The fisherman sits on a squat stool, rod resting on a stand between his legs, his hat pulled over his head. He looks at peace, eyes cast forward across the calm waters of the canal, his thermos flask of coffee on one side, a cool box filled with supplies on the other. I can see him an hour or so earlier, stepping out from his nearby apartment, walking along the river to his regular patch on the canal bank. He’s been coming here for years, since a time when no-one came to this corner of the city, when the neighbourhood was enclosed by the Wall and he could feel the eyes of the East German border guards on his back…
My new book is an essay based on a walk along the Panke river, upstream from where it tips into the Spandau Ship Canal in the heart of Berlin (and not far from my apartment) to its source in the town of Bernau, just beyond the city limits. Along the way the walk takes in city neighbourhoods and the path of the Berlin Wall, stories of would-be Kings and other wannabe royals, suburbs and edgelands, nature reserves and farmer’s fields, and the line of commuter towns stretched out along the S-Bahn that shadows the river for much of the way.
The book was released this month as part of a series of four mini-books published by Readux. Three times a year Readux publish such a series, of short stories and essays, often in translation. My book is part of the fifth such series, titled Urban Voids: Paris and Berlin, and we launched it last week at an event in Berlin-Kreuzberg with three writers and three translators, including readings and conversation (and a few drinks afterwards).
For my part I was joined on stage by my fellow walker-writer Marcel Krueger, and in order to prepare for the event we met a few days earlier to walk half of the thirty kilometre length of the river from Karow in the north of Berlin to Bernau. Walking it again I was struck once more by how much you can discover about a place through its more forgotten and ignored corners, and even though I have spent a lot of time on the banks of the Panke before before and during this particular project there were still more things to stumble across with each new walk along the path.
The Idea of a River: Walking out of Berlin
Print and EBook editions available