Once upon a kino

I’m not a dog that needs to be regularly walked. I’m a cat, the world doesn’t exist until I discover it. I’m not looking for a scent to chase. My interest is turned towards myself, taking a big whiff of what’s already here; a closer examination of what’s unfolding in the present space.

I spent quite a few days indoors or under bed covers during my time in Berlin.

That was one of my big revelations—wherever I am in the world, I will always prioritize sleep and time for quiet contemplation over leaving the house and meeting strangers. Not that I don’t like to. I just prefer my own company sometimes. (A good book, film or music and a duvet and thick pair of socks in close proximity don’t hurt either.)

When I did venture out of the house, I had very memorable experiences. One such occasion is when I decided to treat myself to a film, Only Lovers Left Alive, at a cinema hall a few blocks from Anna’s (my host) home.

I’d been in Berlin for quite some time at this point and had used the bus enough times to have a general feel of how the system worked. I was familiar with the stop I was meant to alight at having made my maiden solo trip to a mall in there a few days before and waved goodbye to friends off to the airport in the same area.

To make myself look like a real pro, I even walked up to the schedule affixed to the bus stop sign and pretended to countercheck my route. Never mind that I had a cheat sheet in my pocket with the spelling of the cinema, my stop, the street name of where Anna lives and her telephone number plus the phrase I ought to utter to get a cheap fare in case I needed to take a taxi home.

As I was randomly running my eyes over the map, I heard a voice behind me asking when the bus was meant to arrive. It was an African man of moderate heft. He was bundled up in a heavy grey coat and wearing a black hat. After I mumbled that I really had no idea, he introduced himself as Jude, a Cameroonian who had been living in Berlin for the last 10 years.

He sounded Nigerian though. Anyway, turns out he’d been married to a Kenyan lady in Germany—although he made to no sign of recognition when I mentioned earlier that I was from Kenya. Strange. Or maybe not, considering that they’d been divorced for eight years.

When I asked him what he did for a living he put on a sad voice and stated that he used to be a businessman in Cameroon but was now out of work ‘for one reason or another’. Pressed further, he revealed that the divorce had demotivated him from pursuing new jobs. He made quick mention of having various girlfriends since then but that none of them had truly pushed him towards making a success of himself.

He then requested my telephone number, email address and any other contact info so that we can meet and ‘make a friendship’ before I returned home. That’s when my imaginary boyfriend made his appearance. Well, I alluded to having him anyway. I told Jude that I was on my way to meet him and that I didn’t think he’d be comfortable with me giving out my contact details to strange men.

I caught his deflated face just as the bus pulled up. With furrowed brow and averted eyes, Jude boarded the bus using a different door. He didn’t sit next to me despite my regular attempts at catching his eye and quickly lost himself in the crowd when we alighted at the same stop.

In any case, I was at Hermannplatz, a busy junction whose familiar landmark, the Karstadt Mall I recognized across the road. The film was scheduled for 11:15pm and I had less than half an hour to find the cinema. Confident in my directions, I crossed over to Kottbusser Damm began looking out for the cinema’s sign.

I had walked quite a bit before worry began to creep in. Was it meant to be this far? This looks like an area full of restaurants. Had I missed the sign? I decided to ask three women I saw walking ahead of me. Catching up to the trio with headscarves outlining their faces, I politely asked for help locating…wait a minute, what was that place called again? I quickly dug my hands into my jacket pockets and through my bag but there was no sign of my cheat sheet.

Desperately, I tried to picture the tiny, black wording scribbled on a piece of paper forgotten on a tabletop far, far away. One word came to me: Mento. I tried it out in different inflections. Mento. Men-to. Mento…s? I must hasten to add that as I was anxiously groping for the cinema’s name on paper and tongue, the eldest of the three women had been speaking a mix of English and Turkish to me.

With two teenage girls by her side, the short lady stated in halted English that there was no cinema in the area. Making a hand motion that I understood to mean that she’d like to write down directions, I handed over paper and pen and watched as she wrote and spoke of my needing to board the nearby U-Bahn and take the U7 to Rathausneuköln where there were sure to be plenty of cinema halls.

I grew skeptical. I had a good feeling that the cinema was on this street, perhaps only further down or a little way back but not in another area altogether. I politely thanked the ladies for their help and waved them goodbye as I pretended to head up the road towards the U-Bahn.

