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Seeing Berlin with fresh eyes


On my first visit to Berlin, a man spat at my feet. His eyes were the eyes of a soldier at war. Precise, alert, and distrusting. And he had just spotted a body he considered the enemy. That body was queer, stout, and black. We were sitting across from each other on a train headed towards the direction of Alexanderplatz. A few moments before, I had just described Berlin to my mother as the embrace of a dearly loved one. Warm, soft, and safe. As I was peeling my phone from my ears, the spitter looked me in the face, coughed out the whiteish foam which he splashed across my feet. The act of spitting at my feet wasn’t a cleansing and or a fortification ritual done to welcome my feet to new and uncharted terrain. That was disgust, anger, and a kind of aggression that sent shivers down my spine. He was sending a clear message. One that was unmistakably meat to say; you are not welcome here. His message had three clear intentions; to warn me, put me in my place, and remind me I did not belong. He needed me to know that. It resonated. I didn’t even say a word. I took the message, got off the train one stop before my intended exit location. There, I waited for the next train in a stooping position. With a sigh and a paper napkin, I wiped my feet clean again.

As the owner of a body that many look at, as a subject to something, I wasn't surprised. I knew to keep my guard up and to expect a protest. An intrusive curiosity, a domineering gaze, a sigh of disgust, improprieties, etc. It didn't cross my mind that I was going to be adding racial assault to the list. He had drawn a line in the sand. A line to warn me immediately that I wasn’t home or safe. I understood his message. I also understood that to be able to give Berlin and myself another chance at a new beginning, I needed to look at the city with fresh eyes. I found out that like most cities in the global north, Berlin is stretched thin like a Giraffe's neck. It is a place diverse only to the eyes of bodies in transit. It is a city that hides in the shadows of its many faces.

Berlin is a remote outlay of unfiltered desires unified by a single connected ground to which many declare allegiance - blindly. That loyalty begins with the phrase "Ich bin Berliner" - uttered almost immediately on arrival to the city. It is a pledge of allegiance. A claim uttered at the gates to whoever will listen, to secure entry, to captivate, to belong. It is as if its utterer's desire to speak those three words into existence couldn’t come fast enough after years of dreaming and longing. Their love for the place starts off lingering like a new ensemble cast that eventually finds their footing, as their bodies begin to breathe new air on stage as they usurp the lives of the characters they have been hired to play.

Berlin reminds me of a farm. When I look at it, I see the city as a cornfield of bodies trafficking red, yellow, green, and ultraviolet lights, tight streets, long steel bridges, and sharp-edged buildings. And I am a single corn plant aching, hoping, and shivering. Lanky, green, and yellow, swaggering away with traveling winds, waiting to be plucked and harvested. In my mind, Berlin is a mosaic of hidden paths that bleed into each other, with busy streets that shadow-dance in vanity as they philander their way into visitors' hearts.