Tombs of society

2012-11-12 12.17.05

Piles of scrap metal, high as a four-storey building. Junkbergs of radiators, pipe, GDR garbage bins. Administrators sit in office containers. Immigrant scrap collectors arrive in small transporters and unload their booty. Young German men in orange vests maneuver forklifts through the junkyard. No tribal tattoos, no neon tans, no hair gel. My class prejudice is disappointed.

My partner Alvin parks my bike and cart in front of the check-in container. “Verbal or physical threats against our staff will lead to Hausverbot!” reads a sign. A woman greets us behind safety glass. Alvin comes from some Balkan fiefdom and is functionally mute in Germany, so I do the talking. Alvin does the thinking, because I am functionally useless; waste disposal is not my usual business.

Alvin hands in his passport. Scrap metal suppliers are registered in a database to track theft. The world market prices for certain metals are going up. The copper wire from an old tube television currently reaps the princely sum of five euros, so cracked TV shells litter the sidewalks like apocalyptic oysters.

We push the bike to the weighing station – a large open hangar, in which a young guy operates a computer. Two dummy rifles are crossed on the wall. We unload my cart into an open container outside the hall and a guy in a forklift places the container on the electronic scale in the hangar. The guy at the computer gives us a receipt. Our 100 kg of scrap are worth EUR 15.42. Thank you for choosing TSR.

We go back to the check-in container, this time through the second entrance. A woman takes our receipt and gives us a chip card. I see free coffee and a water cooler; what a delightful way to value your suppliers. I grab a coffee.

The chip card we take to a cash dispenser. Alles muss seine Ordnung haben. After the machine pays us, we solemnly rejoice. Then we trod to a post-war communal tenement which is being evacuated due to mold. We passed it on our way to the junkyard, and one of the removal helpers promised us a free dishwasher if we waited for his return.

The dishwasher transaction is unremarkable, but Alvin and I wait for the removal truck in a pub on the ground floor. “Miami” is one of the more depressing social tombs. Railroad tracks in spitting distance keep prices affordable.

I order a coffee from the barkeeper, an emaciated man with a polite East-European accent, a grey ponytail and a cheap silver chain under his pinstripe jacket. EUR 3.00, one fifth of our day’s earnings flows to his wage, the coffee retailer, the importer, the purchaser, the farmer and the various tax leeches.

Above the bar hangs a cheap print of Miami’s skyline in the 1990s. Four slot machines gleam in a corner. The hidden treasure. Novoline, Book of Ra, Sizzling Hot Deluxe. A mixed double of regulars sits at a table, drinking their third or fourth beers. A younger man in work attire and a guy who looks like a common drunk sit at another table. Working Guy has a fresh haircut and looks like he eats solid food. The faces of the drinkers are doubly warped: once by the earth’s gravity, once by the vacuum behind their eyes.

Intellectuals of all denominations see overobsession with personal hygiene as a sign of pruderie. No true bohemian showers daily. But the real self-neglect of real pub ghouls is honestly frightening. There’s no disregard for social norms, but surrender. True misery is never as sexy as starving hipsters.

Many places which are much poorer economically than Germany lack the social misery which has kept Berlin’s rents low and its doctors busy. As long as Sternburg Pils is cheaper than crack cocaine and glue, we’ll just keep calling it “Kiezkultur.”

Working Guy loudly announces his urge to go pee. His mate inquires: “Schon wieder pissen?” (“Pissing again?”) From across the room, Working Guy responds: “Willste festhalten kommen? Heb’ dir keen’ Bruch!” (“Wanna come hold? Don’t break your back!”) Coy snickers. Mock sexual advances reinforce emotional bonds.

The radio plays. One of the drunk women wails passionately to Lady Gaga’s revolutionary anthem “Bad Romance.” A song by Krautrock band Die Toten Hosen follows. “Eyyy, Campinoooo!” she roars too late, in recognition of the frontman’s voice. Barman just switched the station. “Du Vollpfosten! Du hast doch keene Ahnung! Mach ma Campino an! Du Pissnelke!” Barman dodges her friendly fire and hastily fumbles the dial under the counter.

Correct choice and intonation of insults is a veritable social science. Literally, she said: “You fucking idiot! Fuck do you know? You shithead.” But it translates into: “My social equal/inferior, would you mind switching the radio station.” Vulgarity nurtures familiarity.

I take a closer look and see she is not older than 35. She wears a baggy band t-shirt. Her hair shows signs of recent barbering: red dye, a grown-out cut. Her eyes sparkle, her healthy teeth shine. She sits back with her buddies and growls along to Campino.

An Tagen wie diesen, wünscht man sich Unendlichkeit
An Tagen wie diesen, haben wir noch ewig Zeit
In dieser Nacht der Nächte, die uns so viel verspricht
Erleben wir das Beste, kein Ende ist in Sicht

Kein Ende in Sicht
Kein Ende in Sicht
Kein Ende in Sicht

The end – not just of my coffee – is nigh. The removal truck has arrived.

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