Tuesday, 2 September 2008

An exploration of sorts began today, prompted by a need to perform basic administrative tasks. Admin has always been the watchword used amongst my friends for these monotonies; filling out tax forms, renewing driving licences, sending out proposals. The bureaucracy of assimilation, those pieces of paper that enable one to stay, or work, or travel.

Today I wanted to write of the house and I may still do that, but not here, not now. Instead I will tell you of my day, of how I woke late and made bitter coffee after bitter coffee whilst struggling to reach the 200 page mark in my novel. A fifth of the way through – how bad my reading has become over this past month. Something within my life must offer a calibration for this descent, a low tide mark that the water might be measured against in order to indicate a desire for change. But nothing immediate comes to mind.

This morning I rode to the supermarket and credited my phone, bought envelopes and bread, rode to the house and printed off a project submission. Then I set out to the post office, past the large white lake and down Berliner Allee.

On my return I skirted round the areas I knew, actually the place I know – the one road that drives straight through the heart of this district is my only map and compass. All roads and landmarks are recognised in relation to this particularly streets winding, southward crawl. This area holds real interest for the amateur psychogeographer. Huge cemeteries, walled lakes and little compounds of divided allotments offer green relief to the GDR concrete. There are some nice apartment blocks round here, many over one hundred years old but there a profusion of these typical east German blocks – squat, grey rectangles with rows of small windows and little in the way of extravagance when it comes to plasterwork, arches or rooflines. Functionality seems to be less the obsession than denial, refutation and an effort to subdue the surrounding areas. For sure they are cheaply built, these apartment blocks, but their form seems to be a deliberate attempt to prove a point, to win an argument. Imagine that, a building designed solely to win an argument.

Certain areas of this district are given over to small industry and commercial outlets, zoned grids of supermarkets and silver offices and retail superstores. They nestle alongside bastions of a previous time and industry, although there are not so many of these as I would like. Old industrial buildings are immediately recognisable even beneath new cladding and paint as the train tracks that served their cargo are still embedded in the road, gentle parallel curves. These buildings are few and far between now, although many appear to be protected and are undergoing a slow renovation. In the rest of the city, these buildings are already galleries and concert halls, loci of culture irradiating into distrant travellers. Here the buildings quietly sit behind steel fences with painted signs awaiting timber and mechanics, waiting. One such building, an old GDR broadcast house, is one of my favourites with its red bricks, wooden windows and huge cylinders upon which a dome must have formely rested, but now it appears as only ramparts with spindly green trees somehow thriving in their windswept vantage.

This afternoon I rode out of town with Klaas to the countryside, which was much closer that I though. The little villages of the former east are exactly how you would imagine them, but it was nice to ride out on straight tarmaced roads beneath the powercables and alongside the irrigation ditches while overhead in piercing blue skies the vapour trails of international jets dissolved. On the way back, which was as always quicker than the journey there, we stopped off by the lake, a large prehistoric looking place with fallen down trees. Regal swans tottered about on the surface to the annoyance of the hoardes of moustachioed anglers, and we drifted round the outside, over towards the enormous white communist tower blocks some way beyond the lake’s edge.

Now is my time. Cara has returned to England for a while and I am set to follow in a few days, so I must amuse myself with some writing and perhaps music. The rooms we have rented still feel very bare, I have nothing in the way of postcards or pictures to hang and our furniture is minimal to say the least. Here I sit, in the studio, at a small brown school desk which shakes as I write staring at a blank canvas, one that will soon be filled with work, mounted images and autumn cold.