The most incredible weather has hit Berlin. I was en route to my babysitting job and noticed a patch of crocuses; likewise, at breakfast, I noticed some puce-coloured leaves on the big tree in the back garden, and sure enough, it’s beginning to bloom. Every day, all you want to do is go to one of the myriad green spaces, lakes or rivers, and just loll in the glorious sunshine. I had a poke around my own neighbourhood at the weekend, and discovered that on the other side of Hermannstrasse, which is our urban centre, there’s a less salubrious world. I was glad that the weather was fine, so that the house I passed, which had several broken panes of glass, didn’t look half as depressing as it would on an overcast day.  On the ground floor, a man had opened the windows wide (broken panes and all) to sit in the sun and smoke.  A scrappy looking playground was full of Turkish children, and the bushes were quite incredibly noisy with birds.  I didn’t go that far, just to the major road on the other side, which leads onto the autobahn.  There wasn’t an awful lot to see, but it was reminiscent of backstreets in San Francisco, where illegal Chinese and Mexican immigrants lived in warrens; here they’re far more likely to be legal, Vietnamese and Turkish.

The good weather has brought out the buskers again – they seemed to disappear after Christmas, and I missed them.  However, the other day, the man who sings Jose Feliciano songs to the accompaniment of electric guitar (and he sounds like him) was back in Hermanstrasse S-bahn station, smiling away, smoking in between songs and cracking jokes. When I got to Heidelberger Platz U-bahn station, there was the serious man who plays Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” very beautifully on accordion.  When Julia was over, we caught four very serious Poles playing the “Four Seasons” together in Alexanderplatz, quite a stunning performance. There’s a couple of buskers that I really love – the man who plays most wonderful ethereal renditions on the saw – just a regular household saw – and the man who plays really moving classical guitar, which always reminds me of Rosaleen (the same repertoire), but I haven’t seen either of them since before Christmas.  There are a couple of buskers that get on the train and travel a stop or two, playing.  One of them has a drum/backing machine strapped to his back, and plays Balkan-style clarinet.  Another one has a zimbalon (Eastern European hammered dulcimer) on a strap around his neck, something like an usherette tray. At Christmas, Barry and myself caught a spectacular performance on the street – a 12-year old Romanian playing jazz saxophone with a drum machine. You would wonder if any of them make money – Berliners don’t tend to be over-generous, and after the first couple of weeks, I realised I couldn’t afford to give everyone money all the time. I suppose there’s always the tourists.

I have just missed the Berlinale, which is the Berlin Film Festival.  Really unfortunately, it falls right smack-bang in the middle of exams, so I didn’t even get to one film. For the regular punter, it can be pricey (by my 1970’s standard of living, mind you), from 10-15 euro per ticket, though I think it’s probably half-price for students. In lots of venues (but not all), they have a plainly ageist policy, saying that student prices can only be claimed up to age 28.  Steffen explained that the German government don’t want to encourage people to continue studying, they want them to get jobs – which, in a country of almost-full employment, is perfectly possible.  Mind you, you’re allowed to take six years to do your Batchelors degree, where we cram it all into 3 or 4 years, which is pretty civilised (and it’s all free, of course).  When I got my student card here, I presented it at the local swimming pool to get my student discount, and the very nice young man said “I’m so sorry, but student reduction is only up to 28 years old, and I think you may be 29”.

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