When I became a true ‘Berliner’ by falling into the tram-tracks

As I was cycling home on Monday it started to rain. When I say rain I mean a downpour; no small drizzles here in Berlin. The heavens opened and I showered for the second time that day. The chugged-down wine from dinner was wearing off and I was warm and fuzzy no longer, though I did have three towels in my backpack still nestled there and slightly damp from my trip to Schlachtensee.

I blame the rain for my fall. I had taken shelter in a falafel bar mid-journey but despite the owner kindly putting on the television for me I decided to leave and brave the last five minutes, not because I wasn’t enjoying hearing Rachel from ‘Friends’ dubbed in terrible German, but as the rain weakened from torrential downpour to just downpour I decided that this was the chance I needed to take. I also needed my bed badly, sensing myself rapidly transitioning from warm and fuzzy to cold and fuzzier, a feeling of tiredness that could not be resisted, not even with the aid of the repeated auto-laugh that seemed even more sinister than normal in my 3AM daze. As I rode onto the last stretch of my street towards my temporary home, my tyres surrendered to the tram tracks and fell into the deadly crevice.

My fall to the floor was, dare I say, a moderately enjoyable experience. I am certain that there is something about falling that provides a sense of release, a feeling of freedom that cannot help but appeal. I am aware that this cannot apply to those who receive a more serious injury like a broken a leg or bike; however I’d like to put it out there to show other non-sufferers that you are not alone, and that we can speak out about this. I suspect that at the root of my enjoyment is a control issue or a general thirst for real-life drama.

As I lay there on my left side, numbed from residual amounts of alcohol, five seconds could not have passed before I heard a male voice ask me “Are you OK?”

My life at this point was panning out like a scene in a romance film, perfectly sensationalised with the right amount of surprise. There was potential in the air, and as I acknowledged this potential I admit that I played along with it, hesitating before turning my face towards this man and locking my eyes with his, becoming in this moment the idiotic damsel in distress that I quickly exchanged for another, a more preferable ‘girl who has her life in control but got caught on the slippery tram tracks after an enjoyable evening with friends’. It was a mouthful but it was necessary, a jolt back to my reality and a way to dust off my preconceptions, misled as I had been in the past with a perfect scenario that was destined for failure.

But the narrative-world persisted. The handsome German man helped me up and walked my bike over the side, checking if I was OK before seeing to my bike, and after bringing me some water we began to talk. Just a few pieces of conversation at first, but these slowly turned into more meaningful exchange with the silences aided by an understanding that I was too dazed to speak, although there is, also, a sense that at night no silences feel truly uncomfortable. Whilst we spoke, sat on a street corner underneath a closed Backhaus, I do not think that I was necessarily searching for a part to play, but there is something about meeting a person for the first time, among unexpected circumstances such as these, that makes the act of introducing yourself, and the stories that follow suit, impossibly entwined with theatricality. I could not elude the performance, or perhaps, the performance could not elude me.

We spoke about small things, larger things, what I wanted to pursue in my life, questions that could either open up new territories or take you nowhere at all. When pressed for answers I was brutally honest but there was also a part of me that lingered on the extra details, making things up as I went along. Not huge things, things I was considering, he asked me what I wanted to do after studying and it was only that day I had been considering pursuing a career in art therapy, but that became my future. When I faltered in the conversation they were measured pauses, thought out, considered and sampled for effect. Perhaps it was my daze that insisted I spoke slower and gave more emphasis to my words but I found myself not talking like myself at all.

When I spoke to my friends about the event the next day, they told me that it sounded ‘just like something out of a film’. I don’t think it is that we have seen films detailing these exact events, or even that it is films themselves (for why not books, plays, TV shows?), but that something seeming like it were out of a film comes to suggest a certain tone of occasion which necessitates drama, surprise, and of course, romance.

It was my piece of scrap metal, the bike that gave birth to this beautiful occasion by flinging me over its handlebars, that initiated this theatricality. I was caught in an identity-crisis because I was constantly being reminded that what was happening to me at that moment had the perfect combination of “drama, surprise and romance”, and as such I could not help my mind wandering down various avenues, hyper-aware of what it meant to be caught in a moment ‘like something out of a film’.

And my awareness of this moment did nothing but impede my ability to actually live it. The event was tortured by my mind flickering like a film reel onto the potentialities of the next scene. Even if I was, indeed, being ‘myself’, my mind was being flooded with the numerous possibilities of my character’s trajectory.

When I fell off my bike and looked into the eyes of the man who ‘saved’ me, my immediate response to damsel-mode was automatic and dangerous. Although this was quickly abandoned, it is true that female roles in films are notoriously two-dimensional. Perhaps, then, it was not the spectacular fall off my bike that initiated my thoughts about film, or the late night scenery, even, but the fact that it was a good-looking man that came to my aid. The romance narrative is so drilled in to my head that I could hardly escape it. And as such I was disappointed: where was my happy ending, my dramatic closure a la Hollywood necessitating elopement, or my drastic move with my ‘knight in shining armour’ to an exotic location? My mind had wandered because that’s what it had been taught to do, and I could not help but play out these scenes to the extreme.

Indeed the narratives found in film are a pervasive influence on how we perceive our lives. But for a visual thinker like myself, as I realised, they can also become influential on how we live them. Cue scary music.

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When I became a true ‘Berliner’ by falling into the tram-tracks

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