Over the next few months I will be walking around the outskirts of Berlin, starting each walk where I finished the last, until I complete a loop of the edge of the city. These walks will be written up for a new book project, and here on Under a Grey Sky I will publish some postcards from along the way…
I have just crossed the bridge from one side of the canal to the other. From Brandenburg to Berlin. From Teltow in the former GDR to Zehlendorf in the old West. I stopped on the bridge to watch a barge pass beneath me, a red and white flag fluttering in the breeze. The colours of Poland. The canal was built in the early years of the twentieth century, a Berlin by-pass linking the Havel with Dahme and on to the River Oder. The borders were different then. No-one really cared where the edge of Berlin was and crossing the Oder did not mean leaving Germany. Barges moved across the German Empire slowly. The canal would still be a teenager when things began to change.
I walk along the embankment which was once a towpath, although today the only horses in view are staring at me from a neighbouring field across an electric fence. The Teltow Canal feels like a river here, with its sloped and grassy embankments leading down to the water and a line of tall reeds. Beyond the reeds, trees and high fences, the business of the Teltow Canal is the mix of edgeland industries that have become a feature of my walks; the scrapyards and concrete works; power plants and car dealerships; retail parks and, here, a former shipyard, converted into workshops for all manner of esoteric businesses. It appears to be a vehicle graveyard. Old Audis and Mercedes sitting on rusting trailers. A bus from the 1970s and a fire engine from even further back.
A sign on the wall says SPECIAL EFFECTS. Babelsberg is not far away. It is clear now that these vehicles have not been abandoned at the end of an uneven lane at the very edge of the city. They are film props, stored here down by the marshy creek where spaces are large and the rents are cheap. A place where new worlds can be imagined and reality distorted, because the camera need not be telling the truth. SFX by the water’s edge, on the banks of the Teltow Canal.