Writers writing about Berlin in English is a tricky thing for me, something I'm gradually coming to terms with as the city changes around me. Two years ago I tried to put into words how I felt about the phenomenon, and I would say I've become slightly more accepting since then. Still, though, I wasn't overly enthusiastic to begin with about the idea of The Pigeonhole's Letters from Berlin, a series of English texts about twelve of Berlin's districts. Last night, though, I heard extracts from two of the twelve, on Wedding by Marcel Krüger and on Treptow-Köpenick – my favourite so far – by my friend Joseph Given.
Yes, the event was in a micro-brewery in Wedding, where ordering a drink became a two-way linguistic juggling session with me and the man behind the bar both throwing German balls at each other before giving up and communicating directly. And yes, I shall have to pay penance by attending three bottom-achingly long German readings in a row, perhaps including poetry. But this is just to say that – although I wish someone would simply commission German writers to write about Berlin and get the stuff translated into English (at a fair price) so that Anglophone readers would get a broader picture, and although some of the pieces so far tend to revisit certain themes a little too often for my taste, and although, once again, I don't always recognize the writers' personal versions of their areas – actually you could do worse than subscribing to the whole Letters to Berlin thing.
The pieces are quite varied, from subjective accounts of arrival and home-building to more objectively informative texts to Given's more literary approach, but they all feature sneaky little extras like photos, audio and video material. You can also comment directly in floating footnotes and read other people's notes. If you've lived in Berlin for a while you might not learn many hard and fast facts, but that's not why we read anyway, is it?