Sunday 8 November 2009

One leg in Berlin

I saw the first Brussel sprouts of the season on sale at the market today – no coincidence there though, it’s freezing cold, damp and wintry.

But I have to say - coincidence, it’s a beautiful thing isn’t it?

It just goes on coinciding!

Let me explain.

A few days ago I decided to try and make of this month’s posts, a set inspired in some way by coincidence. At the same time I wanted to write on the 9th (tomorrow) about my personal experience of the opening of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.

I didn’t know how it was all going to work out, an unclear idea about one and a vague desire for the other.

Then, coincidence stepped in and suddenly I had a little run of posts all vaguely linked to walls and Berlin, with a photo of a wall each time as a bonus.

So far so good, but how could I keep it going?

I slipped into a scandalously hot bath this morning with only one idea.

I had noticed that on the next page of the photo album - the source of the Stanley photo two days ago - there was this picture of Karl Heinz, a friend who lives in Berlin – and the photo has him sitting in front of a wall.

Ok it’s not The Berlin Wall, but it is a wall in Berlin. And what’s a wall here and there between friends?

Well actually a big deal if you live on either side of the same street!

Which happened sometimes with the wall – in fact – I think I have a postcard showing exactly that – let me look. Yep, here it is.

Anyway, just as Berlin would never be complete WITH a wall, it would never be complete WITHOUT Karl.

Karl, who has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met – albeit one with an artificial heart valve, something he explained one night as he lay gasping for breath on the floor of his one room apartment.

That was a scary moment, made worse when he confessed that when it had been fitted he had been told it had a four-year life span and would then require another operation to replace.

That had been six years previously.

I first saw Karl sitting in a corner of a gymnasium in Kentish Town London but only spoke to him a year later in the corner of Copenhagen bar. In between he had had one of his legs surgically removed following an accident the year before in London.

I have always believed that the London Transport Public announcement – “Mind the Gap” is part of Karl’s legacy.

So basically Karl (who has been mentioned before in this blog) is a one legged, chain-smoking wonderful human being with an artificial heart valve.

I once asked him if he found it difficult living in a walled city and he replied –“No, I have everything I need (cigarettes, roast chicken, coffee).”

Yes, but what about travelling?

“I fly everywhere.”

Karl is a collector and an archivist, he specializes in the circus arts and more specifically juggling and he travels the world for this. No juggling convention (Kentish Town, Copenhagen), circus, cabaret, street show or TV documentary where something is happening is without Karl.

And he shares his knowledge and collection. Yes, he writes and publishes books and articles but if you are interested and you meet him, and you eventually will, he’ll invite you for a coffee and a visit.

My own invite came in the corner of the Copenhagen bar and a few months later I set off from England by road to visit.

I was ignorant (probably because I hadn’t paid attention at school or ever looked properly at a map) of the fact that Berlin was in the MIDDLE of East Germany and that I had to drive some distance through the East, and then pass through the wall to reach Karl.

At the time the East German Authorities stamped your entry papers and calculated the time necessary to reach the capital, no deviation from the motorway corridor was expected.

Eventually I arrived at Karl’s, found a road near his house that just stopped up against the wall - it was going nowhere - and I parked my van.

I stayed a week, watched every film and video that Karl had amassed from about 1920 to the present day, and ate a LOT of fried chicken and drank a tank of coffee.

Until I began to feel that I too needed a heart valve.

I don’t think I have ever really thanked him enough, and I hope if he ever reads this he will understand what his friendship has meant.

As I soaked softly away in the bath this morning I wondered, is there enough coincidence to justify this story? Stanley on one page of a photo album, Karl Heinz on the next?

And then I suddenly remembered that up the other end of the house are a pile of old diaries and there was surely one from 1989!

Splashing out of the bath I stumbled out into the wet leaves and added my own drips to the puddles that surround the house and set of to the other end – there is no internal connection.

My goal – to find out what I was doing on the 8th November 1989.

1989 was an exceptional year for many reasons, but one that has gone unnoticed until now was that it became my great year of left hand experimentation.

I had seen the film Rainman and had read accounts of so- called Idiot Savants and the way their brain works.

One account had particularly interested me as it described a scientist who had realised that there was a right brain/left brain aspect that may be possible for a non savant to learn. He had set out to learn mathematically the pattern of days of the weeks for any given date at any time in history.

For months it remained a conscious effort but one day he woke up and it had switched over to the other side of the brain (sorry I can never remember if its right or left) and had become something he could do without thinking.

I decided to try something similar and since I was writing a diary entry everyday I thought I should try and use my left hand for a whole year to see if I too could suddenly become natural at something that demanded conscious effort.

All this to say that my Diary of 1989 is pretty difficult to read, but with a little effort I was able to decipher this entry on November 8th.

“A day at Karl Heinz’s”

Now, there’s a coincidence!


Vicki said...

You wrote left-handed for a year? Wow! How did it go?
And what a curious anecdote about the guy learning the days of the week for any day in history!

popps said...

The result Vicki is that i have a diary that is pretty illegible, in December as it was in January- think spider with ink.

Anne Hodgson said...

Oh, boy, so you were in Berlin. Ö

popps said...

Anne, i was very lucky, it was an extraordinary time - more here
Were you in Munich?