and the Kansas City Art Institute. We are proud to join our fellow Bardians in a place that feels like home, but is really nothing like it.

As each in our group goes on their own adventures, works their internship, discovers a cool hole in the wall café or can decidedly say they have eaten the best Turkish food in the city — we expand our reach, taking in all that we can and are constantly searching for more. This city is monumental and massive, old and new, kinky, concrete and just plain crazy. One could only dream of seeing it all.

To get a grasp on our first few weeks in Berlin, I have composed a collaborative poem using language gathered from several members of the Bard in Berlin cohort. Our journey through the semester is both an individual and collective experience. This poem is an attempt to coalesce some of our best moments thus far, and to look towards our next three months studying, living and working in Berlin.

An Anti-Elegy of Arrival

It’s the middle of the eighth month and
most of us are counting the days until
we land and

This is what Germany made me feel like when
I first stepped in the airport of Berlin:
“In order to survive in a place, learn its language.”

Still not knowing how to say Pankow correctly
after being here a week it’s
our new home and it’s
Pahn – co” not “Pain – cow” it’s
hard to cover up being an American
in Berlin
Where only cool people exist
Therefore, get out.

I asked my flat-mate how he would
describe his first two weeks being here
and all that he could
do was count out loud to me
“eine fuego, zwei fuegos, drei fuegos”

fuego: something hot or hip
takes you by surprise
or was completely expected

What is it
I ask
that makes this place so
so fuego?

Maybe the trees, lakes and white cloudy skies
or cobble stone sidewalks
leading the way to Berliner Mauer
a portal to the past
a rebuilt relic
Where cranes hang over the city
their shadows cast on the facade
of an old factory
where now disco lights
spin all through the night,
and the next night too.

I ask another to tell me and says:
When I think of Berlin I think of babies, beer and butts,
People are drunk at 10 on a Sunday and
I’m fairly certain everyone’s quite nuts.

Maybe this city is nuts
or rather, just like a nut —
their smashed remains litter the streets this time of year
falling from the trees to crunch underneath
marching feet and bicycle tires.
a seed inside a hard shell
tough to break into,
but tasty if you can manage it.

From Tewksbury to Treskowstraße we journeyed.
From Pratergarten to the bar with no name
Along the M1 we were shuttled past Thai food
and bulldozers and empty lots
To massive parks sitting atop retired runways.
Schnell und schneller I hear
Time is deceptive
Appearing to inch along, but
with one quick turn of the head the day has passed
though another day of discovery awaits.

What was Berlin before we came here
other than an idea?
A silent symphony?
Spinning meat on a stick?
Shattered bottles and dog poo?
There is no answer
other than to the question
What is Berlin today?

A city with no asterisks
Clear, brutal, honest — a mirror.

September 2014 - Cranes loom over the rebuilding of the Berlin Palace.
Berlin Palace construction. Photo by the author.
3 replies on “ Bard Takes Berlin: A Collaborative Poem ”
  1. bravo! love the poem! especially this line:

    What was Berlin before we came here
    other than an idea?
    A silent symphony?
    Spinning meat on a stick?
    Shattered bottles and dog poo?
    There is no answer
    other than to the question
    What is Berlin today?

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