The plan was to spend a night on the outskirts of Potsdam, Berlin’s neighbouring city, and arrive in Berlin early the following day with lots of time to find a place to park up. We find some woodland that looks nice and are just trying to find a good spot when we realise we are being followed. We stop. They stop. We wait some minutes and neither car moves. We have one in front of us and another behind. We turn around and they come with us. We turn left, they turn left. We do a u-turn, they do a u-turn. Who are these people? Nazis? Eventually they get bored and we leave the area, just to make sure. Pete thinks he sees some kids (teenagers) in the car. We spend a noisy night in a motorway layby instead.
After our pleasant stay in Goettingen I looked up the Wagenplatz in Berlin in advance. There are five listed on wagendorf.de, one of which turns out to be the queer place that I keep hearing about: Schwartzer Kanal. I didn’t know it was a wagenplatz. A friend of a friend who I contacted by email looking for places to stay told me they are moving in a week so are not taking guests at the moment, but they will need some help and I’m sure to meet all of the cool anarcho-queer kids in Berlin if I help out.
We park up at Lohmule – another wagendorf with a nice website that says it takes visitors. I like it a lot. They are growing things and they have events like a weekly cafe and film nights and the place looks very well looked after. We find a woman with dreadlocks, an axe and an Eastern-European accent and ask if it’s ok for us to park up for a few nights. They decide this sort of thing on a Monday and today is Thursday, but she thinks it will be ok. She will move her car so we can park in the space it’s in and ask some of the others when she sees them.
We leave the van where it is and go off on bike to explore the city. I have scraps of paper with addresses and names of squats and projects I have been told about at various points on my journey so far. A friend in Spain even picked up a Guardian supplement from the UK for me about the Berlin squat scene. It’s hard to know what to say about that!
We look up the addresses and mark them on our maps, then plan a cycle ride around some of them to try to find out what’s going on. Most places are shut til the evening when we pick a place at random and go in search of food.
Our first vokü is a dismal affair. We start off at K19, which promises a three-course gourmet meal, but after waiting an hour we find out none of it is vegan, so we cycle over to Sama Cafe nearby. It looks closed and we’re about to leave when a passing punk tells us it’s through the blacked out door behind us. Sure enough, the door opens. Inside we find some kind of drug-den resembling something from a David Lynch film. A man in sunglasses smoking a pipe serves me a beer and we go into a room with velvet curtains over one wall, blacked out windows and a few sofas. Some hippies are cooking up soup in the kitchen. It’ll be an hour yet (it’s already 9pm) but it will be vegan. Hurrah!
We sit in the velvet curtain sofa room and listen to the endless stream of German black metal. “I guess this isn’t the straight edge hangout”, Pete whispers. We are both trying not to look at the five men sitting gurning at the other tables. They are all staring intently at different patches of wall. One of them looks particularly paranoid and rolls an endless stream of cigarettes. I’m afraid to look in his direction in case he thinks I’m trying to kill him.
On Saturday we arrive dutifully, if a little late, at the new Schwarzer Kanal site. They will be moving their wagons here in a week and there’s a lot of work to be done, mostly involving – to our dissapointment – cutting down trees! It’s a sad task to carry out, digging up tree roots and throwing them into a pile, especially as not so long ago we were in Hamburg trying to save trees. It’s a shame, but as the new site they have been given is full of young birch trees, some of them will have to come down to make space for the wagons. The old site is being evicted by the city and this is where they have agreed they can move to after many years of negotiation. Most of the trees will stay, fortunately, but it’s still strange for us. Pete looks a bit teary.
So far Berlin seems full of broken people: drunk punks, angry street people, men who shout at their girlfriends in disgustingly macho ways and others who come out of the park at night and come towards me on my bike making kissing noises. The streets are shattered glass and drunks. The “squats” and projects are seemingly full of stereotypically black clad people who are too cool to smile at strangers. If this is anarchism, maybe I’m not really an anarchist.
Or maybe this isn’t really Anarchism…