Berlin abounds with notes, requests and demands stuck on doors and walls. Angry or hilarious, they allow a glimpse deep into the soul of the true Berliner, says DW's Gero Schliess.
"That's typical Berliner cheekiness," laughed my barber Rufus while he kept snipping away at my hair.
I knew that already.
He was reacting to a note I found posted on a wall in one of the city's many inner courtyards: "It is forbidden to hang out in the courtyard, chat, vomit and f*** between the garbage cans."
That much forBerlin courtyard etiquette.
If you live in the German capital and want to know what your neighbor really thinks about you — no problem, just look around and you might find a friendly note like this one:
"There are people in this building who do not want to hear you sing on your balcony at 1 a.m. No one is interested in your conversations — and haven't you already broken up 20 times? Go see a couples' therapist. Break up already! But at least, shut the windows. Thanks! The bleary-eyed neighborhood."
Berlin courtyard communication at its best.
Inner courtyards — and Berlin has a lot of inner courtyards, with street-front buildings, annexed back and side buildings — are veritable treasure troves of similarly affectionate notes and posts. The actual courtyard is at the center, often small and dark. People live close together, which can be difficult and can trigger the lavish use of verbal slaps in the face:
"You are beautiful, but please pull a bag over your personality."
Yes, that's typical for Berliners, they are direct, embarrassing and abusive — in real life, and in the notes stuck on walls, lampposts and perhaps even under the windshield wipers of cars parked out on the street.
Many Berliners feel Facebook, Instagram and other digital media are overrated. They prefer analog communication. It's like a parallel universe I haven't encountered in any other city, not in New York, not in Moscow or in London.
I'd say it's what's known as the "Berliner Schnauze" (Berlin snout) — the Berliners' typical brash manner of speaking — in the form of a note. The messages reveal the city's innermost soul in print.
Some of the notes I've read reveal Berlin's sense of humor: "Thanks again for deliberately vandalizing my vehicle! You are an example of a clearly failed socialization."
It's gallows humor, and often just a hair's breadth away from delusions of grandeur:
"People who steal and smash will certainly land in hell. Yours, Jesus."
That's pretty cool, I think to myself. Joab agrees with me. When he first came to Berlin from Munich 12 years ago as a young student, he roamed through the city's various districts, with his camera on the ready. At the time, Berlin was already full of posted hand-written messages and notes. He kept finding notes that "hit the spot," he says, revealing what people are thinking, what affects them.
Joab is right: The notes reveal a different side of Berlin, beyond the tourist hot spots and party locations.
Notes of Berlin
Joab posts outlandish and quirky notes on the "Notes of Berlin" website (I have quoted some of them here). People have mailed him more than 27,000 notes, turning the site into a collective Berlin blog.
Granted, some of them are not exactly in good taste. People who don't live in Berlin might just shake their heads, not because they are quietly amused, but rather disgusted.
Sometimes, messages are fondly mischievous. Buying flowers right before Valentines Day, a hand-written sign made me smile: "Care for violets?" The German word for violets, "Veilchen," also means shiner. That's Berlin humor with a punch.