A Dog Day
Alex Easdale chats a load of dog shit in Berlin
Berlin is without question one of the coolest places in Europe. The yin and yang of East and West, Communism and Capitalism which once divided the city has now become a fusion of styles and cultures that is quite simply unique; journalism is a profession that, even in the era of the blogosphere, is still oft romanticized, its correspondents active on the frontline of everything fresh and new, spokesmen to the people.
So a combination of the two therefore makes for a heady, highly-idealized fantasy, where suddenly you become Europe’s answer to Hunter S. Thompson, trawling through all the many weird and wonderful galleries and market stalls during the day, before soaking up the atmosphere from one of the city’s many underground clubs, waxing lyrical about electronic music’s next saviour. And then somehow dashing off some copy.
However, when I arrive at the start of August for an internship at Berlin’s largest newspaper, the B.Z., I naturally find the reality to be very different. Having been assigned to the local desk, I find myself spending the first two days in front of a computer, trying to edit articles in a language whose intricacies of tone and grammar I may never understand.
I am therefore ready and eager to go when the editor beckons to me on the 3rd day, thrusting a printout in my hands, and tells me to hurry outside to a waiting car with photographer Siegfried (Ziggy to his mates. Who said Germans were uptight?!). This is it. I have little to no idea what is happening, or indeed where I am going, but it seems exciting. Now safely stowed in the passenger seat, I take a look at the source of such animation. A rather stern-faced Aryan stares out from in front of a poster for the upcoming mayoral election, with the text reading: “Was tut den Ordnungsamt gegen Schmierereien und Hundehaufen? Nichts. Weil es lieber Knöllchen schreibt.“*
For the correct translation see below, but at the time, without trusty dictionary, I try to pick out the main words – something about the city council, graffiti, something to do with dogs, and Knöllchen, whatever they are. The wave of euphoria starts to recede as I realize that this might not be quite the scoop of the year.
The words “understatement” and “century” spring to mind when we pull up at a park in the middle of Prenzlauer Berg and I ask Ziggy exactly what we’re meant to be doing. Guiding us over to a street-side café with a view of the green, he replies in the deadpan manner which only Germans can dream of mastering – “We are waiting for dogs to shit on the grass, so that we can take photos” – then calmly orders an espresso.
Although many will be familiar with the tiresome process of taking the dog out to do his or her business, one that inevitably takes longer than it should do, the dubious privilege of doing this professionally doesn’t even compare, the first problem being that most people do not walk their dog at 10.30 on a Wednesday.
It takes 80 minutes and three coffees before our first candidate arrives, a rather mangy looking Jack Spaniel with an owner to match. Infuriatingly it urinates no fewer than 4 times, yet crucially no money shot (or poo either).
I suggest a change of venue, but Ziggy is insistent. He advocates patience – “Trust me, all the dogs will be here” – and sets about working his way through the café’s rather eccentric menu. By my watch it is 1.48 (at this stage Ziggy has worked through: a mango and banana salad, pork knuckle with dumplings, a bowl of sauerkraut, some sort of strange dessert that looks like it has bacon in it, 2 more espressos and about 15 or 16 Camels), when suddenly our luck turns and we are overrun. Dogs of every shape and size appear from all angles.
I exaggerate. There are probably about 10. Ziggy is a man possessed, a caffeine fuelled ball of fury snapping at turbo speed. He hits the mother load – a French poodle unloading next to a sign saying “Dogs Forbidden”. Several close-up action shots later, and it’s mission complete.
I’m oddly elated by this chain of rather unlikely events, and dread to think what it must have looked like to the casual passer-by: two guys with cameras high-fiving next to a monster turd. The sudden success is all too much for Ziggy, who disappears into the café for the next 15 minutes to “do as the dogs do”.
As we drive back to the office, I realize that I have contributed nothing to the process, and try to compensate with an admittedly poor joke about how both Ziggy and poodle performed solidly under pressure. I’d like to think it just didn’t translate very well. Either way, Ziggy’s expression does not even hint at humour, only a job well done. And that’s what I love about this place – only in Germany could this day be anything other than ridiculous.
*”What do the council do about graffiti and dog fouling? Nothing, because they prefer to write parking tickets”