STRESS + STREET
When I moved into my apartment fourteen years ago, I was sure it would be just a stopover. Perhaps it was the low ceilings, the yolk-yellow paint on the walls, or the frugal square windows; in any case, it felt unfamiliar. Like a step backwards, or a much more rudimentary move than I had intended.
Still, I liked the general conditions of the apartment. The spacious rooms faced southeast; the windows opened onto nothing but light and an unobstructed view of the sky.
Then the leaves changed color, the buildings changed owners, the apartments’ rents went up, and I, I painted the walls in softer shades.
That was when the housing market froze over and the long winter of speculative buying began.
Today my vista of sky is tickled by treetops that have grown tall. Below them lies a changed city.
And yet, when I leave my apartment and cross the Kottbusser Bridge at the twilight hour of semi-darkness, I am often still gripped by excitement. An excitation that gathers the events and people around me and weaves them together with the built surroundings. Between glaring lights, hurried passers-by, startled flocks of pigeons, and flashing rush-hour traffic, a world of possibility unfolds that barely appears midday. It is the hour of unexpected encounters, of intermingled social spheres, the hour of accidents and collisions, of cacophony and wistful unrest—and thus it is perhaps the most urban hour of all.
It is only a few steps to the pivotal center of my life, which, over the years, has taken place within a five-minute radius of Kottbusser Tor. My previous apartment was located right beyond that, next to an alley notorious for its scent of urine. For a few years, the area became a mecca for international street art; young people and art directors made pilgrimages here; models posed in front of rough concrete walls and cryptic graffiti tags. Those things don’t seem to happen here anymore, an ennoblement more fleeting than a sunset.
From the balcony of the betting parlor you have a good view over the square. While harried employees and homeless people, outcasts and night owls, refugees and expats, native Berliners and tourists, cultural elites and proletarians, queers and devout Muslims, drug dealers and police all mingle to form the collective on the street below, looming over the square and the people who define it is a growing heap of social contradictions, social debates, and, at the very top—even more clutching, more threatening—ubiquitous capital interests.
For one last time, the sky lights up, bathing this insolent urban blemish in a strange, overwhelming light. It may shine here all the way from Damascus, Addis Ababa, Moscow, or from back there, the forgotten passage. In any case, from a place where the city is also a space for dwelling, and where shared life has not been completely banished.
What shines from the stress of the street is the light of possibility.
In the middle of winter, a hint of spring.
Born in Khartoum, Sudan, writer Elisa Aseva lives and works in Berlin. Aseva have been publishing her poetic and political reflections on Facebook and other digital media for several years. Her autofictional short texts make use of both essayistic and lyrical forms, and through this juxtaposition they attain a kaleidoscopic order. In 2021, Weissbooks Verlag published an anthology of her work, titled ÜBER STUNDEN.