Sunday morning in the north of Berlin, starting out along the Panke and through the Soldiner Kiez, the last of the remnants of the New Year’s Eve fireworks – wooden sticks and tubular casings – mingle with the gravel of the footpath. Prinzenallee is quiet, the shops shut and the cafes not yet open. A woman in a headscarf is sweeping the floor of a shisha bar. There is a small queue outside the bakery. A fellow runner nods as he passes. Secret club. Under the bridge and I step over the line of cobblestones. West to East. Welcome to Pankow.
Here there is more life. Parents out on the pavements, following their charges. A couple of climbers on their way to the bouldering wall, hidden away in a mini industrial estate of car mechanics and other workshops. Another runner, but she is not a member of the club, lost in her thoughts or the music from her headphones. At Pankow station they wait for the tram beneath the overhead railway. The railings to the long stretch of wasteland that runs all the way to the Autobahn out of town have been peeled back. An entry point for the edgeland explorer. The footpath along the wall that is supposed to keep us out is dirt alongside this side of the street, so only the dog walkers and the runners use it, the latter skipping deftly around the deposits of the former.
At the corner the sunlight shines on the dome of the mosque behind the KFC drive-thru. The Deutsche Bahn Plattenbau is boarded and abandoned. Sunday morning but cars are streaming into the city from the motorway. Surely they should be going the other way? My route takes me alongside the traffic, past the front doors of a thousand apartments and the workshop of an avant garde theatre company. On a dirty brick wall a billboard advertises Fashion Week. A couple pause on the bicycles in order to really get into their argument. A bus wheezes to a halt.
The final stretch now, along the border with Weißensee and into Prenzlauer Berg. There are still gaps in the rows of houses here, the legacy of bombing raids and a lackadaisical rebuilding policy. Huge signs on the otherwise bare sides of the houses shout at us to visit the nearest big box superstore or tire discounter. But I’m not in a car and anyway, in Germany on a Sunday, they are closed. At Schönhauser Allee more trains rumble overhead, the U-Bahn an over-Bahn, right before it plunges back beneath the surface. Limp balloons hang in trees and there is a collection of broken beer bottles outside a shuttered bar. A good end to a Saturday night.
I cross the cobblestones again. East to West. The view from the bridge is spectacular, the TV Tower haloed in bright light. There is no life in the allotments, although the blossom on the cherry trees is threatening to bud. A warm winter so far. February is going to be mean. At the bottom of the bridge two old men speaking a language I cannot place emerge from park that occupies the place where the Stettiner Eisenbahn once ran towards the city centre. The trains have long gone. And Stettin is now in Poland. A football team emerge from the hotel down the street, their branded coach waiting for them on Osloer Straße. They look tired in their tracksuits. I hope for their sake they played yesterday. At the pub on the corner the early drinkers are leaning on the bar. It opened at nine. Frühschoppen.
It’s good to get up early.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton