Places in Berlin

Pump Action

Doppelkolbenpumpe. I was surprised I could find an online translation: double piston pump. Then what is one doing in a scraggly public park, along the Landwehrkanal at Zossenerstraße in Kreuzberg? And what are those two middle aged Hartz IV alkies doing staring in disconcerting concentration?

Pistons move liquids. Chug chug chug. I like Berliner Pilsner. There’s an internal combustion engine. Energy! I feel like I’m 21! The trees are so green! Those clouds of pollen: space invaders!

Is that how those old men feel under the influence? Transported to an earlier time, when they were the cutting edge? Damn, I’d like to feel that way too. At least sometimes.

The company Borsig made this pump, in 1926. It was part of the Neukölln waterworks and stayed in service until 1990. It kept going 64 years. I wonder what it is like to go into retirement after all that time. I’m sure you have forgotten how to relax. No wonder you turn to the bottle. I would like to open you up, pull back those big hinges, and understand what your real anxieties are. Do you resent the new technology? Are you afraid to be outside? Do you dislike rain? And do those old men drinking Berliner bore you? Where do you tell your friends you’ve been?

No, perhaps I’m reading you all wrong. Of course there must be pride! Someone has thought highly enough of you to commemorate you. Perhaps that person grew fond of you, everyday at work, and now he or she wants to bring all those many hours into the public. I am sure he cried when you were unveiled in the open, for everyone to see, your joints inactive, your colours somewhat different in the sunlight.

Pride? you say, your voice all rusty.

No. Cut Me Loose! Someone’s written it on a banner on a place where the engines used to rotate and the pistons used to bang. You remember the days when you could really fuck. There’s a plaque, describing your pump action per second. Cut Me Loose! It’s not fun being on display, in the light of day, old technology, and people walking by and thinking what you might have been.

No one wonder those men stare on, so poignantly.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.