By Mike Hembury:
Sometimes words fail me.
Sometimes I struggle to put a name to even the most commonplace, the most obvious of things.
I don’t think it’s pathological in my case. But there is a word for the condition: dysnomia.
Curiously, Dysnomia is also the name of the Greek goddess of lawlessness, praised by some as the daemon of freedom and rebellion.
My first flat in Berlin was on Sonnenallee, almost at the corner of Hermannplatz.
That was back before Sonnenallee turned into Little Damascus.
Don't get me wrong, I like the way it is now. But I liked it back then too. Loud, dirty, unpretentious. The beating scraggy heart of North-Neukölln.
No-one would ever say that Sonnenallee is pretty. No-one can claim that Hermannplatz looks nice.
It has some "art" these days though. There's a statue in the middle of the square that has two golden figures in a pose you could possibly interpret as dancing. It's a crap statue, only serving to make the place look cheaper than it already is.
When I arrived back then it was a golden October day. I was due to link up with a friend of a friend, a guy called Harald who lived near Hermannplatz. I came out of the arrivals gate and there was this guy beaming at me. Maybe he recognized me from my friend's description, maybe he was just smiling at everyone. It was 1982. There was no email back then, and we hadn't been in contact before.
I said "You must be Hermann."
He just laughed. "Hermann from Haraldplatz?"
I was a little taken aback. "Sure, I guess so. Or not?"
He stretched out his right hand. Long fingernails. A guitarist's hand. "Harald. Easy mistake. Good to meet you."
We took the bus back from the airport. Changed at Zoo and took the U-Bahn to Hermannplatz. Dumped my stuff at his place and I let him guide me down to the Landwehrkanal, where we sat in the garden of Café am Ufer and drank large bowls of milky coffee.
The autumn sun was warm and the sunlight filtered through the orange leaves of the beech trees lining the canal.
Everything was new except, strangely, Harald.
He had already acquired a familiarity that maybe should have surprised me, but somehow didn't.
We just clicked. He was like the older brother I never had. I was 21, he was 26 or 27. Still a student, driving a taxi, making music and writing poetry like a real Berlin intellectual.
He knew the ropes.
He was part of a posse of draft-dodgers who had fled to West Berlin from Stuttgart on receiving their call-up papers.
After three months of hanging out with Harald's crowd in Berlin I spoke German with a Stuttgart accent.
One time he took out his teeth to show me. He had smashed his jaw in a trampolining accident in his teens, and now had a full set of false teeth which he could hook onto a few remaining stumps in his mouth.
He was a heavy smoker, so his teeth had a kind of patinated ivory quality to them, like you see on the keys of pub pianos.
Harald's flat was a dark, first-floor two-roomer in the rear courtyard of a vaguely slummy Berlin tenement. It had an outside toilet and a boiler over the sink for hot water.
When I asked, on the evening of that first day of my new life in Berlin, where he wanted me to sleep, he just pulled the keys out of his pocket and flung them across the table where we were sitting.
"It's all yours. You take the bed. I'll be upstairs with Sabina."
Sabina was his Lebensabschnittsgefährtin - his 'life phase companion', to use the dry jargon of the times.
The October sunshine didn't last. Winter came quickly, with snow in November. I learned to use the Kachelofen - a big, tiled, lignite burning room heater of the type that have now all but disappeared from the city.
If I had to tell you one smell from those years it would be the particular smell of burning lignite - "brown coal" to the locals - in sub-zero air. Preferably alcohol-fuelled, in the three-in-the-morning snow.
Back then I would wake to the sound of the kids on the school playground next door. Put the kettle on for coffee. Take a trip down half a flight of stairs to the little loo in a cupboard on the landing. Come back and fire up the coal burner. Roll a cigarette, drink a coffee and think what a grand life I had.
No, I'm lying. Even with new friends, Berlin can be a tough place. I missed my girlfriend, who was on a student exchange in Paris. I wasn't suited to living alone. Half the time, I didn't know what the fuck I was doing there.
Harald had become a big part of my life though. Big and getting bigger. One time, returning from a trip to England, I literally leaped into his arms, footballer-style. That should perhaps have rung a few bells, but it didn't at the time.
I was ignorant. Unversed in the hearts of men, and ignorant about myself, and the possibilities within me.
So when Harald took the logical step, and put a name to the obvious, and told me that he had fallen in love with me, I was like: "Ok, so now what?"
I remember him raising an eyebrow. Looking at me, with his dark eyes.
"I mean, what do you want me to do with that information?"
I was cool, detached. Hurtful, I guess, because afraid. My English upbringing hadn’t equipped me with the words to deal with such a situation.
"Is it going to change anything?"
"I guess not."
It did change something though. It changed everything.
We ended up in an ill-advised ménage-à-trois with his latest girlfriend, Karin.
It didn't end well, for me at least, though I think they are still together.
What can I say? I was young and stupid, and still had so much to learn.
Our friendship exploded.
We've lived in the same city for 30 years and seen each other maybe twice, accidentally.
Hermannplatz still has a Harald-shaped hole in it, a scar that troubles me sometimes.
I guess sorry is the word I was looking for.
Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England, and describes himself as a writer, musician, photographer, sailor and environmentalist in no particular order. He is the author of a novel, New Clone City, and writes a regular environmental column for the online journal The Wild Word. He is also a member of Extinction Rebellion, the Dark Mountain Project and the Climate Cultures network. You can find out more about Mike on his website: mikehembury.org.