A Coffee in Berlin … oh boy
by Daniel Badeda
I am sitting in a café in Mitte. Saturday afternoon. An early fall day. The sun is shining. I am drinking black coffee, enjoying a few cigarettes and soaking up the last sun-rays of the year. People are walking past me, tourists, families with kids, couples hand in hand, old ones and young ones. Middle-class,seemingly happy-go-lucky belated youngsters in their late twenties, characterized through a sense of fashion that suggests a mixture between an awareness of the importance of external appearance and a moderately bohemian attitude, proudly displaying stylish sunglasses while smoking self-rolled American Spirit/ Pueblo/ Pepe cigarettes. Technically it’s a good day.
I am reading one of those political magazines that has lost nearly all appeal for people of my kind. A relic from my parents’ generation you find in waiting rooms of dentists. I am flipping through the pages. The first article I read is about some pop band that is now living in Los Angeles. It talks about emotional and economic success, about fame and the pleasures and sacrifices that go along with it. Their story is a good story. It’s fun to read, easy to read. Don’t wanna spoil a sunny, carefree Berlin afternoon. I continue flipping through the pages in search of the next story that will get my attention; past the wonderful ads for cars, banks, insurances and all other goods and services I am so heavily in need of — sexy, invigorating images and eloquent slogans offering great advices and wisdom. The next article talks about a Turkish boy, who grew up on the poor side of Hamburg in one of the immigrant neighborhoods. After a troubled childhood and teenage years full of alcohol, parties, girls and giving in to the western notion of achieving happiness and a sense of belonging through consumption and attempts to accumulate as much wealth as possible, the basis for our beloved idea(l) of economic growth, he eventually accepts Mohamed as his prophet and personal, spiritual guide and finds purpose in the words of a radical, extremist Muslim preacher. He starts letting his beard grow to show the world that he is now a devout Muslim and proud to be part of that community. He decides to travel to a bootcamp in Iraq to learn the basics of combat for a three-months period, before going on to fight for the Islamic State and the Sharia alongside his two best friends, with whom he raided the in-style clubs and party scenes of Hamburg for potential hook-ups only a couple of years prior. I move on to an article about red wine, strawberry cake, Volkswagen cars and third-world country refugees knocking on (our)European doors. The article is good. Well written, thoroughly thought through. I am surprised. It talks about our life standard. The things we love, the things we enjoy. The little pleasures we grant ourselves and often even consider to be necessary for our happiness. Things we don’t need to survive, but to live. Little treats like sitting in a café, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes while contemplating on what we’ll do with the rest of the day, or the rest of our lives in fact. I know the article is talking to me. It talks about guilt. Man, this idea of guilt again. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a bar by myself and the old guy next to me was delivering an entire speech on the concept of guilt. “Humans are the only animals with such an idea,” he said. “It’s not natural.”
Anyway, Western citizens are born into a system, in which they have to deal with guilt from very early on, the article states. We grow up worrying about what toys we get for Christmas, about not being old enough to see this action movie that looks so super cool in theaters, about being adored by an above-average share of members of the opposite (or same) sex, about expressing ourselves through art and finding self-fulfillment, while other people worry about starving to death. And while we gradually become aware of these discrepancies of insane proportions, we mostly end up shrugging our shoulders, because we know our options of changing these injustices are rather slim. And of course we have our own problems. Problems that are right in front of us and thus more visible… or should I say more relevant? Depressions, addictions, burn-outs, being unhappily in love, lacking purpose in life, every neurosis a human mind can conceive and everything else that goes along with being a thinking, feeling human being that is not facing the immanent threat of death due to malnutrition and other existential (not the Satre-kind) threats. There is no measure to happiness, there is no measure to sadness. If I feel like shit, because the girl I loved and I broke up, I feel like shit and no comparison to starving children is going to change that. And what I do in order to make myself feel better, is to enjoy these little things the western world has prepared for us. Going to the movies, getting loaded in a bar, buying tons of candy, smoking weed and watching South Park, going to a restaurant with a friend, enjoying a bottle of red wine, buying a car, spending two weeks in a hotel complex in Gran Canaria, Spa included. It is what it is, we do what we do. Now, do we have to feel guilty, because other people in other countries have less luxurious problems? No. It’s not our fault. Or is it? At least not our individual fault, right? Do we have to feel guilty for building fences to keep them out of these great castles called Europe and America? Can we self-righteously send them back to their home countries and judge them for breaking our immigration laws in hope of downsizing their problems to the size of ours?
Thought after thought, question after question. Desired, refreshing, straight-forward answers remain obscure, the idea of instant individual action somehow feels naive, ambiguous at best. While I am emotionally determined to answer the last two questions with a decisive ‘no’ I understand that it’s all related. Systemic issues. As hard as it is to admit, the 2,50 Euro coffee I am drinking is connected to refugees drowning by the hundreds in front of the Italian coast. Every cent spent on these things that no one needs, yet everyone in the west embraces in order to “live”, is a cent other people need to survive. The luxuries of enjoying strawberry cakes and red wine apparently go hand in hand with the building of fences. A pretty depressing realization. But it’s not like the fate of refugees isn’t important to us, it is. We don’t like seeing images of people dying in hope of attaining a fraction of our life-standard. Because most of us are empathetic beings, or because accepting these tragedies does not resemble our self-understanding of a civilized society. My thought process gets interrupted by a homeless dude stopping at my table, asking for change in exchange for the latest issue of the… well, for the lack of better words I’ll call it: homeless people’s newspaper. Despite being broke as fuck, I can’t help but buy it. After all, what does my idea of being broke even mean in comparison to his situation? Oh, there we have it again. I can’t make up my mind whether I should feel guilty for considering myself as broke and nonetheless spending my last cash on over-prized coffee in a public café while facing a guy, who is going from table to table, asking strangers for change. The immigrant problem on a smaller scale. The newspaper that is now sitting in front of me right next to my coffee has the word “WAR” in big, fat red letters printed on the cover. The image underneath shows dozens of dead bodies lined up next to each other, all wrapped in canvas and tied up at the ends. I briefly flip through the pages and see images of dead children covered in blood, burned people, tanks, soldiers and African boys with assault rifles in their hands. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Gaza and Ukraine. Headlines like “German arms exports” and “The profit of war”. Within 30 seconds I close the newspaper and make it disappear in my bagpack. All this completely insane, sick and out-of-this-world twisted shit is far beyond what I am able consciously process. I finish my coffee, roll another cigarette, pay the bill with a tip of 1 euro and give the waitress a smile. I decide to go to the movies.