Some people are afraid of Hermannplatz, others of Kottbusser Tor, but many more are afraid of Hasenheide Park.
Hermannplatz frightens lily-white Germans who have residual race fantasies about a Germany scored by Wagner. They don’t like all the immigrants. You can actually buy accusing t-shirts that say: Du hast angst vorm Hermannplatz! (You are afraid of Hermannplatz!)
Kottbusser Tor scares parents with children because they see young people here shooting up under the U-Bahn tracks, and it’s not the tremor of the trains making them shake like that.
But Hasenheide Park, just north of the Tempelhof airstrip, is the king of scarytime: 1. because it’s a park and darkness lurks behind the branches, 2. the eponymous hares are suppose to be venomous (Hasenheide of course literally means ‘field of hares’), and 3. it’s here that the drug addicts from Kotti buy their drugs from the marginalised immigrant men from Hermannplatz. It’s the ultimate conflation of provincial anxieties, à la Berlinoise.
Now, if you’re not a racist afraid of drug pushers in the park, you might like the following bar recommendation. The Neukölln neighbourhood folk don’t call it a bar though, it’s a Schänke, an old-fashioned word like a ‘saloon’. Some saloon: the Hasenschänke is built with 50’s concrete, with a low-slung modernist roof that you might see on a Niemeyer building in the tropics. It contains a kiosk delivering no-nonsense German beer to be consumed en plein air right in the middle of the so-called dodgy park. I can think of few more democratic places in the city to while away your time.
Out front are plastic chairs and tables you can move around as you like. Pensioners playing chess, alcoholics clutching their bottles, the homeless trying to collect them, families with children, hipsters, immigrants, gentrifiers, all coexist… everyone mixes happily at the Hasenschänke. The only people I don’t see hanging out here having a beer are the drug dealers who stand in formation at the intersections of the paths in certain corners of the park, looking out for the cops, no doubt, and keeping guard as people disappear into the trees for an exchange. The frisson I sometimes I get when passing them on a run is entirely absent at the Hasenschänke, perhaps because they are absent too.
I talk to two guys who appear quite inebriated, but it might simply be their excitement at showing me their bicycles which they have doctored with mirrors like antlers with bells that make animal sounds. They refer to them as their beasts. Perhaps their rolling animals are meant to compete with the street art covering the pavillion, depicting those dangerous hares getting up to no good: playing cards, appearing electrocuted. There’s another mural of someone who looks like a blogger taking notes. I chat to a couple waiting in line for beers who won’t stop talking. This strikes me as strange, because Berliners aren’t usually very loquacious. But anything goes in the Hasenschänke.
What is it about this space that breaks down barriers? Its utter lack of pretension? Its location in a public space? The feeling that no-one owns it? The zany murals? Is it its proximity to an outdoor cinema and an amazingly elaborate playground that gives it a festive feeling? Is it the benefit of contrast, as a calm space in a park where weird shit is happening in the bushes?
One dark night when riding my bike from Tempelhof airfield back home, I passed through the park. I had a moment of indecision, wondering whether it was a good idea. The trees loomed, the obscurity threatened the paths, the chain of lamp lights seemed insufficient and ever dimmer. Then I came to the clearing of the Hasenschänke, with a blaze of light, and the music from the film score to Moonlight Kingdom sounding just over the fence.
I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned by bike against a tree without locking it.
It’s time to stop for a beer.