Volkspark Hasenheide is a large, open-air market for illicit drugs in southeast Berlin that bears a remarkable resemblance to a city park. It sits about two thirds of a mile––what the locals refer to as a kilometer––south of the canal, and is virtually contiguous with the north end of the vast Tempelhof field. Ziggy and I went there once, to Tempelhof, and though we had the former airfield all to ourselves, an Enforcer of Rules rolled up in a little golf cart to inform us that we were required to be attached to one another by a leash. Meanwhile, across the four lanes of Columbiadamm, in the time that it took this custodian of the law to protect the empty Tempelhof field from my marauding, mostly toothless miniature poodle mix, enough money and marijuana changed hands in the bushes of the Volkspark Hasenheide to bail out the euro in several EU member states where the weather is quite a bit nicer than here and everyone naps too much.
Ziggy and I haven’t been back to Tempelhof, and I don’t miss it. What is it but a prim, grim, overblown lawn, while the Volkspark Hasenheide is a jungle, a zoo––it has camels! Every day I unleash my dog at the main Hasenheide entrance, where we bound together up a patchy slope and past the camels––a couple, from the looks of it––in their pen. I’ve watched them molt since arriving here in March, when it was freezing and wet and they were furry, and now that hot and sunny alternates with mild and soggy, all that’s left of the camel coats are unkempt twin tufts clinging to the tips of their humps like clouds snagged on tropical island peaks. The kiddie zoo’s turkeys observed sex week a few days ago by producing a half-dozen chicks. From the fenced-in dog play area just west of the zoo, Ziggy and I hear the donkeys’ ridiculous, digestive protests, and the obscene cries of the peafowl. Every week is sex week to the peafowl.
Beyond the dog run lies one of the park’s busier congregations of pan-African freelance pharmacists. I don’t buy, and maybe it’s because the Hasenheide drug trade is a little blatant for my tender American sensibilities but the more salient truth is that I just don’t like to buy drugs, period. I’m poor, and I’d rather mooch. More to the point, as I get older I find myself feeling that drugs should happen the way Aunt Augusta said the news of a young woman's wedding engagement should come upon her: as a surprise. Like getting smoked out by that trio of young Turks earlier in the day––perfect.
By the way, those kids got me fucked up! I entered the park truly at my dog’s level––no longer jogging but running for the take of running, laughing at the succession of evanescent absurdities that kept welling up in my head, confident in the park's ability to satisfy the next hour's every desire. A fantastic electrical storm had drenched Berlin the night before, and both the dog play area and the adjacent long links were graced by ponds that boiled with shepherds and Dobermans plashing and chasing one another and freaking out at the spray itself. Ziggy swam with the big dogs, he got muddy, he chased sticks and humped a Doberman thigh, and then we took off and made our way, as we do daily, to the park’s highest point, a little hill on the west side built on rubble from the war.
On the far side of this hill, the Volkspark Hasenheide boasts something for which Berlin is justly famous––nudies! The first warm day, I found them, like chanterelles popping up on cue three days after a good soak. To appreciate how comforting I find the nudies here Germany, you have to understand how discomfiting I find Germany. It's not just that I am descended on one side from southern Italians, who hadn’t even moved out of the caves by the time Mussolini was strung up in Milan––apparently they napped through the Iron Age––and on the other side from European Jews, who no longer constitute what you would call a burgeoning population in this wrung neck of the diaspora. Even without getting into a big tizzy over all of that (let history lie, for the moment, under the swirling stone paths and wooded warrens of the Volkspark), and more to the point than any heritage of state-decreed racial inferiority, and leaving aside completely the gay thing (though this was the week in which the world lost activist Gad Beck, thought to be the last gay Holocaust survivor), the most salient element of my discomfort here is that I was raised by Left Coast wolves who didn’t smoke cigarettes, and occasionally crossed against the light, and nothing can make me feel at home in this most exacting of Western nations the way a lawn full of nudies can.
On this day that Ziggy and I danced all over the Volkspark Hasenheide, the sun was out, and so were they.
(to be continued)
(to be continued)