Closing Time: A Reflection on The Alt Berlin
On the 27th of April, 2014, Alt Berlin (Münzstraße 23 Mitte), an institution for locals, artists, writers, poets and actors during its 120 year history, closed its doors due to rising rents and the unstoppable changing of character of the Mitte area. This is a personal reflection on my last night at the bar.
Alt Berlin is gone, long live Alt Berlin!
The light is the same. A cast of warm nicotine yellow, that for me has always meant that I have come back. It’s just gone 12; I’m wrecked and the word Feierabend rolls around my head with a giddy half-joy.
Iggy Pop is blasting out of the two speakers above the bar at a level which is at once too much, but proper. Below them, Micha is bantering with well-loved locals in his rapid fire Deutsch, gesticulating points while placing glasses back on their shelves. When he sees me, he dries his hands, shakes mine, and tells me that the Berliner has run out.
Leaning on the only free space left, I light up, joining the fug of the room. He asks me how I am, saying that he’s happy to hear I’m working, while at the same time placing a Schultheiss in front of me with just the right level of white on top.
Across the bar, scorched, cut, browned in its age, sit a crew that are both regular as well as transient. People who have told me of their art, what used to be here, of what they were at the time the wall came down. There is little sorrow, even if it can be read between the laughter. A middle-aged couple whisper into each other's ears with easy smiles. A group of students pay up, leaving only the front occupied. The room hums like the lung of a place that has forever been passing away.
“Home boy, home boy, everybody needs a home.” It’s the second time that the record has gone around, louder still, now that the door is locked. I realize at this point that we have hit a peak, that at least for me won’t be fully reached here again. Allowing myself this warm moment, I can remember the small points that make life seem to click in, fleeting until one is aware they are happening.
In dribs and drabs, like any other, the night starts to die off. I am left talking with a man of indeterminable age with a Dublin lilt to his voice, going on about how he’s still barred from various countries because of his socialist politics. He tries for another; we are both given hales with a tender tiredness.
I get up to pay. The price, Micha tells me, is €5 for now but €7 when I've got money again. This is said after various shots of Melloch; daft stuff for when you have a hangover which you think you can’t get over. Down it, and it will keep you going like a bastard. Micha’s smile is still strong, awake with the strength of someone who still believes in nights, despite how many have passed.
Looking through the room, now standing empty, I do not think of ghosts, but of the living that was done between these darkened panels, and the hope that it could go on for slightly longer. I’m told to come back next Monday or Tuesday. This is a possibility I say, making for the door. Outside, beyond the door, there is still the slight chill that this time of year demands. With a slam I know I am there now. A place where I’m told we live, but which seems a bit lonely - and there is too much light.
By Francis T. Spurling