There is a certain rhythm and sound to Neukölln, Berlin. Sitting on the balcony of our fourth floor walk up, overlooking a horizontal row of European style apartments, I listen to the noises that have become so familiar over our past week in Germany.
I’m used to city noise having lived in New York, but this is a different kind of noise, beyond the sounds of buses going by or drunk people yelling in the street. These are the sounds of living- people sitting on their balconies smoking and drinking wine, chatting in a hybrid of German and Turkish. There is muffled laughter from the street and from the bar below our apartment. One neighbor across the road plays American pop music all day and night without fail. The neighborhood literally never sleeps. Ever. When we go to bed around 2:00 or 3:00am the neighborhood is still alive, and when we wake up for the day, the normal sounds of city life- cars and buses, people on their way to work- are already in full swing. The fusion of sounds has become comforting over the past few days, almost like a white noise. It feels strange during the off moment when all is quiet.
Berlin is even larger than New York City, but Neukölln feels like a self-contained space. There’s a very diverse mixture of people living here- hipsters and young bohemians hanging outside gritty bars, and old Turkish men sipping hot Turkish coffee from small carafes, even on 90+ degree days. There is definitely a sense of community here that is uncommon in most cities. Everyone leaves their windows and balcony doors open all day, and we always see the same people sitting at the local cafes on our street.
We sit on the balcony drinking cold German beer and eating olives purchased at the Turkish market earlier that day. The sun is setting, American techno music is pulsing from across the street as usual, and I forget where I am for a moment. Then our next door neighbor comes out onto her balcony, and seeing an unfamiliar face starts speaking to me in rapid German. I respond with a bashful, “sorry… english” and as she gives me a blank stare and quickly retreats, I remember again how far away we are- in a little ‘village’ within South Berlin where almost no one speaks a word of English, and promise myself that tomorrow, I’ll learn a few basic German phrases for our snooty neighbor.