The Joy of Maps

A beautiful morning gives way to a miserable and bitterly cold afternoon, the wind whipping down the avenues of Berlin as drizzle falls in the ever encroaching darkness. It may be nicer in general to be out of doors, but sometimes a refuge is needed, whether it is the bookshop, the pub, a café or the living room. I choose Café Hilde on the corner of Prenzlauer Allee and Metzer Straße, a sanctuary of flickering candles, gentle music and good books to browse on the shelves.

I leave the books where they stand and pull out my collection of Berlin maps. I am plotting routes, imagining destinations, over first a coffee and then a beer. The café remains calm, as if we are still in the dead period between Christmas and New Year. It is quiet too, as every customer is by themselves; he is reading a book, her face is illuminated by a laptop screen, and an unseen figure around the corner is rustling a newspaper as the coffee machine hisses.

Looking at maps is always a pleasure. Paper spread out on a table is best, but even google maps can be both fascinating and time-consuming. Sometimes it is about the imagining of the unknown, but other times, such as on this occasion, it is about tracing routes through the familiar. Lines and markings conjure up memories, of an autumn walk with Katrin around the Orankesee lake, following the path along which she used to ride to school. A summer’s day in Friedrichshagen, drinking beers on the terrace of a white villa as boats made their way along the Spree and into the Müggelsee. A handful of summer Saturdays in a Lichterfelde garden with Nicky and Susanne from Hidden Europe, discussing layouts for a rail guide, a huge map of Europe marked with routes spread out on the dining room table just inside the door…

As I look over the Berlin map it gets more jumbled closer to the city centre, and so do my memories. Can I pull out of my mind just one moment or experience that sums up the Alexanderplatz, the cobbled streets of Prenzlauer Berg or my route to work from Osloer Straße to Rosenthaler Platz? Not really, but this is exploring a map that is now covering home territory, and there are still things to discover even in places you think you know inside out. I see a sliver of red running along a railway embankment that leads to the river Spree. Does that really mean I can walk from my home to the Tiergarten whilst barely setting foot on pavement? There’s only one way to find out…

Words: Paul Scraton

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