I didn’t even want to look at the time because I was sure the film had already began but I still needed to find that damn cinema hall. That’s when I caught sight of three teenage boys walking towards me. They were incredibly pierced with thick black lances coming out of the edges of their eyebrows, lips and earlobes. I had to chance it. I walked up to them gave the whole Mento, Men-to, Mento…s? spiel and prayed they would give me a positive response.

“Sorry, we’re not from this area but it looks like there’s some kind of cinema ahead.”

The young man closest to me, the one with the ruffled hair and the lower lip piercing pointed at a black and white sign facing the street a short distance ahead. It stated ‘Kino’ which apparently means ‘cinema’. And, as Fate would have it, it was just three steps away from the very spot I had been standing with the Turkish women. Ha!

I quickly thanked them and ran into the building (aka Moviemento). Bounding up the short flight of stairs I nearly hugged the ticket attendant when she told me that the movie hadn’t started yet. Purchasing a ticket at 8€, I pulled down a seat in the quaint movie hall. Apparently, MovieMento das älteste kino Deutschlands. It is Germany’s oldest cinema. They show arthouse, film classics, premieres and special screenings, cinema for schools, day cares and families.

They have three screens (103, 67 and 62 pax). Only Lovers Left Alive was showing in screen one and there were probably fifteen people in the audience. We sat through the obligatory promo reel encouraging tourists to visit Berlin then a documentary on how citizens were fighting against gentrification. English subtitles helped me follow the events and I remember being highly impressed by a group of ladies in their late 50s who were camping out in houses marked for demolition. They put up with uncomfortable-looking sleeping quarters in solidarity with the cause.

In any case, the main feature began and it was awash with beautiful music and imagery. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfectly cast as Adam and Eve, vampires who’ve roamed the earth for centuries and have different views on the present age. Adam is deep in the throes of depression and living in a decrepit Detroit, a city which possesses such charm in its ruined state. He clings to the old ways (except for the powerful generator he assembled) and goes about collecting rare guitars and recording mournful tunes.

Eve is a happy spirit and a voracious reader. Based in Tangier, she confidently walks the narrow streets with a massive shock of white hair that frames her porcelain features. Later, a third and fourth vampire emerge, Christopher Marlowe and Ava. The former has been a respected friend and confidante over the ages while the latter is Eve’s troublesome younger sister who, to put it mildly, is annoying as hell (and other four-letter words).

This film was utterly gorgeous. Adam and Eve, with their Victorian sensibilities and accrued wisdom, pass fitting commentary on the current state of the world. I loved how the vampires reacted to the first sip of blood. A dreamy smile played in their bloody, fang-barred lips as their heads slowly rolled back, creamy throats tantalizingly exposed to the night.

We all agreed that the movie was great and I joined in the applause as the credits began to roll. But as I got up to leave, I noticed that several patrons remained seated and had their eyes glued to the screen. I slowly sank back and decided to observe this interesting behavior. I would later learn that it was a sign of respect to sit through the entire credit roll if one deemed a movie to be really good.

Once the screen turned blank and patrons left en masse, I decided to explore the rest of the cinema. Since I always judge a place by its toilets, I went in search of the little girl’s room. Venturing down a short corridor and into an open space in front of the restrooms, I liked how the walls were carpeted thick and purple and had a silver chandelier dangling from the ceiling. A huge framed movie poster and cabinet separated the male and female lavatories.

And it was to be in these very loos that I would make a new friend. Hands dried, I was about to step out when Yanling turned to me and asked my views on the film. We ended up chatting for five minutes before realizing that we were, in fact, in a toilet. I followed the sweet-faced girl with a slim build and she introduced me to her boyfriend, Paul. As we walked and chatted about the film the running joke became that they were really Adam and Eve. I kept asking them to warn me if they were hungry.

Funny faces

Paul and Yanling turned out to be a sweet (and fang-free) couple. They met at a local university and have been dating for four years. The bespectacled Paul, with two backpacks strapped to his chest and back, is currently studying for a PhD in a Switzerland university. I soon learnt that this was his default state (backpacked) as he travelled to Berlin every Friday to spend his weekends with his girl.

Spunky and with a pudding bowl haircut, Yanling is an aspiring restaurateur with big dreams and a big heart. Paul speaks Mandarin so the couple have their own secret hybrid language that mixes German, Mandarin and English phrases. How adorable is that?

I gladly exchanged contact details with Yanling (we all went out for dinner and dancing a few days later). And as I took a taxi home from Hermannplatz I was really glad I stopped being catwoman for that one night.

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